State Fellow spotlight: Ashley Bolwerk

Jesse Gordon contributed to this story.

Ashley Bolwerk describes her professional path as one that has “meandered between science and education.” After spending six years working for the Sitka Sound Science Center as education manager and contributing to various research projects, Bolwerk decided that she wanted to focus on a science-driven career. She hopes to use her background in education as a tool to communicate her work and connect with local communities.

photo of Ashley Bolwerk
Courtesy of Ashley Bolwerk

Bolwerk graduated from the University of Wisconsin Green Bay with a B.S. in biology and a minor in education and environmental science. This past spring, she graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences with a M.S. in fisheries. She has teaching certificates in both Wisconsin and Alaska, qualifying her to teach middle and high school biology.

For her master’s research, Bolwerk studied the impacts of sea otter colonization on rocky intertidal communities, and worked with the community of Hydaburg on Prince of Wales Island to understand declines in pinto abalone at traditional harvest sites. Now, as an Alaska Sea Grant State Fellow, Ashley is working with the National Marine Fisheries Service, Habitat Conservation Division, to develop a plan to create a pinto abalone-centric habitat focus area.

She explained, “Pinto abalone are a traditional resource. It’s more than food; it’s a part of local culture and who the people are. Pinto abalone have seriously declined in abundance, and communities want to better understand what’s happening at traditional harvest sites.”

During the course of her fellowship, Bolwerk will develop a five-year habitat focus area plan that prioritizes the concerns and needs of communities in the pinto abalone range, which could include research, restoration, cultural and educational programming, aquaculture, and monitoring. Bolwerk noted that it’s imperative to develop the plan around the communities’ needs to ensure that efforts are relevant and beneficial.

She is also looking forward to the opportunities for professional development that her fellowship will offer.

“I was drawn to the fellowship because it’s an Alaska-based program, and it seems like the fellowship really emphasizes networking opportunities and offers a good transition between graduate school and work within an agency,” she said. “It was also exciting that this particular fellowship had a direct link to my master’s research.”

Regardless of whether Bolwerk continues to work for an agency like NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, she says she will always put the needs of small and Indigenous communities at the forefront of her work.

“I would like to continue to work with aquatic resources in Alaska and help promote the rights of Native and rural communities,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where or which agency. My goal will always be to engage the needs of these communities through education, collaboration, and relationship building.”