At age 21, Danni Washington and her mother, Michelle Swaby-Smith, formed the nonprofit The Big Blue & You. Their aim was to pique interest in the ocean and, from there, encourage pathways to science. Washington has succeeded in achieving this goal thanks to taking a creative approach. After winning $10,000 through a contest, Washington and her organization have, for the past nine years, held an annual educational festival in South Florida for youths in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties to introduce them to the water. They learn more about biology and issues like coral reef bleaching through visual art, science projects and music.

Diving deep

Witnessing the power of the ocean in person is crucial, though, Washington points out. After all, a love and appreciation for the body of water is what inspired her to pursue the career she did – as a television host, appearing on FOX’s Xploration Station to help educate the public as an oceanic expert – rather than a career as an academic.

“I became a certified scuba diver at 17 and finally had the opportunity to go under a wave and experience the magnificent world under the ocean,” says Washington. She developed a love for the water at an early age as she grew up in Miami. “That fascination, that curiosity has not waned – it is full force for me all the time. And I just want to connect people to the water, to the ocean, to show them that our lives on the planet are dependent on the ocean and we’re at a tipping point.”

“I just want to connect people to the water, to the ocean...”

Inspiring others

Washington graduated from the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida with a bachelor’s degree in marine science and biology. Her inspiration is Dr. Sylvia Earle, an American marine biologist who founded the alliance Mission Blue. “She’s clear and determined to connect people to the ocean,” Washington says.

Through her own work, Washington is striving to carry on Earle’s legacy and inspire others to do the same.

“When we breathe in oxygen, one out of every two breaths was created out of processes in the ocean,” Washington says. “A lot of people have that mixed up; they think it’s just the trees providing the oxygen for us, but it’s the ocean as well. I’m hoping the women coming up into this field and into marine science will be focused on expanding and sharing that message on a broader level.”

Washington will be exploring STEM April 7-8, 2018, at the 5th USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo in Washington, D.C. Danni will be hosting events on stage, including interviews with other women in STEM partaking in the event.