Kathryn (Kat) Riddell ’80 Willson is the Director of Marketing and Communications for the Seattle Aquarium. Her team works with marine experts to craft stories that inspire the conservation of our marine environment. With the clarity of hindsight, Ms. Willson can see this role has roots in her childhood, when she sailed boats, explored tide pools and mudflats, and swam in the surf. She says she never appreciated how lucky she was to grow up on the ocean until she left it to be an adult someplace else.
After earning a master’s degree in business administration from the University of California, Berkeley, she accepted a position at Microsoft that turned into a 23-year career in marketing, business management, and partnership development. For 10 of those years, she focused on promoting environmental sustainability and smart cities solutions.
After seeing images of beaches covered ankle-high in plastic debris, she decided to do something about it. She left Microsoft to complete coursework in Oceanography and earn certification as a Marine Naturalist. To inspire others to learn along with her, she designed and built an ocean conservation website. Ms. Willson is an active volunteer, caring for abandoned harbor seal pups at a local marine animal hospital and counting the number of spawning Coho salmon in local streams.
In her role at Seattle Aquarium, she has found a way to bring the ocean and her career together, working with experts to recover endangered species, develop widespread empathy for marine life, and inspire action to restore the health of the marine ecosystems that sustain life on Earth. She credits Judy d’Albert, her fifth-grade teacher at HDS, with changing her life by challenging her to follow her curiosity, be a lifelong learner, and always give her best effort.