Lauren Wenzel headshot and a photo of her giving a presentation to a small group

Lauren Wenzel | Director

NOAA's Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Center

What does a typical day look like for you?

Typical days are a bit different during the pandemic than they were before (even more meetings these days), but my job has always been about building relationships with MPA professionals, connecting people working on similar issues, and supporting capacity building and strong policies and management for MPA programs. I also really enjoy the time I have writing and reviewing documents to advance our collective work on issues like climate resilience and engagement with Indigenous communities.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

The most rewarding aspect of my work is building partnerships to connect people to work together, and seeing MPA programs achieving real world results to protect important species and habitats, like the whales, turtles, and seabirds that migrate from one part of the world to another, protected by dedicated MPA managers along the way. It's also exciting to see MPA programs gradually change over time to address critical issues like how we can manage MPAs to adapt to climate change, and new models of cooperative management with Indigenous peoples.

What if any challenges have you faced as a woman in an ocean-related career?

I feel like I’ve been very lucky in my career to have strong women mentors and role models. I started my conservation career with a liberal arts degree, so I went back and did graduate work in the sciences to build that foundation. I still see a lot more women in policy and outreach roles, and more men in the sciences, but those lines are starting to break down. Now that I’ve been working in conservation for over 30 years (yikes!), I’m really excited to see more women from diverse backgrounds being represented in the workforce.

What is one piece of advice you would share with someone who might be thinking of pursuing your career path?

My advice would be that there is more than one way to reach your career goals, and careers often don’t progress in a straight line. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t get your “dream job” or are having a hard time breaking into the field. Get a foot in the door (even in a less than perfect job) and play to your strengths—you may be surprised at the new opportunities that open up.