- STEM Program Manager for the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island in Alaska
- Ph.D. Fisheries, University of Alaska Fairbanks, currently in program
- M.Sc. Fisheries, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2013
- B.A. in Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Columbia University 2006
- MSDA Class of 2002
During her time at the Mount, Veronica was heavily involved in the yearbook and participated in track and tennis. She also competed in fencing during high school, which kept her very busy outside of her school activities. The Mount recently caught up with Veronica as part of the debut of the Mount’s new Innovation Center, and learned more about her life in Alaska, as well as the path she took to get there and her inspirations along the way.
Veronica, tell us a bit about your life in Alaska.
I work for the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, an island community of approximately 400 people, located in the central Bering Sea, off the west coast of Alaska. I spend about half my time on St. Paul, and the other half of my time in Anchorage. I am the STEM Program Manager for the Tribe, which means I get to work on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education and outreach opportunities for the St. Paul Island community. Part of my job includes bringing awesome scientists to the island to teach classes like Berries of Alaska, Circumpolar Archaeology, Oceanography, Marine Biology and much more. We also try to bring as many citizen science opportunities to the community members as possible: measuring and taking tissue samples from fish, tracking beached birds on the shoreline, taking samples when they go reindeer hunting, and generally making us aware when they see unusual things on the island.
My favorite part of my job is working with the students, because it makes my heart grow to watch them discover all the beauty science holds, and learn how science impacts everything we do. I hope that in the future many of our students will pursue scientific careers and be able to bring their knowledge and skills back to their community to help them understand environmental changes and create resilience in the face of those changes. That is a particular concern for communities in the Arctic, as global challenges like climate change impact the environment here more heavily and rapidly in comparison to the rest of the United States. This year, one of the high school students that worked with us over the summer was accepted into the marine biology program at the University of Alaska Southeast. We are super proud of her, and know she will make a huge difference in her community in the future.
Did your time at the Mount impact where you are today?
Absolutely! It was AP Biology with Mrs. Hirce that sparked my love of biology and motivated me to major in the subject in college. Funny enough, I almost dropped AP Bio at the start of the school year when I utterly bombed an assignment on the Hardy-Weinberg principle. I hated feeling like I had disappointed a teacher, especially someone as brilliant as Mrs. Hirce, so I spent the remainder of the year working my hardest and aced that AP exam. It set me on a course that I never imagined when I was a teenager, but I have been on so many adventures because of my career in biological sciences and could not ask for a better way to live!
What advice would you give to a current Mount student?
Stick with it, even when you feel like you’re failing. Failure is ok! We all fail because we are all human. Resilience means reexamining why you may have failed and approaching the problem with new insight and perspective so that you succeed the next time. The world is changing so quickly right now, and it might feel like it is hard to keep up, but just hang in there, you will achieve your dreams. Also, be open to new adventures, and face your fears head on, because you never know where new opportunities might lead. I never once thought I would end up living in Alaska, but here I am, and I love my job and love having the opportunity to work in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
What are some of your memories from your days at the Mount?
Yearbook! I loved working on the yearbook as it allowed me to access a creative side that I did not know I possessed. I loved taking pictures for the yearbook, and to this day I pursue photography as a hobby, hoping to capture unique moments in nature and with people.
With the perspective you’ve gained being away from the Mount for several years, what are three words you would use to describe the Mount and your time in school? And why?
Community-building: September 11th occurred during my senior year at the Mount. That year stands out in my memory like a beacon. Our world changed in many ways, and it is only now, many years later, that I realize just how much the world changed. Regardless of how scary that time might have been, it brought the Mount community together. We worked hard throughout that year to collect items and funds for survivors, and to face those fears together, and hold each other closely, because having a community to lift you up was the only way to get through it.
Empowering: There is nothing like being surrounded by brilliant women and amazing teachers to push you to do your best!
Challenging: Teachers knew how to push me to be the best version of myself, and do my best possible. It was not always easy, but rising to the challenge was always worth it.
How did the Mount help guide your personal journey?
Being a woman in STEM is not easy, particularly in academia, where there are still some levels of sexism that prevent women from rising through the ranks in the same way as men. It’s not easy, but I won’t let a little sexism stop me from succeeding. I don’t think I would have the confidence I possess today if it had not been for the Mount, where teachers expected the best from me, and helped me build the confidence to achieve anything I put my mind to.
What does the Mount’s mission – Empowering Young Women in the Catholic Dominican Tradition– mean to you?
I have been guided by a sense of wanting to do something that makes the world better, and I haven’t let challenges or failures stop me from achieving that goal. My sense of justice and wanting to make the world a better place has been shaped by the Mount’s mission. Women have the power to do good things in the world if they are lifted up and supported in those efforts, as the Mount does for young women.
What are your thoughts on the launch of the new Innovation Center?
Thank you for making this happen! STEM skills are not only critical for those wanting to pursue the sciences, but for everyone because deeply embedded in those skills are valuable life skills as well. Making science accessible to all is a mission of mine, and projects like this are an important way to open the door for young women.