August 10, 2015
About four years ago, Leslie Irwin '09 found herself at a crossroads. A marine life enthusiast since childhood, she realized that her passion was not in a lab conducting hyper-focused research, but she wasn't sure what path to take next.
Two years after graduating from Susquehanna with a degree in biology, Irwin reached out to her mentor and senior thesis advisor David Richard, professor of biology and associate dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, for advice.
"I talked with him about not wanting to do research anymore and he helped me to come to terms with that," Irwin said. "I know now that I made the right decision and I'm happy with how it all turned out."
Irwin changed her marine biology graduate school focus at the University of Delaware to environmental policy at the University of Pennsylvania, paving the way for her current position as a communications specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) headquartered in Silver Spring, Md.
At NCCOS, Irwin tracks the work of the organization's researchers and generates communications materials, photo galleries and videos to promote that research. She also prepares researchers for meetings with potential supporters and stakeholders.
"I'm still able to work with the sciences and be close to cool research going on, but use my creativity at the same time," Irwin said.
Most recently, she accompanied a research team to the U.S. Virgin Islands in an effort to map the Caribbean's coral reef ecosystem.
Documented by Irwin, the research team used high-tech tools-including an underwater vehicle-to locate previously-unknown seafloor habitats, map out coral reefs, and locate fish spawning grounds.
Originally from King of Prussia, Pa., Irwin said it was a snorkeling excursion during a childhood vacation in Florida that ignited her love of marine life.
When considering college, Irwin said Susquehanna's Global Opportunities (GO) program Focus Australia-which includes a dive on the Great Barrier Reef-was a major draw.
Despite leaving lab work behind, Irwin sees great value in the work she's doing by making the public, policymakers and potential funding agencies aware of the important research being done by NCCOS.
"It's important the public realize the threats that are facing the ocean these days," Irwin said, "and having a career that supports addressing those problems is pretty satisfying."
See more of Irwin's work here and here.