Does your professional life match the future you dreamed of for yourself when you were a child? With career paths often becoming as unpredictable as weather, the answer is likely some variation of “No” or “Not quite.” But I recently had the opportunity to talk to four women who are living their dreams and exceeding their own expectations by bringing to life some of this year’s SharkFest programs on National Geographic and Nat Geo WILD.
“In grade school, I think I watched The Little Mermaid every day after school,” explained Dr. Rhianna M. Neely, Head of the Climate Change Unit in the Ministry of the Environment – Bahamas. “It was my favorite Disney movie.” Dr. Neely contributed to this season’s new episodes of When Sharks Attack, her love of Ariel’s undersea adventures leading to more environmental interests in her teenage years. But the future she planned on having would’ve involved more teaching and less policymaking, but she feels like she was born to do what she’s doing now.
Kimberly Jeffries is a photographer and diver who leant her talents to Most Wanted Sharks. She didn’t embrace pop culture as a child, but the way she approached the opportunity to work with National Geographic somewhat mirrors Ariel’s journey. “We all look at the yellow frame and say ‘That’s something I want to be a part of’ because of their reputation for excellence and natural history and environmental journalism,” Kimberly shared about wanting to be part of the world she’s currently in. “But having had the opportunity to work with them and to develop a show and to see their commitment to letting us have a voice which is uniquely ours, I wasn’t going to have the same opportunities with other outlets to tell my story as accurately and as authentically as I was able to do with Nat Geo.” It seems there are no sea witches at National Geographic robbing storytellers of their voices. “To me, it’s so amazing that there’s a committed group out there that’s really committed to the truth and science and really showcasing the amazing animals out there in our natural world. The experience is an ongoing one of just respect and gratitude for allowing us the opportunity to share our voice. Women are becoming a stronger voice in the natural history world and there’s just more of us now and it’s so refreshing to have Nat Geo let us share our voice like this.”
“I didn’t grow up near the ocean, I’m actually from St. Louis, MIssouri,” said Kori Garza, a Marine Biologist and Tiger Shark Expert. “So the infatuation was sort of skewed. It was actually Jaws the movie that got me into the shark world when I was maybe about 5-years-old, so not quite the traditional route. But it was an obsession from there and then my only exposure was National Geographic documentaries.” From a fictional Great White named Bruce to a real giant of the sea named Kamakai in World’s Biggest Tiger Shark?, Kori’s path to achieving her childhood dream came when she was sixteen, graduating early from high school and moving to Hawaii for college. “The reason I loved Jaws so much was actually Hooper, the biologist… I remember thinking ‘Wow, this guy understands and loves that animal, that’s awesome.’ He was more the inspiration than the gnarly sides of that. But I really had no idea that it was going to be a reality. It was kind of a dream.”
Marine Ecologist Frances Farabaugh spoke to us previously about her hands-on experience with marine life as a child that inspired her career path, but the offer to work with National Geographic on Sharks vs. Dolphins: Blood Battle was unexpected. “It was surprise and excitement followed quickly by nerves,” Frances shared. “There was a big fear that I would not be able to effectively communicate the science, what was important about the science. That I would fail to represent the people on the frontlines of this research well. That definitely came into play… When it comes right down to it, essentially what we get to do on these programs is we just get to talk about the nerdy things that we’re excited about and that’s fairly easy to do because I am a nerd and very excited about sharks and the ocean and this kind of research.”
For Kori Garza, the experience feels like it’s coming full circle, recounting a phone call with her mother after getting the exciting call from National Geographic. “Mom was of course freaking out and it’s funny because she remembers when I was younger and I used to sit in front of the TV and watch all of these documentaries on National Geographic with my little notebook taking notes. It’s a cool experience to see that sort of circle around with the same things that inspired me when I was younger and I didn’t have access to those environments directly. Now I get the opportunity to kind of return the favor and also be a woman doing that and hopefully inspire little girls out there doing the same thing I was twenty years ago.”
You can catch all of these “Fincredible Females” on SharkFest, airing now through August 20th on Nat Geo WILD!