The Team

Ship Location

Cascadia Margin, USA

Melissa Baffa

Photo of Melissa Baffa
Science Communication Fellow
Vice President of Program and Volunteer Services
Girl Scouts of California's Central Coast

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

I oversee the departments that develop and deliver programs and training for nearly 11,000 girls and 5,500 volunteers across six counties in California (over a geographic area the same size as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island COMBINED). This includes in-person programs and training, online programs, program kits, vendor and community relations, events, and more. The mission of Girl Scouts is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place. It is very exciting to participate in these efforts, especially in light of the continuing gaps that exist for women in the workforce, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Girl Scouts' focus on leadership, the outdoors, and STEM is in direct alignment with my personal and professional interests.

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

I am a biologist, and have served as an educator in one capacity or another for nearly all of my career. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I discovered my love for biology when one of my high school teachers brought in a live plankton sample for us to explore. Once I looked in the microscope and saw tiny organisms squirming and swimming around, I was enthralled, and decided to study biology in college. After spending a number of years teaching in a formal setting, I made the leap to the nonprofit sector, and I really enjoy informal learning environments.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

I have a number of people who have influenced me: my parents, who always took us to the beach, and hiking and camping growing up, and instilled a deep love of nature that is at the core of my being; my teachers, who recognized that I was inquisitive and academically gifted, and encouraged me to work hard and pursue my dreams; and my colleagues in the nonprofit, for-profit, and public sectors, who support my efforts in the nonprofit community to this day and serve as a continual source of inspiration and support. I also would not be able to participate in this amazing program, or anything I do, without the support of my family - I am encouraged and inspired by them every day.

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

Inspiring people, especially young people, to explore, discover, and pursue their dreams. I like to say that we are in the business of planting seeds; we never know what will take root and end up bearing fruit someday. I get so excited to see a girl wearing her Girl Scouts uniform with one of the patches that I designed sewn on to the back. I think it's a tremendous opportunity and honor, to perhaps inspire a passion or vocation in a young person, to introduce her to something that could change her life. I am all about making our world a better place, and always have been. We always say that Girl Scouts leave a place better than they found it; it is my great desire to leave the world a better place than I found it.

What other jobs led you to your current career?

Straight out of college, I worked in a lab at a major biotech firm, and quickly figured out it was not for me. Everyone thought I was crazy to take a huge pay cut and go into teaching, but teaching was what I had always wanted to do. I taught both high school and middle school science before leaving the classroom to pursue a career in nonprofit management. I have served as the executive director of a children's museum and a nonprofit affiliated with our local State Parks, and am currently overseeing programs and volunteer services for the Girl Scouts of California's Central Coast. I am also very involved in my community where it comes to leadership; I sit on two boards and one steering committee for organizations dedicated to leadership and improving the quality of life in our community.

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Science in Biology - California Lutheran University 1995, single subject teaching credential - California State University, Northridge 2001

What are your hobbies?

Photography, gardening, hiking, writing, creative pursuits (painting, sewing, jewelry-making, crafting), volunteering.

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

Relationships are the key to success in the nonprofit realm. It is vital for a nonprofit professional to cultivate and nurture relationships throughout the community, and to be involved in a number of organizations, projects, and efforts across various fields. One has to be always learning, growing, and following the news; you have to be able to connect the dots and understand how the various critical issues in your community are connected, and who the key players are that can effect change. Additionally, a personal effort to cultivate a mindset of abundance, positivity, and gratitude will help you to weather the storms of the nonprofit sector and to recognize the opportunities cloaked within challenges.

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

An email announcing the program was forwarded to me, in a somewhat mistaken fashion (my supervisor at the time misread it and sent it to me for a different purpose). When I read it carefully, I got extremely excited about the opportunity, but the deadline to apply was only two days away. So I scrambled to get approval to apply from the leadership at Girl Scouts, and approval from my husband (since I could potentially be gone for several weeks), to line up letters of recommendation, and get it all submitted in time. It was a very serendipitous experience, and very hectic. I was a little scared to apply, because I had never done something like this before, and I wasn't completely sure if I was worthy of it. But once I was selected, and went out on my first expedition last year, I found reserves of strength and talent I did not know I had. The growth I experienced was tremendous.

"Oceans occupy more of the Earth's surface than land, and are vital to our planet and all of its living things. Yet we know so little about them! I am thrilled to participate in the investigation and discovery of this precious, and yet vastly unknown place."