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A female free-diver holds on to the back of a whale shark taking her for a ride.

Turning the Tides

Sarah Argyropoulos aids the discoveries of women in marine science

Wouldn’t it be thrilling to find the next Sylvia Earle — the next Jane Goodall — and give her the opportunity to learn and think and push forward in ways she would not be able to otherwise?

That search motivates UC Santa Barbara Foundation Trustee Sarah Argyropoulos to invest in graduate fellowships for women at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, where 50 students are pursuing doctorates to work for a sustainable future. Thanks to Sarah, Ph.D. candidates are expanding our knowledge of the ocean.

Why did Sarah choose the ocean?

“I’m a Pisces,” she laughed, “it’s in my blood.”

Sarah grew up among the lakes and rivers of the Midwest. At a young age, she decided to travel with her snorkel just in case she found herself near water. When she did, the world opened up.

As an avid diver, traveler and catch-and-release fly-fisher, Sarah’s love of adventure has led her to oceans around the world. In Greece, she spied an octopus emptying a shell for lunch. In the Forgotten Islands, she was fascinated by mating cuttlefish. While scuba diving in Raja Ampat, she lay on the ocean floor watching manta rays swim to their cleaning station until her air tank dwindled. With her experience comes an awareness of what we risk losing to the crisis of climate change.

“Earth needs all the help it can get,” said Sarah. “Why not women?”

Sarah may not have had the opportunity to become a marine scientist herself, but she is committed to making sure other women do. She admires the fortitude of Erin Winslow, the first student supported by her fellowship.

Erin Winslow
Sarah (middle) and Erin (right)

Erin has spent six summers diving for field data in Mo’orea, French Polynesia since her first trip as a UC Santa Barbara undergraduate volunteer intern. Now a Ph.D. student, Erin studies how to manage successful environments for coral, which are “habitat engineers” that comprise only 3% of the ocean but support over 35% of global fisheries.

“Through Bren, I have the training to think not only like an ecologist but also as a social scientist, an economist and a policymaker on any given topic. That has equipped me to think about environmental problems in a way that other pure disciplines cannot,” said Erin.

Erin worked as a teaching assistant during her master’s degree to pay for her education. Now that Sarah’s support frees her to focus on her research instead, Erin can apply the resilience of coral reefs to interdisciplinary models that protect the natural world.

“Students like Erin can devote themselves to finding solutions to environmental challenges thanks to Sarah’s support,” said Steve Gaines, Dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. “Their work enhances the science of sustainable interactions between people and the ecosystems they are coupled to.”

For Sarah, supporting Bren School students means pushing the boundaries of our knowledge. Not content with just floating in the tide, Sarah hopes to change it.