Making room at the table: our new empathy fellowship program

rippling water

Studies have shown that the communities least responsible for environmental degradation most often take the brunt of it.

Other studies demonstrate a lack of diversity in conservation organizations—and a “green ceiling” effect means that the diversity that does exist is primarily at the entry level and decreases at higher (managerial and executive) levels.

The Seattle Aquarium is working to address both of these issues with its new empathy fellowship program: Facilitated by the newly created position of empathy fellowship coordinator, three empathy fellows will join our staff early this year. Throughout their one-year terms, individuals hired for these full-time, paid, fully benefited positions will have opportunities to learn about local marine life and conservation efforts, develop personal and professional goals, and become effective educators, facilitators and advocates for marine conservation, empathy and their communities.

They’ll achieve these goals via a two-pronged approach: They’ll support the marine education outreach programming the Aquarium provides to our Connections program partners in the role of outreach educators, delivering empathy-based marine conservation programming within historically marginalized communities in the Salish Sea region. They’ll also research, implement and present on individual empathy community action projects in order to apply all that they’ve learned to a real-world marine-conservation-related issue that impacts themselves and their community.

“The aim of these fellowships is to create a pipeline to increase diversity in the field of conservation—while also having the fellows bring back their experiences and conservation messaging to their own communities,” explains Empathy Fellowship Coordinator Will Kittel.

The moment is now for a program like this. “We’re in the middle of a global climate crisis,” says Will. “It’s everywhere—social media, the news, you name it. And who hasn’t been at the table when solutions are being discussed? Whose voices haven’t been heard? We need to make room at the table,” she says, referring to communities of color and other marginalized communities who bear the brunt of environmental harm and historically haven’t reaped the benefits of the solutions proposed. “This program will help us make a difference,” she adds.

Will’s goals for the program? “I would love to see our innovative program modeled elsewhere,” she says, “and fellows in conservation roles at other zoos and aquariums.”

Interested in learning more about our empathy work, and the importance of empathy in marine conservation? Visit our website.

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