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PSS Summer '13

Sociology of the Sea

By Brenda Pittman

Elizabeth Ban ’86 left her high-paying job as vice president of J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in Chicago in 1996 for a six-dollar-an-hour internship across town at the Shedd Aquarium—all because of an “epiphany” while snorkeling in the British Virgin Islands.

The fascinating and breathtaking underwater world captivated Ban, an HWS philosophy major. But learning how damaged the ocean was becoming propelled her into action and onto a new career path.

Equipped only with knowledge gained while working at Shedd, Ban knew she needed much more to become a change agent. Her first step was to get a master’s in Environmental Management from Yale. Interesting jobs in her new field followed. She’s been a research diver in St. Croix, a marine extension agent in St. Thomas with Sea Grant (part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), and a senior ocean science education specialist at the Smithsonian. Today, she’s managing communications and is a federal program officer with Sea Grant in Silver Springs, Md.

Since Sea Grant’s research and outreach programs promote understanding of the need for conservation and better use of America’s coastal, ocean and Great Lakes resources, Ban says lessons learned from Professor of Sociology Jack Harris P’02, P’06 are proving enormously helpful.

"The last thing you want in environmental work is to put people on the defensive," says Ban. "Instead, you must start a conversation, build a rapport, learn from their perspective and determine how to move forward together."

Ban’s hopeful her Ph.D. work in Climate Change and Science Communication at George Mason University will buttress her efforts.

"Sometimes scientists have a hard time communicating well with the public," she says. “I want to help communicate their ideas so people will understand a healthy planet is what they need.”