Symone is a proud Baltimore-born scientist and educator who has had a wide range of experiences in the marine science field. During undergrad at Hampton University, Symone was supported by the NOAA Educational Partnership Program and when obtaining her Master’s at Delaware State University, she was a recipient of a graduate fellowship through NOAA. Symone has studied algae, blue crabs, sand tiger and sandbar sharks over the years in undergrad and graduate school. After graduate school, Symone was placed in NOAA’s Office of Education during her Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. Currently, Symone manages Education Programs at National Aquarium and has a special emphasis on providing environmental literacy to youth in Baltimore. Even with her exciting research experience, Symone’s passion for educating young people remains at the forefront of her priorities. She is proud to be supporting students and teachers in her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland through her work at National Aquarium and across the country through a show she hosts with NOAA Ocean Today, Every Full Moon (@NOAAOceanToday).

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Night Owl

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?

Pro-pun

3 Do you have any pets?

No

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

Yes

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?

Cooking

6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?

Savory

7 Do you speak any other languages?

Japanese – I took it from 5th grade through junior year of college and participated in a two week exchange program in Japan

8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

I would be a cook for sure. I love trying new recipes and have spent a lot of time at home as a result of Covid-19 perfecting my cooking skills.

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?

I would love to study the brain – one of my sisters has Hydrocephalus and Cerebral Palsy and I always have so many questions about how brain disorders affect physiology.

10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?

Shark Fin Cove

11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?

Talk to animals for sure or at least hear them.

12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

I absolutely love Chris Emdin’s “For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education” for those in education.

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

Sit outside in the sun!

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

safe access to the outdoors, music, and my family + friends

15 What beverage gives you life?

Fresh squeezed grapefruit juice

16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

I hardly remember every book I read in school but “Beloved” by Toni Morrison and “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred Taylor stick out for sure.

17 What did you want to be when you grew up?

A teacher and marine biologist – with a hint of geologist in there. Funny thing is, I am all of those things, excluding the geologist. I didn’t know that my career does not need to be defined to one job, but that I could cross disciplines and design my own path.

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

I enjoy spending time with my family, especially my two younger sisters. One of my sisters, Synai has some developmental delays and everyday she reminds me of how blessed I am to have even the simplest abilities. Seeing her happy despite not being able to walk, talk, see clearly, or even eat food, encourages me to remain humble. Watching our youngest sister, Sydney protect and care for Synai is a prime example of how important it is to help others. Their presence in my life has contributed to my devotion to mentoring in my church and in other avenues.

19 What got you excited in science?

I am from Baltimore City, specifically Cherry Hill. I grew up not having much physical connection to the environment, or a body of water, even though the Patapsco River (and therefore, the Chesapeake Bay) was in my backyard. However, I was interested in nature and watched television programs highlighting animals, fish, and ecosystems, growing my curiosity. The summer after I completed 8th grade, I joined the Summer Student Volunteer Program at the National Aquarium. After that experience, I knew I wanted to study marine science.

20 What excites you about science now?

Knowing that there is no end – there is always opportunity to learn more and see something more amazing than the day before.

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

binge-watching true crime shows

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

Upcycling items to reduce single use of plastics. I love making new products from old materials. Re-purposing has been fun and therapeutic for me. I am really excited about showing folx how they can make sustainable swaps and save money when doing so!

23 What is your favorite game?

Phase 10

24 What is the last book you read?

The Success Commandments by DeVon Franklin

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

A former professor of mine at Hampton University, Dr. Deidre Gibson, once graded an assignment I submitted in a rush and wrote a note saying “Do you think this is good enough for for an African-American woman in marine science, a majority white field?” and she was right. She was telling me that I always have to do better than my peers, that I have to always give my best or else I would not be taken seriously. She let me know with just that comment that this field is not kind to Black women and that I have to push hard to always be on my A game. I do not get the luxury of having off days or being tired or any other excuse for why I did not produce at a high level. Everything that I have seen in this field and all of my experiences have shown me that Dr. Gibson’s insight is warranted. Those words push me to always work hard. It is not fair but it is the truth.

