Valerie Perini is the NEOSEC representative from the Northeastern University Marine Science Center (NUMSC) and is serving on this year’s Ocean Literacy Summit Planning Committee. Northeastern University is the site for the first day of the summit and the Marine Science Center is hosting one of the field trips at its scenic marine research and educational facility on the peninsula at historic East Point in Nahant, Massachusetts.
Val has been the NEOSEC representative for two years. “With the event being hosted in Boston, I knew I wanted to be involved in the Summit Planning Committee. NEOSEC connects NU to other folks doing similar work in the region.” Val had attended a summit as a Northeastern graduate student. When her boss asked if she was interested in being the NEOSEC representative, she responded, “Yes, I would love to be involved!”
NEOSEC’s mission aligns with that of the NUMSC. “Our mission in the Outreach program is to connect resources of the center to the community, translate knowledge to meet societal needs, inspire interest in marine science careers, and promote environmental literacy. This is key to NEOSEC’s mission as well. Knowing about those other NEOSEC organizations is so valuable. Scientists can share knowledge.”
Val has been part of NU MSC Outreach since her college days. “My background is marine science and research. I studied at Northeastern for both my bachelor’s and master’s. I did an internship with the MSC Outreach Program (through NU’s coop program.) It opened my eyes to being a science communicator and that really resonated with me. I stayed connected with the Outreach program since then. I’ve worked in all different roles at the Marine Science Center and it was field experiences in Nahant and elsewhere that showed me marine science is for me – nature as a classroom.”
Val is enthusiastic about marine education. We work with all ages. It’s what I love. You have to fine tune your communication skills, more complex with older students, and with younger students, show them how fun nature is. I particularly like helping kids who haven’t had this exposure before, such as recent immigrants who just moved here. It gives them a sense of place. You have to inspire appreciation first before you can expect them to preserve and protect the environment.”
Something Val is concerned with and thinks about a lot, is how to promote diversity and inclusion in the sciences. “What we are striving for but struggle to achieve is diversity and inclusion in this field. Especially at the graduate level and higher, the field is not very diverse. Our goal is to involve people from different backgrounds, cultures, and economically or otherwise disadvantaged groups, in order to achieve a broader perspective that will benefit the field. When we lead a school group in which a majority of students are non-white, it’s tough because the students might have a hard time seeing themselves in this career because of the lack of diversity in the educators and scientists. They think, ‘They don’t look like me.’ I want them to know this is attainable.”
Val was recently promoted from Outreach Educator to Outreach Program Coordinator. “My job involves less teaching now and more directing and overseeing the program. Our K-12 programs involve a lot of communication with staff, teachers, and scientists around both logistics and curricula/content. Another part of my job is identifying and applying for grants to support our programs, and especially to promote the involvement of economically or otherwise disadvantaged groups, and work towards improving that diversity and inclusion problem I mentioned earlier. In my new role, I also manage the Marketing and Communications for the Marine Science Center, and work with faculty to help them articulate the broader impacts of their research, which is important for obtaining research funding.”
In looking at her career, Val gets satisfaction from seeing the growth of others. “I’ve been on quite a journey, starting as intern and now as director. Under my guidance and the guidance of my supervisor, seeing the staff I supervise grow and develop, helping them access opportunities, is really powerful for me. I’m proud of the culture of the outreach program.”
Val, thank you for your passion for your students, your staff, marine education, and NEOSEC!