Danni Washington is a TV personality and science communicator who is also the first African American woman to host her own science TV show, Xploration Nature Knows Best. As an avid ocean advocate, she co-founded Big Blue & You, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting marine conservation through arts and media, encouraging the next generation to take care of our oceans.
STEM to the Sky
Feb 25, 2021
Danni Washington is a science communicator, ocean advocate, and the first African American woman to host an American science TV show. Her non-profit, Big Blue & You, organizes events to promote ocean conservation, encourage representation in STEM, and inspire younger generations to pursue marine conservation.
I. Be a relatable face and an active voice not only for the ocean but for the health of our planet
II. Find different platforms, including TV, to talk about science and the importance of the ocean
III. Reach out to young, next-gen leaders taking the torch of how we’re going to steward this planet into the future
Knowing that I can be a source of inspiration for young leaders figuring out what they want to work on is the most meaningful thing to me because I can totally relate to where they were. I remember being a high school student and not seeing any women that looked like me. My dream is that I can be one of those role models for someone. There’s so much space for everyone to be involved, no matter what. I hope to continue to encourage individuals to follow their passions and their dreams.
(Credit: Danni Washington)
When I was 21, I found an article in Teen Vogue magazine titled “Follow Your Heart Tour” asking what girls do to follow their hearts?” I filmed a short video talking about why we have to stop plastic pollution and also protect the ocean for future generations. That video won the contest, and they awarded me $10,000. That was really the moment that catapulted me into my career today.
With that money, my mom and I co-founded Big Blue & You (based in Miami, Florida) together because we both share a love for the ocean, as well as a passion for uplifting children. That desire to help young people do anything that they dream about doing and to provide opportunities for those who don’t have access was really important to us.
The Big Blue & You focuses on educating and inspiring youth about ocean conservation using arts, media, and science. In my South Florida community, so many kids I interacted with knew little about the ocean, and that astounded me. We have this beautiful blue backyard in Florida that is one of a kind, so I wanted to open the door for kids in my community to feel like they had access to the ocean.
We create opportunities and through fun, live events for kids, bringing artists and scientists together to create hands-on science & art activities that they can do throughout the day plus drumming, paddle boarding, and all the fun things that you could do at the beach. It serves as the spark to help inspire some curiosity for kids. That event, Art by the Sea, is that moment where we want to showcase the ocean in a positive light and inspire them to learn more.
When I was six, I learned about marine biology thanks to Free Willy the movie, but, it wasn’t until high school that I realized marine biology is so much more than just studying whales and dolphins.
Marine biology is about studying life in the ocean, from microscopic plankton all the way to the great whales. We need everything in the ocean to be healthy and safe, because they’re like our crew members, they’re helping Spaceship Earth continue to thrive. If we don’t have healthy ocean and terrestrial ecosystems, humans are doomed because we are literally the passengers on the spaceship.
I went to University of Miami and majored in marine biology. During my time in college, I interned with government agencies, other scientists who are conducting research projects, and volunteered with nonprofits. Through these experiences, I found that I wanted to do something related to educating young people, but not in a traditional sense. I didn’t want to be a teacher in a classroom, I wanted to be out in the field. That’s where the idea of someone who I watched growing up, Bill Nye the Science Guy, came up. I thought, I haven’t seen anybody who looks like me doing what he does, so let’s aim for that.
"Being interdisciplinary is the key to success. We’re not one dimensional beings. What we do in the world is not one dimensional, either."
Just start to create. Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission. For a long time, I thought that I had to have a super fancy film crew and all of this expensive equipment to begin creating content about things that I love, when, in actuality, I could have created it on my smartphone at that time. It’s quite serendipitous that I became a young adult at the beginning of the tech boom, the way that we share content has completely changed from the way that we did just 10 years ago. I wish someone would have told me to not worry or overthink and to just put it out there.
My days always vary. That’s what I really enjoy about my career because I’m constantly being challenged to figure out new ways of communicating, participating in events, and traveling.
