Centennial Story 10: Sara Adlerstein-Gonzalez (MS, 1987; PhD, 1992)

My years at the University of Washington are among the best in my life; I was not the best student, but I must have been the happiest! I joined the MS program with a Chilean government scholarship, poised to obtain expertise in stock assessment and to go back to my job at the Undersecretary of Fisheries. But life took me in different directions. I wanted to study abroad because with a biology degree and a thesis on phytoplankton taxonomy, I found myself needing to develop analytical expertise to inform management; and there were no appropriate programs in Chile. However, I also needed to find a good place for my sons (then aged 7 and 10). I heard Lobo Orensanz (PhD, 1989) and Vince Gallucci talk at a conference and added the Center for Quantitative Sciences to my search list. When I visited Seattle, I knew it was going to be our next home. I left Chile in spring 1983 and landed in Seattle on a glorious fall day where I found a family of students: among them Lobo, Ana Parma (PhD, 1989), Raul Palacios (MS, 1987; PhD, 1994), Fred Felleman (MS, 1986), Sonia Guarda (MS, 1985), John Hedgepeth (PhD, 1994), and later Miguel Pascual (PhD, 1993), Miriam Fernandez (PhD, 1994) and Jim Ianelli (PhD, 1993).

Sara at Flemming Creek with students during her Restoration Ecology class last year

The School and UW provided such exciting opportunities. At the start as a foreign student, there were challenges and many funny moments. Ana and I were classmates in Vince’s population dynamics class in my first quarter, and we became known for laughing at his jokes with a 5- minute delay when Sonia would translate for us. The Sand Point housing and the city were an ideal place to live, and many of the wonderful people I met became friends for life. For my thesis, I developed a method to age a Chilean commercially important mollusk species, using shell daily increments and also implemented a growth model. Vince was my MS advisor; he suggested I worked on my thesis during the summer in Friday Harbor.  My kids loved living in the huts, fishing at the pier and exploring new worlds under the microscope. Friday Harbor was also where I met Edgar Meyhofer, later a Zoology PhD student, and now my husband.

After graduating, I continued into the PhD program under Bob Francis, with Ray Hilborn as a committee member.  My dissertation was on dynamics of Pacific hake and a Kudoa parasite. I shared an office with Jim Lanelli and Rick Brodeur (PhD, 1990). I loved the school-wide seminars with pizza and beer, which allowed me to talk to faculty and other experts in a relaxed atmosphere. Working with Bob led to collaborations at NOAA and other agencies. Also, Bob encouraged me to be a whole person. I am a visual artist and he a jazz musician, so we both understood creativity. I can say that while at SAFS, I also flourished as an artist. Close to graduation, Don McCaughran hired me at the International Pacific Halibut Commission to do work on halibut bycatch. It was a pleasure to work with Bob Trumble, and share an office with my friend Ana. But soon it was time to leave and get established in Germany, my husband’s country of citizenship.

I worked for six years at the Institute of Fisheries at the University of Hamburg, before coming back to the US. I kept my connections with SAFS while in Europe through research on MPAs with Ray and Raquel Goni (MS, 1998) at the Oceanographic Institute in Baleares. It was great to have grants, collaborate with colleagues from many countries, and even represent Germany in ICES working groups. By the time I was able to speak German fluently (not perfectly) and make people laugh, my husband started talking about a job at the University of Michigan (UM).

We moved to Michigan in 2001, and I joined the School of Natural Resources & Environment faculty (now School for Environment and Sustainability). At UM, I have been able to find and create opportunities to incorporate the arts in my job. My research has focused mostly on the Great Lakes, where fisheries and habitat deterioration are bringing species to extinction, invasive species and climate change are ruling lake dynamics, and the preferred management tool is fish stocking (native and exotic). Here, my fascination with understanding nature got transformed into a sense of mission to protect nature and work towards a more just world. I want to inspire new generations and am channeling most of my energy through

teaching, outreach, and engagement by creating courses and other opportunities that bridge environmental sciences and the arts. I have discovered that the greatest source of satisfaction comes from the privilege to teach, which I consider an act of love.

The experience during my years at SAFS shaped me in so many ways. I am grateful, and I look forward to going back and contributing to the 100-year celebration. It will be full circle, as Bob Francis encouraged me to be, a whole person.

Sara Alderstein, Wayne Getz, Raquel Coni and Ana Parma (Resource Modelling Conf Vancouver)
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