Ivonne Ortiz

Dr. Ivonne Ortiz discusses the path that led to her new role as CICOES associate director and the community that supported her. 

By Abby Zorn for JISAO Magazine

Ivonne on ship
Ivonne on board the Ocean Explorer, summer 2003 during an Atka mackerel tagging cruise in the Aleutian Islands

IVONNE ORTIZ HAS ALWAYS valued interdisciplinary collaboration. She has made connections across disciplines, institutions, and countries throughout her education and professional milestones, and she brings this spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration to her new role as associate director at CICOES.

As associate director she will manage the relationship between the CICOES administration, CICOES employees, and NOAA collaborators at the Alaska Fisheries Sciences Center (AFSC) and, in particular, the Marine Mammal Lab.

Ivonne’s career journey has prepared her well for this position. Born and raised in Mexico City, Ivonne discovered her love for marine life while accompanying her parents on trips to remote areas. “We went to Cancún when we were little before Cancún was Cancún,” she said of these early travels. Ivonne enjoyed experiencing nature and wildlife firsthand, which included a chance to swim with sea turtles at an early age. These interests led her to pursue biology in her studies and marine ecosystems as her career.

As a biology major in undergrad, Ivonne took as many marine-related classes as she could. She continued to visit remote places like the Revillagigedo Islands, which are offlimits to tourists and only accessible through the Mexican Navy unless you are an advanced scuba diver. Ivonne took time off in the middle of undergrad to work as a translator and host at events, but ultimately returned to finish her degree. When asked about how she made her way to the University of Washington, Ivonne credited a workshop organized by the National Fisheries Institute of Mexico. The workshop was supposed to be in English, but Ivonne remembers that soon “it was pretty obvious that it was not going to be possible to hold an advanced modeling mathematical course in English, and so they asked me to translate.”

Translating allowed her to get to know the workshop leads, Drs. Ray Hilborn (SAFS) and Carl Walters (UBC, Emeritus). Ray and Carl encouraged Ivonne to apply to UW’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences (SAFS). She accepted a spot at SAFS without much investigation about the area. “I thought I’d just do a Master’s, three years and come back, and that’s it. I didn’t even check the Seattle weather.”

Three years turned into over twenty years of living in Seattle, though Ivonne admits that the decision to stay at SAFS for a PhD was initially a fortunate mistake. After her Master’s, she inquired about a job studying ecosystem dynamics in the Aleutian Islands with Dr. Kerim Aydin (AFSC, NOAA). Kerim explained that the job was actually a PhD, and after some resistance to an additional degree, Ivonne decided to go for it.

Throughout her time at SAFS she was able to work on policy projects and continue her field work adventures such as research cruises to the Aleutian Islands and a salmoncoded wire tagging job where she tagged 1,000 fish per day.

After completing her PhD, she joined the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Project as a postdoc with Aydin and Dr. André Punt, which she calls “one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. That project was truly amazing.” Through this project she met JISAO scientists such as Drs. Nick Bond and Al Hermann, so when Ivonne saw the opportunity to become a JISAO PI, it was an easy walk across the parking lot to Wallace Hall for the transfer.

“IT’S REALLY NICE TO HELP PEOPLE CHART THEIR CAREERS THE WAY OTHER PEOPLE HELPED ME.”

AS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR at CICOES, Ivonne is excited to return to her marine mammal roots. Marine mammals were part of her masters and doctoral theses, and she has worked with many of her new marine mammal colleagues before on previous or ongoing projects. Ivonne is looking forward to getting to know CICOES employees in the Marine Mammal Lab and being a resource for career guidance. “It’s really nice to help people chart their careers the way other people helped me,” Ivonne said. “The idea is to give them enough tools and information so if they don’t want to take a certain route, it’s not because they are not qualified or because they didn’t know, but because they are making a conscious choice that they didn’t want to follow that path.”

Ivonne also looks forward to opportunities that come with the new cooperative institute and being able to provide input into how it develops. She sees UW’s new partnership with University of Alaska Fairbanks and Oregon State University as “a nice opportunity to move into a more interdisciplinary area.” She thinks CICOES “is in a particularly good position to really bring that sense of community because it offers opportunities for funding, and it can offer introductions and can enhance the knowledge network across different organizations and funding agencies.” She says that “networking and putting interested parties in contact helps the interdisciplinary agenda,” which has been a cornerstone of her journey

JISAO Magazine