The author Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert on something. With his seven hundred hours of volunteering at the Seattle Aquarium, Chris Cummings is well on his way.
Even is his earlier youth, Chris Cummings was an ocean enthusiast. “I would go tidepooling with my parents and I knew I wanted to become a marine biologist,” Cummings said. Despite his interest, Cummings did not find an outlet for his enthusiasm until he was in 8th grade, when he visited the Seattle Aquarium’s ocean career day. There, he met enthusiastic volunteers who told him all about the Youth Ocean Advocate (YOA) volunteer program the aquarium offers. Cummings waited a year, joining the program the next Summer.
As a YOA, Cummings spends most of his time on the floor of the aquarium, talking with visitors. Most of these conversations conform to the mission statement of the aquarium, “Inspiring conservation of the marine environment.” Cummings has found that the best way to build this inspiration with visitors has been through, “empathy building.” On that subject he said, “I think the biggest impact we have is taking [empathy] and applying it to the ocean and making people understand that these animals are alive and intelligent and are worth being conserved even if they’re not traditionally cute or furry.”
Cummings said that although he believes the work marine biologists do to be crucial, he is going to pursue environmental engineering instead of a degree in marine biology. “There’s so much schooling, the field is so competitive, and you make almost no money, and there are so many people who are more passionate about it than me,” he explained. Instead, Cummings has tried to help instill a passion for marine bio in others.
As a member of the YOA program’s leadership team, he is tasked with orienting and training new volunteers. “Getting to mentor and have an impact on new volunteers makes me feel feelings.” On one of Cummings’ last days at the aquarium, he was able to volunteer at ocean career day. “I just love that my story came full circle. Helping new people find the aquarium just as those volunteers did for me,” he said. For the extraordinary work Chris has done for the aquarium, he won the “Volunteer of the Year” award in 2019.
As a final remark, Cummings said: “Joining the program was easily the best choice I made in high school. I have met some of the most amazing people and made some of my best friends. Anyone who is interested in marine biology, or even just passionate about the environment, should apply.”