On an average day, I’d spend 3-4 hours on email. Email is everything because that’s my main correspondence with everyone in the world. I also spend about 2 hours on social media, creating whatever content for that day.
If I was on set, I’d meet with my producer and camera folks. We’d plan out our shoot, and by the time we start filming the segments, we will have been working 6-8 hours straight. Production is like a sprint. As soon as you start, you have to just go go go. As someone who’s in front of the camera, you need endurance and stamina. You have to keep the same energy level throughout the entire day even if you’re exhausted because it will show on camera.
(Credit: Danni Washington)
I dictate my schedule for the most part, and I am blessed because I have a virtual assistant. As for work-life balance, in the last decade, I’ve definitely been on constant grind mode. It’s required when you’re trying to trail-blaze a new path.
There have been a lot of sacrifices I have had to make in my own personal life. Hopefully, things will pan out and I’ll find a life partner to start a family with. I’m looking forward to that, but it is not my number one priority right now. When you’re an entrepreneur, you set the pace of your trajectory. How fast your career is going to grow is entirely up to you. It’s about how much time and effort you put in, and the results will match that.
The showrunner actually happened to find my Youtube content online and reached out for this new show called Nature Knows Best. It’s all about biomimicry, using nature to inspire new design and technology.
It was such a great experience. I worked with them for two seasons with a total of 26 episodes. I got to travel around meeting different engineers, chemists, inventors, entrepreneurs, all of whom are looking to nature for the answers to their biggest problems they face personally or in their communities. The episodes are still available to watch on Amazon Prime.
I went to Northern California to meet the inventor of the Seabreacher, a modified jet ski water vehicle with a fiberglass body that mimics the anatomy of a dolphin: rostrum, flukes, pectoral fins, etc. They even painted it to look like a dolphin! We went into Lake Shasta and the creator drove me around, but it was not a leisurely boat ride. We were breaching, speeding through the water, going up in the air and falling back in the water, barrel rolling, and going upside down. It was insane!
It depends on what pathway within science communication you choose. For me, I’ve chosen this personality-driven television host role. I am someone that people can look to for science concepts presented in my own style.
Practice being in front of the camera a lot. Film yourself or have other people film you to learn how to be comfortable with cameras and lights in your face.
Learn how to quickly synthesize information and summarize it. When I’m on set working with experts, my job as a host is to take what my team says and to present a simplified version of it so that those who don’t have a scientific background can understand the scientific concept.
Build your brand through marketing, creating a logo, and building a website. I built my first website in 2013 with Squarespace. If you start creating content and just keep putting it out onto the internet, you will be seen some way. I am a definite testament to that.
(Credit: Danni Washington)
I. Volunteer and intern with different institutions and nonprofits to learn the ropes of what it takes to work in marine conservation. See if it really works for you, and take the time to find those opportunities for yourself.
II. For those interested in pursuing marine science, you’ll need at least a Bachelor of Science degree. You can still go and get a master’s degree, or even a Ph.D., but if you want to specifically be a science communicator, you may not necessarily need those higher-level degrees. SciComm is about experience and the ability to synthesize/translate scientific concepts based on what you’ve learned from the experts.
III. As for combining your interests in STEM and humanities, just do it. You’ve got to find your own style, and the only way you can do that is by constantly creating and refining what you do. It’s simply trial and error. Then building upon the skill sets and knowledge that you gain throughout the process.
It’s absolutely critical that we have representation in STEM because people who have had different experiences and perspectives make unique contributions to every STEM field.
As a black woman who wanted to be a scientist from a young age, I missed out on seeing women that looked like me throughout my entire childhood hood into my teenage years. That shouldn’t be the case. I don’t want to see another generation of young people grow up without knowing that STEM is accessible for them too. That is why the core of my work is to amplify those who are bringing diversity and inclusion to the table. We need more space to accept, love, and uplift anyone who decides that they want to try out STEM because science, technology, engineering, and math are the fields of study that will lead us to the just and sustainable future we want and need.
(Credit: Danni Washington)