Breaking into Maritime: Science, Sailing, and Sea Potential

Maritime, Team

Originally published on Marine Manufacturing and Technology

By Ángel Quimbita

Hello, my name’s Ángel (pronounced AHNG-hehl). I’m a tide pool enthusiast. I’m a sailor, an artist, and a scholar of historical ecology. I’m Sea Potential’s new hire! I’m a teacher, a helper, and a giver.

I was the child obsessed with whales who was encouraged to become a marine biologist. However, 10 years later and after a few classes of statistics and biology, I realized that a science research career fraught with data analysis was simply not for me. While I loved learning about marine ecology and found it endlessly fascinating, I gravitated more to working with people than working with numbers. I thought about being a traditional teacher but worried I would end up overworked and underpaid.

I just want to be working in tandem with the ocean and introducing others to its wonders, why is that so much to ask?

Discovering maritime culture

In college I majored in both Art and Environmental Studies with a focus on marine ecology. My life changed when I spent a semester studying abroad living on a tall ship with the Sea Education Association. Staring out to the horizon at the helm, sailing full-and-by grounded and fulfilled me unlike anything else. I realized that becoming a researching marine biologist was only one career option amongst many ocean-centered life paths.

My friends ashore didn’t always understand me. I loved living on a tall ship, but they called them “colonizer ships”. They are not wrong. I knew the cruise track through the Caribbean would be heavy on my heart. In my maritime history courses we learned how shipbuilding technology directly aided European colonization, facilitating the spread of imperialism and the slave trade. For many, maritime remains a symbol of intergenerational trauma. Luckily, there were a handful of Black and Latinx students sailing with me, and we reflected together frequently.

We were the only few people aboard who thought about the ghosts in those waters, reminding ourselves that our ancestors built relationships with water and seafaring long before tall ships crossed the Atlantic.

Since my trip, my boat fever has waned (though it has not disappeared entirely) and I began looking for opportunities that would bring me close to the ocean and maritime in any capacity.

How I screen employers

I’m a Latine person of Indigenous descent, and both my lived experiences and critical social studies inform the way I perceive the world. I studied marine conservation from an interdisciplinary and social justice perspective, so it was important for my future employers to at least have a basic understanding of the political intersections of race, class, and power. This has proven to be a challenge, because even though so many companies advertise and seek out “diversity”, it has become an often empty buzzword. I’m looking to see what intentional actions an organization is taking to address present and historical injustices in the industry.

I screen potential employers by researching their mission and values and comparing it to their programming or tangible initiatives. I search the board of directors and executives to see how many Black Indigenous and People of Color take up leadership positions. An all-white and majority male leadership team is a warning sign that either only white men were recognized for promotion or only white men were afforded those opportunities, let alone felt comfortable and valued enough to remain long term in executive roles.

It’s important not to fall into a trap of identity politics, people of color can uphold injustice as well.

It’s not enough to meet a diversity quota, there must also be visible initiative and commitment to anti-racism and dismantling white supremacy. This is why it’s so important to look at what direct initiatives and actions a company is promoting, and the background of those leading those activities.

I hold all these sentiments in mind before applying to a position, and specifically during the interview process. I use they/them pronouns displayed prominently on my resume in hopes that prejudiced folks will weed themselves out by not calling me into an interview. Even so, I notice how employers react to my pronouns and if they try to pronounce my name properly in Spanish. It is a lot of mental labor. This is what people talk about when they say people of color have a heavier burden to carry; I wish I could just focus on getting hired and not focus on whether or not I will have to deal with passive aggressive discrimination down the line.

Meeting Sea Potential

When I saw Sea Potential’s job application I almost couldn’t believe it. Co-founders Ebony Welborn and Savannah Smith provided comprehensive, transparent communication of the company’s values and how it intersected with their lived experiences, which resonated with me. I felt seen and understood in my love for the ocean and sailing coupled with my experience navigating white spaces and complicated histories of oppression. Additionally, the commitment to heartwork, community, and fair workplace practice made Sea Potential stand out from other employers. A living wage with salaried benefits was also exceptional, which is the sad truth about entry-level educational and environmental career opportunities. These people care about their employees. Upon interviewing, my instincts were confirmed as the conversation flowed easily and authentically without tensions or pretense.
How I got what I needed

When I got hired by Sea Potential, I was nervous because I didn’t think I would be able to relocate in time before the proposed start date. I also had some specific needs pertaining to my healthcare, and needed support relocating from California to Washington. Societally, we aren’t encouraged to directly ask for our needs enough, and I still felt scared that I would be seen as incompetent or asking for too much. However, this job was very important to me and I trusted that as a new hire I would be very important to the team. I directly told my new supervisors what I would need in order to start the job off on the right foot, and was able to negotiate a hiring package and delayed and remote start date that supported me. I encourage all new job searchers to be specific in their needs, and ask outright! Employers that are supportive and care about hiring you as a full person will usually be willing to discuss and find ways to create a healthy work environment. That’s why I’m so grateful to be working at Sea Potential where we intentionally create healthy work environments that honor employees as full human beings.
Futures of maritime and transformative change

It gives me great joy to meet all the wonderful people and partner organizations Sea Potential collaborates with. Their sincerity for supporting youth and enthusiasm for sharing their love of the ocean is infectious. It’s as though I’ve finally met the wider community of “my people”. The truth is that BIPOC passion for marine science and interest in maritime has always been there, but invisibilized. With all the recent pushes for diversifying spaces and elevating marginalized voices, I have started to see the beginnings of collective healing. Instead of feeling isolated or alone, I am seeing community building, coalitions, and new friendships blossoming.

I’m looking forward to watching this BIPOC ocean joy spill into the industry at deeper levels, pushing for transformative change and a future where the sea connects instead of divides us.

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