High School

New Bedford High School

Undergraduate Education

B.A. in Integrative Biology from Harvard College, 2021

Graduate Education

M.S. in Marine Biology, IMBRSEA (anticipated 2023)


When we caught up with Skylah Reis, she was just back from a morning spent free diving in the Adriatic Sea. Having grown up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Skylah’s affinity for the water should come as no surprise. There the smell of salt water and the clangor of the U.S.’s largest fishing port permeate life in the historic coastal town. But it wasn’t until she began participating in the Sea Lab, a marine science studies program offered through the New Bedford public schools, that she had a transformative experience of the marine environment. “To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy the program that much my first summer. I resented taking notes on the different types of clouds while my friends were playing capture the flag. But by 7th grade, things had really shifted. My teacher Mr. Perry in particular got me interested in the hands-on parts of science like snorkeling and lab experiments, things that went beyond what I was taught in science classes in school.”

By Skylah’s junior year she was on a dual enrollment track, taking in AP classes in high school and 2 courses per year at UMass Dartmouth and the local community college. “At that point it was clear to me that I wanted to be a marine biologist. I applied early to Harvard, enrolled, and only then was told ‘there’s really no formal marine biology program…but you’ll be very well rounded.’” Initially skeptical, Skylah has come to see the value in her liberal arts education over time. “I want to work at the intersection of ocean science and climate change. At Harvard I of course got a great foundation in science, engineering, mathematics, statistics, computer science…but more importantly in the humanities. Climate change is so intersectional. I credit Harvard with giving me the anthropological foundations to understand how we got here. This more than anything else has been critical to my success in graduate school.”

Skylah is now enrolled in the International Master of Science in Marine Biological Resources (IMBRSea) program, a joint Master program organized by eleven European universities supported by the European Marine Biological Resource Centre (EMBRC). Each semester is spent in a different country. So far, she has studied in Portugal, France, Belgium, and Italy. Stepping away from U.S. debates on climate change has given Skylah a new perspective that she hopes to bring back home. “When I was in Ghent I studied the ecology of offshore wind farms,” a field with increasing relevance as the U.S. attempts to ramp up wind energy production. “Sitting in on meetings between policy makers and community members, I saw the need to make the science less scary, eliminate the jargon, and make things accessible. The average citizen is not going to read your papers. Podcasts, social media, ocean literacy narratives…those are the way to reach people and build support for climate solutions.”

In these conversations, Skylah has come to recognize the critical role that members of local communities can play, whether they be indigenous peoples or fishermen. “They have knowledge of what the environment has looked like throughout their lives. We need to hear from these people instead of a marketing person from Shell.” Skylah observes that often what you hear from these community members is less of an ecological purity argument. “The people who have lived in these coastal communities possess the anthropological perspective on how humans have lived in and impacted their environment over many generations. We’ve always impacted the environment. The real question is how we can be honest about this and then look for solutions that limit the adverse effects of humans on the environment.”

Although Skylah recognizes that “the opportunity to gain a global perspective has been absolutely life changing,” she is equally grateful for the opportunity she had to touch down stateside again this past summer, when she worked on Nantucket with Catherine Slattery, the owner of Madaket Marine. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Slattery wanted to use her boat yard to develop a STEM program for young women, pairing marine science with more traditional maritime skills like how to drive or anchor a boat. Ten girls from around the world ages 14 to 16 gathered for an unforgettable week. For Sklyah, it was a welcome opportunity to reset her perspective after so many years spent in a competitive academic environment. “In a university it’s easy to get caught up in the pressure to know everything and fear that you can’t ask silly questions. The best conversations we had were the silly questions a 14-year-old girl would ask, like ‘How do jellyfish have babies?’”

Now back in Europe, Skylah is trying to apply this lesson in the halls of academia. “I’m learning that one of the best ways to remember things is to ask those silly questions. Either because everyone else is wondering the same thing, or because they’re not and when everyone looks at you funny, you’ll never forget the answer.”