Undergraduate Academic Affairs

November 7, 2023

Belonging: My Husky experience through UW Honors

Samantha-Lynn Martinez

“Sam! You’re on your first RED!” Erin said as she snapped a photo of me, hoisting the nearly $40,000 RED cinema camera body and $70,000 lens in my excited and shaky hands.

I had never anticipated that by my second year as an undergraduate, I would get a chance to use the industry-standard camera for wildlife cinematography, let alone under the instruction of my ultimate role model in the industry, Erin Ranney. As the day progressed, I found my initial overwhelm and fears of incompetence vanishing. My hands stopped shaking, my feet found their grounding, and I began to feel confidence in using such a machine. Not only was I worthy of using it, but I would commit my life, voice and career to this field.

Photo of Samantha-Lynn Martinez with RED camera.

Samantha-Lynn Martinez using the RED camera!Photo by Teresa Carante

As I head into the world of science communications and wildlife film, I realize that I would have never gotten to this point of comfort and belonging without the help of the folks at UW Honors who pushed me to pursue and create what I wished, even if I was back home using my own humble pieces of equipment and not in the wilderness with these machines of big-time cinema.

Photo of Samantha-Lynn at tidepools.

Samantha-Lynn investigates tidepools.Photo by Jillian Miller

Women and nonbinary folks make up only 5% of the world’s wildlife camera people, and camera women of color make up an even smaller fraction of this 5%. It was thrilling to be a part of this effort and pave the way for other girls of color, like me, looking to make an impact in this creative field.

Just four months before, I was filming an honors and aquatic sciences project about how fish hear on my nine-year-old digital camera. I worked on animations for the project in between my classes, recorded voiceovers in my closet and spoke about the process of creating this all in my teaching section of Honors 100 as a peer educator. I was nervous about the scale of the project and what advisers and peers would think of this ambitious goal to integrate my creative side into a STEM topic.

As I worked closer to the final product, my community rallied behind me. Advisers encouraged this project to be a bigger series because it was “just that good.” My Honors 100 students shared how this project inspired them to integrate their outside passions into their own projects, and many opportunities continued to burst open with the release of the final video. My students even named my new fish, Otto, after the “otoliths” they learned about through my video!

The enthusiasm from my community and the flexibility of the interdisciplinary nature of the program made me realize that my voice, passion and outside interests belonged in and enhanced the program itself. I was once afraid of the mold I thought I would have to fit in as a university honors student, but my experience has changed how I look at myself and approach academics. Honors program staff, adjacent professors and folks beyond the university community recognized and utilized my knack for video, animation and design.

Image of design for Manastash Ridge Observatory’s 50th-anniversary merchandise

Samantha-Lynn’s design for the Manastash Ridge Observatory’s 50th-anniversary merchandise.Design by Samantha-Lynn Martinez

Since holding the RED for the first time, I designed the Manastash Ridge Observatory’s 50th-anniversary merchandise, created and produced ongoing educational marine ScattrLab videos, and hosted an episode of “Kids Meet a Marine Biologist” on the HiHo Kids channel. The pride I have felt both from my work and from collaborating with communities has changed my life.

From this journey, I know the power of belonging. Because of UW Honors, I recognize the traits of an uplifting community and have found new ones outside of UW, like the camera woman community. I have surrounded myself with people who believe in my capabilities and inspire me to do what makes me happy, even if it seems outlandish for the subject at hand. I will do the same for the new folks who enter this academic environment as an Honors peer educator, and as a Filipina stepping into the science communications field.

As I continue to explore the bounds of my craft, I am grateful for the Honors community and mentors who have shown me the possibilities are endless.

Photo of Samantha-Lynn Martinez using a RED camera.

 Photo by Erin Ranney

Samantha-Lynn Martinez is a UW undergraduate double-majoring in marine biology and ecology, evolution and conservation biology. Aside from her studies, she works part-time as a graphic designer for marine education organizations such as the Salish Sea School and Pacific Mammal Research. Samantha serves as a scientific advisor and stream team coordinator for the research project Made in Puget Sound, documenting the biodiversity beneath the surface of local waters using live camera/ROV technology and live interactions with online audiences. She plans to journey into professional science communications and public engagement work, pursuing a career in conservation documentary filmmaking and cinematography or presenting as a host on educational programming content related to the life sciences.