Vashon Nature Center’s mission is to provide transformative nature experiences through research, education, and community science for the benefit of our island home and the entire Salish Sea. We conduct educational programs in local schools, run community science and monitoring projects on a wide variety of wildlife ecology and marine topics, and conduct interpretive programs and nature events for the public. Learn more at vashonnaturecenter.org.
Valeria Martinez Espinoza
Community Education Specialist
I grew up in the city of Querétaro in Mexico, where the closest beach is 6 hours away by car. I visited the beach for the first time when I was 13. A formative outdoor experience was when my biology teacher in high school took us on a field trip to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico to release newly hatched turtles into the ocean! That experience motivated me to study Biology. During college, internships gave me experience researching the pollinators of two plants native to the sand dunes of the Caribbean sea and examining benthos collected in the “Alacranes” reef in the Gulf of Mexico. I moved to Washington through a cultural exchange, and I took every opportunity to learn from this place. I volunteered as an environmental educator for toddlers at the Environmental Science Center and for the Crab Team of the University of Washington to monitor the population of the European green crab. At Vashon Nature Center, my work is in outdoor education, teaching about salmon and Puget Sound, and I look for ways to engage the Latin community to explore the outdoors.
Education Programs Manager
I grew up exploring the beaches and sailing the waters of Puget Sound. I still remember the first time I met a beach ranger at Edmonds beach near my childhood home. I have always been drawn to the watery world around us. My work history includes tallship deck handing and education, interpretation work at The Seattle Aquarium including guiding groups as a Beach Naturalist and salmon spawning guide, and more recently researching shoreline restoration projects and coordinating the community science and student involvement for Vashon Nature Center.
I grew up on Vashon Island and most of my early memories include building sandcastles for shore crabs, having kelp whip fights, and when older, scuba diving with friends to find a fabled shipwreck (still looking!). In high school, I took a marine chemistry class where I got to participate in designing an artificial reef and rearing salmon, and realized I could do this for a job! During college, I was able to study for a time at Hopkins Marine Station as part of my undergraduate degree at Stanford University in Earth Systems. At Hopkins I studied yellowfin tuna ecology and conservation. I opted for a general undergraduate degree in Biology with my doctoral work in Ecology. This has been great as I have been able to work in research and education in a wide variety of habitats from Yosemite National Park to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I have returned to the marine world once again through my work at Vashon Nature Center.
We all love that our careers provide us with a diverse set of research topics and work settings and get us regularly outdoors. Vashon Nature Center’s research combines with other regional efforts to help inform Puget Sound Partnership’s Vital Signs to influence public policy and improve ecological health. Our work is meaningful and makes a difference in improving the home we are all so connected to.
Working for a nonprofit allows us all to multi-task by sharing our love for nature with people and students while doing creative and meaningful ecological research. While it is not a career that will make any of us rich, it is heartfelt and connective and makes us feel good every day coming to work and interacting with our similarly passionate partners, students, and volunteers. Our work gives us hope and allows us to connect deeply with where we live and share that connection with others.
For all of us, high school was a pivotal point where we discovered our love for marine studies and decided to become scientists and educators. We did this because of amazing mentors who gave us hands-on experiences that opened our eyes to possibilities. Maritime High School’s student-led, place-based, hands-on learning focus is exactly what is needed in order to inspire future leaders to find their passion and make a difference.
All of us want to give back and be the mentors that once helped us! We are honored to be part of the foundational team at MHS. We look forward to collaborative opportunities between MHS and other schools that we work with in the future and we are excited to see the leaders this school develops.
This is our moment to create positive regional change through powerful maritime experiences. Find out how your investment will make a difference for the students of Maritime High School. Click here to learn more and make a gift.
To learn more and enroll, visit maritime.highlineschools.org