Symone Barkley

Roles at NAAEE:

30 Under 30, Changemaker Grantee

Communications Specialist
NOAA

2021 EE 30 Under 30 Changemaker Grant Project
Peace of Nature: Empowering Youth in STEM Learning & Environmentalism

A Peace of Nature aims to equip traditionally excluded communities with resources and knowledge to act sustainably in their everyday lives and advocate for sustainable behavior in their communities. Youth will receive kits that include a book directly related to an activity that features a typically excluded/underrepresented audience (e.g., girls in STEM, POC); all the resources required for the feature activity; and video tutorials with detailed, step-by-step instructions. The kits will provide interesting and engaging hands-on learning activities and encourage literacy in young audiences to help address the STEM learning gap and drive diversity in the field.

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EE 30 Under 30 Biography

Baltimore, MD, United States
Age: 30

Symone works to increase environmental literacy for youth and early-career professionals, prioritizing those in the Black community, through relationship-building and hands-on experiential learning opportunities. 

How are you using education to build more sustainable and equitable communities? 

I currently manage a Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE) for all Baltimore City Public School sixth grade classes. As the manager, I made a deliberate decision to hire interns from Morgan and Coppin State Universities, both historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), as the station leads for the outdoor experience with the middle schoolers. It was critical to have minority representation in the educators, coming from the same demographic backgrounds as the middle schoolers. As a result, interns from these HBCUs gain experience in science communication, outdoor instruction, and stewardship. I also lead workshops to educate people about how they can make sustainable swaps that are economically feasible, and I host a monthly webinar for NOAA called Ocean Today, Every Full Moon Watch Party. This resource is designed to be used by informal and formal educators, and middle school students, but is open to the general public. Each month features a different ocean topic, such as marine archaeology, beach safety, and hurricanes.

Tell us about your journey to where you are today. 

Growing up, I loved animals, and despite not seeing a Black person on nature television programs or having a role model in the field, my interest continued to grow. In high school, I joined the National Aquarium’s Student Summer Volunteer Program which solidified my desire to study marine science. Even with exciting research experience ranging from algae and blue crabs to sandbar and sand tiger sharks, I realized my purpose is to use my background as a tool to reach back and expose other young people, especially Black people, to the field. During my Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship in NOAA’s Office of Education in 2017, a young Black kid asked me, “How do I get your job?” when I shared my research on sharks. Questions like that, or seeing a child’s face light up when they hold a mud crab in their hands for the first time, are my “why.”  

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders?

When I was in undergrad, my loved ones would assume that I would work at an aquarium as a marine biologist, but I knew that I was not interested in being an aquarist, so I did not seek any positions at aquariums. It was not until my Knauss Fellowship that I learned about aquariums’ initiatives to work with the community, foster youth development, and provide programming to schools. After realizing all that aquariums can offer, I came to the National Aquarium to do work that impacts kids like me in my hometown. So, my advice is to never rule anything out. You never know how you might be able to create your own legacy in a place where you had not imagined yourself. Never let anyone try to put you or your dreams into one box. Combine your gifts to create a career that brings you the upmost fulfillment.

Who keeps you motivated, inspired, and/or hopeful for the future?

One of my sisters, Synai (19 years old), has some developmental delays and every day she reminds me of how blessed I am to have even the simplest abilities. Seeing her happy despite not being able to walk, talk, see clearly, or even eat food, encourages me to remain humble. Synai has shown me that happiness is not determined by anyone but yourself. She is a perfect example of kindness and love. Watching our youngest sister, Sydney (16 years old), protect and care for Synai is a prime example of how important it is to help others. Sydney is a funny creative with an unforgettable personality that captivates anyone and everyone who meets her. She has taught me to never be afraid to show up in spaces as my truest self and I admire her ability to dream without limitations. Their presence in my life has been invaluable.