Suraida headshot

Suraida James

Guest Educator
Education Specialist
NOAA Affiliate - NOAA Ocean Exploration

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

I am a contractor with Groundswells where I work as a NOAA Affiliate with NOAA Ocean Exploration on K-12 education and outreach initiatives across the nation. I focus on lesson development and professional development opportunities for educators. I work to engage diverse communities and partners and serve to inspire all generations to protect and conserve our ocean. I am also the CEO and Founder for the Gulf Reach Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and an international leader uniting the Gulf of Mexico through education, health and advocacy with a focus on youth and underrepresented communities.
I have been in the field of marine science and STEM education and communication for more than 20 years working in academia, for nonprofits, the Texas State Aquarium and schools. I have conducted research on great white shark ecology, benthic fisheries ecology, and restoration and habitat conservation. My expertise in both science and education have allowed me to be able to create and implement innovative STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programming for various audiences as well as teach other scientists to share their work. 

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

Since a young age, I have always been curious about the natural world. My mom said I was a natural born scientist and "pez" or fish because I loved the water so much. Even as a child, I understood that water is a living thing that must be protected and that my ancestral connection to water was woven into my DNA. I was a water protector! So at the age of 12, I decided I could help protect the ocean as a marine scientist and teach others about the ocean as a teacher. I also hardly ever saw anyone that looked like me in the marine field and wanted to change that for others who wanted to do what was deemed just a dream. With my familia's love and support and with lots of "ganas" (drive and desire), I became the first one in my family to graduate high school and college. And now I am here!

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

I have had many mentors throughout the evolution of my life. Everyone from my familia to some amazing teachers to even those I have taught, have helped encourage me when I fail and celebrated me when I succeed. They have all played a special role in my life. 

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

The best part of science education and communication is engaging with people, connecting with them, learning about different cultures, and having the opportunity to be a part of science expeditions and sail on vessels like the E/V Nautilus.

How did you get involved with the Ocean Exploration Trust?

NOAA Ocean Exploration is a partner with Ocean Exploration Trust, and I was invited to join the expedition. In previous positions, I have also held ocean explorations events and connected teachers and students to the E/V Nautilus live.

What other jobs led you to your current career?

I have studied fisheries, benthic ecology, and habitat restoration. I have developed and managed educational programming in informal organizations as well as taught in the classroom. With each of those jobs, I have taken the good and the bad experiences as a chance to learn. In each place, I have gained new science and communication skills, and these experiences have led to opportunities like expeditions, keynote speaking engagements, and the ability to goes my network.

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Science in Marine Fisheries, Texas A&M University at Galveston 
Master of Science, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Research Fellowship, Environmental and Evolutionary Biology

What are your hobbies?

I love working with my community youth. I also love to dance, travel, spend time with my family, go to the beach, hike, and camp!

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

There is a place for everyone in ocean exploration. A passion to protect and conserve the ocean plus the desire to never stop learning is a must because it will fuel your success. My best advice is if STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) is your path, make sure you're studying the basics as well as the new tools and tech like AI, coding, etc. If your vibe is more science education and communication, practice makes perfect. Invest in courses like pedagogy, cultural competence, and storytelling. And if you love doing BOTH, find a creative way to do that and DO NOT let anyone tell you that you have to choose science over education or vice versa. The combination of the two make you more diverse and stronger in the field. And to all the Latinas out there thinking of going into ocean exploration and/or education, know that we will not always fit, but we ALWAYS belong.


Suraida participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions: