The Team

Ship Location

E Pacific Ocean

Samantha Wishnak

Photo of Samantha  Wishnak
Social Media Coordinator
Ocean Exploration Trust

Tell us about your work / research. What kinds of things do you do?

I’m the co-founder of Global Engineering & Exploration Counselors, organizing and running underwater robot building and exploration workshops for students and adults, with a focus on getting more girls and women interested in marine technology. Building an OpenROV as a team, participants learn hands-on shop skills, marine technology concepts and expedition planning—gaining confidence in their ability as engineers before heading out to a local pond or marina to test piloting skills. Recently, I completed a three-month-long start-up program in Chile to further develop our offerings, and will be collaborating on underwater robot expeditions for adult and student travel programs. 

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

My parents introduced me to the conservation-focused Monterey Bay Aquarium when I was four months old--and I’ve had an unwavering sense of wonder for the oceans ever since. My childhood bedroom featured an Aladdin movie poster and a map of the Monterey submarine canyon! Later, I was obsessed with everything Titanic-related, but more for the underwater robots than the history or romance. Those early influences always stuck with me, even while pursuing different interests during and after college. 

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

My folks have always nurtured my interest in being outdoors, with family camping trips and frequent visits to the tidepools and aquarium--and by valuing summer opportunities to learn and explore. With their encouragement, I’ve been able to take some non-linear leaps that have allowed me to follow work I love. At York School, educator Kim Kiest brought marine science and technology alive for me with hands-on lessons, goofy drawings and an infectious joy in sharing her experiences from the field. I continue to draw on her classes for my core marine biology knowledge and inspiration for bringing others into the world of ocean exploration. 

What element of your work / study do you think is the most fascinating?

Being able to connect marine science with accessible technologies. We humans have explored so little of our oceans and every scientific expedition brings to light new species. In our programs we use OpenROV underwater robot kits that are low-cost and easy to build--allowing anyone to become citizen scientists and explorers. People only protect what they understand, and we need to get more eyes in the sea to bridge that gap. Plus, there are some really ridiculously good-looking squid species out there.

What other jobs led you to your current career?

I’ve been part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's ecosystem for many years--first as a high school volunteer guide, and later as a sailboat naturalist, informal educator and social media specialist inspiring conservation of the oceans with millions of visitors. Connections made through the aquarium and ocean events led me to re-focus my career on sharing my childhood love of underwater robots with students and adults around the world. 

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, University of Chicago 2010; Certified Interpretative Guide, National Association for Interpretation

What are your hobbies?

After learning to scuba dive a couple years ago, I can’t get enough of the cold, rich kelp forests of Monterey. When I can’t dive, you’ll find me exploring new places, building terrariums and tinkering to find the perfect upcycled use for household trash. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?

Say yes more and keep an open mind. Leave your comfort zone by going to events you’re interested in, even if they’re outside your particular field. You never know who you’ll meet or what collaborations could come out of it. Don't be afraid to reach out to new people--and keep in touch! Build and maintain supportive relationships with people doing interesting work in your field--some of my most exciting projects have come from former colleagues who recommended me because they remembered my enthusiasm. 

How did you get involved in the Nautilus Exploration Program? How did you get on the ship?

An early Nautilus Live viewer, I got hooked and started streaming deep sea exploration everywhere I went. If we lost audio, I would jump in and narrate, punctuating overviews of deep sea ecology with stories about my favorite sightings (squid!). Long aware of the on-board education opportunities, the opportunity to apply to be a Science Communication Fellow came at a perfect time of transition between working at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and launching independent underwater robot programs.