Meet our Alumni – Environmental Scientist

Barbara Bollard Breen, PhD, Assumption Class of 1979
Holy Names High School, Class of 1983
Environmental Conservationist

breenWhy did you choose your profession?

I was always interested in science, but as a child, I wanted to study medicine. But two pivotal points in my life led to my decision to work in conservation and spatial ecology. During a childhood trip to the San Juan Islands, I watched orcas being transported in sea cages, bound for wildlife parks around the world. I found the injustice of seeing a top predator captured for human entertainment devastating. Another pivotal point was my first scuba dive (which I did with my brother, Tim, Assumption Class 1977). I realized there was an amazing world to explore underwater.

I began studying conservation of dugongs and whales near the Great Barrier Reef. The scientist I worked for introduced me to the geospatial component of conservation ecology (the understanding of whole ecosystems instead of just one small patch of reef) and demonstrated that a woman could excel in science and still have a family. She was a tremendous role model for me.

During and after my PhD, I worked for several conservation organizations and was involved in many initiatives to save special places and species. One day, I helped a friend at Auckland University of Technology teach a course in Geographic Information Systems. It was such a positive experience that I moved from the front line of conservation to education and research.

My career took a huge leap forward with the advancement of drone technology. Now, I travel to some of the world’s most amazing places using drones to map threatened ecosystems, with the aim of protecting them for future generations.

What memories do you have of ASB?

The quality of education, the kindness of the teachers and staff, the peer support, the parental involvement, and the partnership with Assumption Church all created a sense of community and safety, and gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams. Whenever I visit Seattle, I return to Assumption; it has a strong sense of home for me. I am proud to be an alumni and I love that my nephews and nieces went to my school, and that my big brother Bob works there!

What advice do you have for younger students, especially girls hoping to pursue a career in science?

Follow your passion! Do what you believe and stay true to your values. Don’t be driven by money or greed. Be a good person, be true to yourself and family. I absolutely love what I do and I believe I make a difference. I am able to share my research and knowledge with younger generations of up and coming scientists, and this gives me hope for the future of our planet.