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Stephanie’s passion for the marine environment brought her to Crawford School

08 July 2024

A love of nature, particularly the ocean, has led Stephanie Rowbottom to complete a Master of Environmental Management and Development. We spoke to Steph about her experience at Crawford and how she plans to use her study in real-world applications.

Tell us about yourself, Stephanie.

I was born in the UK and moved to Western Australia when I was 11, growing up in Bunbury, a couple hours south of Perth. I’ve always been passionate about the marine environment – I scuba dive, free dive, ocean swim, surf. For me, being in the ocean is a place of peace and happiness.

Whilst conserving and protecting the ocean was my primary motivator at the start of my studies and career, it was the people and communities that I have connected with over the years that have deepened my passion and commitment to the work that I do.

Why did you decide to study this course? Why did you choose to study at Crawford?

Since finishing my undergraduate in 2015 (Bachelor of Science, majoring in marine science and conservation biology completed at the University of Western Australia), I cumulatively spent around six years living, working, and travelling in Southeast Asia. For nearly four years, I worked in Timor Leste for a UK-based marine conservation and fisheries management NGO. I held a few different positions whilst I was working there, including doing coral reef monitoring, focusing on building capacity in local staff and then managing the portfolio for our work with coastal communities in livelihood development (such as community-based tourism).

There was a point in my work where I felt that I needed to invest in furthering my knowledge and understanding so I could share and give back at another level. I wanted the space and time to do a critical deep dive into some of the things that I had observed and learnt, both in marine management but also development more generally. I think I was seeking to put a theoretical framework around my various experiences and improve my confidence more generally.

I chose Crawford because of its interdisciplinary nature, incorporating the social, economic, and political aspects of environmental management. Additionally, because of my time in Southeast Asia, I was drawn to the expertise in the Asia Pacific region. While other universities in Australia may specialise more in marine and coastal management, I decided I would approach this master’s by focusing every assignment of the course on marine/coastal/fisheries management – you have the flexibility to do that at Crawford.

What topic area are you most interested in and why?

I’m interested in quite a few areas, and whilst different, I think they are all interconnected. Marine management and governance will always be a core interest of mine. I am also interested in community-based natural resource management, indigenous issues and knowledge systems, climate change, gender equality, and coastal livelihoods.

Ultimately, I’m passionate about locally driven solutions to the world’s environmental problems, solutions that are contextually appropriate and tailored to the capacities, needs and priorities of the people most impacted by the issue. It’s an ongoing process of seeking the best space to support this work and acknowledging my strengths, limitations and privileges.

How would you describe your experience at Crawford?

I’ve valued and enjoyed my time at Crawford and do not regret making the leap to signing up for the master’s in environmental management and development course. A particularly special aspect of studying at Crawford is the diverse cohort of students from so many different countries – I valued learning about their own experiences, perspectives, and motivations for studying. It added so much more depth and colour to how I related to the content being taught.

I particularly enjoyed taking Associate Professor Siobhan McDonnell’s courses in Land Rights and Resource Development and Disaster Risk Reduction and Management – it was a unique experience to learn through the modality of a game simulation. People got pretty into it! 

I’ve also got to give a shout-out to Associate Professor Bec Colvin. As my last course for my master’s, communication for environment and climate policy was delivered in such a fun and engaging way. I appreciated the extra effort that Bec went into inviting guest speakers. I took a lot away from those sessions.

In 2024, Crawford is focused on “From local to global: a journey in public policy”. Can you share your thoughts on how your experiences in local policy issues have shaped your perspective on global policy challenges? How will this perspective guide your future endeavours in public policy? What do you think policymakers in Australia and the region should focus on?

This is a big question!

I think a continual challenge is the siloed nature of our institutions – academia, policy and those that are practitioners. As someone passionate about locally driven solutions, I think I’ll always be committed to supporting work that creates spaces that are inclusive and respectful of a diversity of voices. To drive transformational change, there needs to be global policies and institutional architecture (and linkages) that support and prioritise localised and contextually appropriate solutions.

Australia really should step up its ambition in climate change policy – we have the potential to be a real leader in this space and a responsibility to those in our region.

What is the most memorable experience from your time at Crawford?

My master’s thesis (research proposal & research project courses), for sure. It was challenging, yet also one of the most rewarding experiences of my time at Crawford.
My thesis was ‘Exploring gendered dimensions of a fishing to tourism livelihood transition’, and I was fortunate to get the opportunity to travel to Coron, Palawan, in the Philippines. I was there for two weeks, conducting interviews with community members, government officials and marine park managers (and I also got the opportunity to sneak in some time for diving and snorkelling).

I started the research proposal course with trepidation, as completing a research project seemed overwhelming. I’m pleased to say I produced something I’m very proud of. Additionally, whilst other priorities have taken over in the last few months, I am aiming to submit it for publication.

What advice would you give to prospective students considering studying this course at Crawford?

From my experience, what you invest in your degree, you’ll get out.

I went into this degree with the recognition that this was a big financial and time commitment for me, so I wanted to maintain the mindset of making the most of the opportunity. Even in times of doubt and challenge, you will surprise yourself with your capabilities. Potentially even uncovering strengths or interests that you hadn’t discovered or hadn’t given yourself enough credit for.

This course has given me new perspectives and a more complex, critical and nuanced way of thinking, and for two years, I have connected with professionals at the top of their field and with students from a diversity of backgrounds. It has been a true privilege.

What’s next for you after the graduation?

From the start of July, I will be going overseas for 6-7 months, a trip that is predominately planned around seeing family and friends that I haven’t had the opportunity to see since before COVID. Whilst travelling, I will continue with some casual, desk-based research assistant work focusing on mariculture and tourism throughout the Asia Pacific.

This time overseas will also be a great opportunity to think and reflect on where I want to take my career next. To date, I’ve had experience in programmes, policy advocacy and research, and for me, it’s a question of which area I want to lean more into moving forward (i.e. should I make the leap and do a PhD or go back to working for an organisation).

We would like to highlight that Stephanie’s exceptional academic performance throughout her degree has earned her the prestigious Tiri Tiri Prize, a testament to her dedication and hard work.

Congratulations on your graduation, Steph! We are looking forward to seeing where your newfound skills take you.

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