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

Scuba diving – I am not certified and would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared but I am planning to get certified next year.

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

Networking is key. One of the skills that I lean on the most is being able to “work the room.” You never know who you could be standing next to in a room. They could be the key to putting you in a position to achieve your greatest dream. I make it a point to talk to at least five people when I attend conferences or workshops. By building a network, I have been able to have both women and men who are allies in all areas of this field. My network has opened new doors for me and given me the space to grow as a scientist, science communicator, innovator, and woman.

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

Making sorbet, reading, journaling, sitting outside, yoga

29 What is the last thing you watched?

Black Lightning

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

Not sure I’ve had anything weird in my bag – I do try to carry my reusable utensils (fork, spoon, knife, straw) and a reusable bag. I usually keep a set in my backpack for work and another set in my car so that it is always handy no matter where I go. It is a small act, but one that I am happy to do.

31 What is your favorite animal?

Thresher Shark

32 What is your favorite book?

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

Collard greens are my comfort food. They always make me happy.

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

Honestly, no day rises above another to me. No day is promised so each day should be cherished.

35 What is your favorite plant?

Black-eyed Susan

36 What is your favorite science fact?

More than half of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean.

37 What is your favorite season?

Summer

38 What is your favorite smell?

Steamed crabs – product of Baltimore, Maryland where the crabs are the best.

39 What is your favorite sound?

Breeze coming through the window in the spring and early summer

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

My dedication, focus, and passion. Also, I love my hair.

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?

Powerful

42 What is your proudest moment?

Any time I speak to kids or lead a program with them and they give me a hug or ask if they can take pictures with me, I swoon. The students participating in our MWEE (meaningful watershed educational experience) called “What Lives in the Harbor” are provided a set of short videos that I am featured in to prepare them for their field investigation. When they get off the bus and see me waiting for them, they yell out to me and are excited to say hi. Many of them think I am “famous” (even though the video was only made by my organization and isn’t shared broadly) but more so, I think they are happy about having someone who they can identify with doing science. I do not look like the people they are used to seeing in books who are scientists and once we talk, they usually relax even more when they recognize that I talk like them too (the Baltimore accent is pretty distinctive).

If I had to choose another moment that has equally made me proud of myself, I would say that I have created a space for students from local HBCUs in Baltimore to have an internship opportunity with environmental organizations, like National Aquarium. I really love the “What Lives in the Harbor” program, bringing Baltimore City middle school students awareness of their connection to the Chesapeake Bay. I made a deliberate decision to use pre-service teachers from Morgan State University’s Education Department as interns in the role of station leads for the outdoor experience with the middle schoolers. Additionally, Coppin State University’s Department of Natural Sciences also provided students to serve as interns for the MWEE program. The middle schoolers and the interns have a connection that is undeniable; they kids stated how much they enjoyed working with the interns because they were “fun but also made them do their work.” For me, I love that the interns serve as role models for these young kids in Baltimore, showing them that college is attainable and cool. Partnering with the HBCUs in Baltimore City (which had never been done in any capacity between these institutions) was crucial because not only are we building stewardship in the middle school students through the program, but also in the college interns. One of the interns from Morgan State University expressed interest in learning more about the environmental education field and has since joined our staff. Another intern from Coppin State University expressed her plan to be a vet and since her internship with us, she has accepted a summer internship at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology. I will continue to look for ways to strength these partnerships and create new ones to increase representation in the STEM field.

43 What kind of tree would you be?

Oak Tree

44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

There’s a community garden directly behind my house and anyone in the neighborhood can grow their own food. Some of the people have tons of experience with gardening and help the beginners. I also love hearing the music from the garden as everyone is out there working on their beds. It feels like community.

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

This is strange but I love to make up my own songs about anything. I randomly break out into song and although I cannot sing at all, it is pretty amusing to others who are nearby.

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?

Diamonique Clark (@diamabroad on IG) and Theresa Jones (@biologistbae on IG)