About SFS

Alumni Profiles

Aja Szumylo

Turks and Caicos Islands Fall '02

Aja Szumylo

About

Aja was one of six NOAA employees recognized at the annual Women of Color in STEM conference, which was held October 3-5, 2019, in Detroit, Michigan. These awards recognize significant achievement in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

 
SFS PROGRAM: Marine Resource Studies | Turks and Caicos Islands | Fall 2002
HOME SCHOOL WHILE AT SFS: Swarthmore College
CURRENT POSITION: Supervisory Fishery Management Specialist at NOAA

 
Aja Szumylo leads a group of analysts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to develop policies and regulations for fishing in federal waters off of Washington, Oregon, and California. She coordinates policy development, rulemaking, and management programs for the Pacific Coast groundfish fishery and the coastal pelagic species fishery. Aja first worked with NOAA Fisheries as a contractor at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington, as a fisheries social scientist. She later worked as a fishery policy analyst on fishery management plans for seven years in New England before becoming the chief of the Groundfish and Coastal Pelagic Species Branch for the West Coast Region in 2018. She holds an undergraduate degree in biology from Swarthmore College and a Master’s in environmental management from Duke University.

Aja was one of six NOAA employees recognized at the annual Women of Color in STEM conference, which was held October 3-5, 2019, in Detroit, Michigan. These awards recognize significant achievement in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

“Congratulations to NOAA’s inspiring award recipients,” said Louisa Koch, Director of NOAA Education.”It’s rewarding to see these women recognized for their outstanding accomplishments. I am proud to work for an organization that is committed to building a talented, diverse and inclusive workforce. Many of these awardees are former NOAA scholars, fellows, or graduates of historically Black colleges and universities that NOAA has worked closely with for many years.”

Aja received a Technology Rising Star Award, and shared her paths to a career at NOAA and their advice for future STEM leaders:

 
WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN STEM?
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I grew up in Virginia, but my family is from the Caribbean. I remember being stunned by how beautiful the ocean was on our family visits to various islands and wanting to figure out a way to work in or near the ocean as an adult.

I was lucky enough to have a marine biology course in high school in northern Virginia. I also had an amazing, engaging AP Biology teacher who led me to pursue biology as my undergraduate major.

While pursuing my undergraduate biology degree, I quickly realized that I didn’t enjoy aspects of being a research scientist. I chose a study abroad program through The School for Field Studies in Turks and Caicos. The program had coursework in the various fields that support fisheries management — biology, economics, law, policy. I enjoyed how these fields intersect in environmental challenges. My job today is a blend of these disciplines.

 
WHAT’S THE BEST PART ABOUT WORKING AT NOAA?
I work with brilliant professionals who do fascinating, important work. I largely work with staff in NOAA Fisheries, but have had the chance through details and training opportunities to interact with people in other NOAA line and staff offices. Talking with staff from other line offices is especially energizing because it reminds me how important NOAA’s mission is — how our earth and ocean observation work and our regulatory work affects so many Americans.

 
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO UP-AND-COMING STEM PROFESSIONALS?
Talk to people who do jobs that look interesting to you. Many adult professionals are happy to discuss the training and opportunities that led them to their current position, and highlight the pros and cons of different lines of work. I did an internship at the National Aquarium and quickly learned through the work and conversations with aquarists and my experience working there that being an aquarist would not energize me. You may try on different careers and find they do not fit, but that is all important information for finding the right career path.

 
Read the full story: “6 NOAA experts honored at Women of Color in STEM Awards.” NOAA Press Release 10/21/2019.

 

November 2019