CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Data from the U.S. Census show women are making gains in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers but they are still under-represented across myriad industries.

At the South Carolina Aquarium, however, women are not only riding a wave of success, they are steering the ship. These brilliant women scientists are leading the way to connect people with water, wildlife, and wild places at the South Carolina Aquarium.

The aquarium employs 144 people, of that number 92 are women in managerial or hands-on positions.

Among them is Courtenay Lewandoski, the aquarium’s Chief Advancement Officer. She is the lead strategist and fundraiser and oversees the aquarium’s partnerships with other organizations.  

The aquarium’s vet team and sea turtle hospital teams are all women.  Lewandoski says, “We have a team of remarkable empowered brilliant women that actually oversee that entire division, and the work they do with those animals in terms of the care they provide, storytelling they provide so people understand why we provide this important service is really critical to our mission.”

Meghan Galipeau is an educator and dolphin research scientist. “I am very proud to be a woman in science. I feel privileged to be a woman in science, and I’ve had a career in a field I wanted to be a part of since I was a little girl,” she said. “It’s a field where you have to work hard, but there is a lot of reward.”  

Galipeau said there are some challenges. “I think one of the biggest challenges is balancing being having a family, being a mother and a scientist, educator, a wife, and employee, in general, it’s a lot of balancing. Anything that requires a lot of hard work, you want to put your heart and soul into it, and we do, and you also want to put your heart and soul into your family.  A lot of balance there, but when you’re able to do it and do it well, it’s very rewarding,” said Galipeau.

Kelly Thorvalson is the conservation programs manager.  She has been with the aquarium since it opened in 2000. During this time, she has served as an aquarist, senior biologist, sea turtle rescue program coordinator, and Sea Turtle Care Center manager.

“I feel like I’ve had an incredible career, and it’s been right here at the South Carolina Aquarium, 22 years in fact,” said Thorvalson. “I’ve had many different roles here and it has been exciting throughout that entire time.”

According to the U.S. Census, in 2019, women made up only 27-percent of STEM workers. Thorvalson says at the S.C. Aquarium there are no gender barriers.  

“At the South Carolina Aquarium, we have such an incredibly diverse staff and volunteers. It never occurred to me to think about that makeup of men and women, but I do understand there are barriers to women getting into STEM fields in a lot of different areas,” she said.

The message for young girls who dream of a career in marine biology, Meghan Galipeau says, “I would tell them 100-percent, you can do it. I was that little girl myself. I was that little girl that didn’t grow up near the ocean by any means.  I lived far away from the ocean, and I don’t want anyone to feel discouraged because of where they are, and who they are. They can do something they love, and they will probably be amazing at it.  There are so many opportunities.”

News 2 will reveal the winner of our Remarkable Women campaign live from the South Carolina Aquarium during News 2 Today on Friday morning.