Where Are They Now?
by Debra Roth Kane
Michelle Berman grew up in Baltimore. She graduated from Pikesville High School in 1992. She crisscrossed the country while pursuing her education, attending college at Colorado State University and then getting her master’s degree at the University of Central Florida. Now she is a marine biologist and the associate curator of vertebrate zoology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. She is married to Shawn Kowalewski, a civil engineer and partner in a California engineering firm. They have two daughters, Jordan, 4, and Kady, 2. They live in Santa Barbara, Calif.
iNSIDER: What are you working on at the museum?
Michelle: Right now we are rehabbing the blue whale skeleton that we have on exhibit. In 2007, we collected a skull from a blue whale killed by a ship. We’re cleaning it, and it will be mounted to replace the original skull once the process is complete.
You are the museum’s marine mammal stranding coordinator. What does this mean?
It’s pretty toxic. I’ve stopped eating fish. Here we see all sorts of industrial chemicals finding their way all the way up the food chain. There are cattle-borne and cat-borne diseases traveling through the watershed, mutating and finding their way into marine mammals.
How did you end up on the other side of the country?
I like to camp and hike and ski. As they say, here in Santa Barbara, you can ski and sail in the same day. I felt at home immediately when I moved to Colorado for college; it had an outdoorsy feel and environmental consciousness that I appreciated. I love Baltimore, the greenness of it, but I’m not an East Coast person. Also, I don’t exactly have your typical Pikesville job.
What do you miss about Baltimore?
Most of my extended family. My parents and my sister Stacy still live in Baltimore, so I come back at least once a year.
What are your best high school memories?
I loved junior high and high school. At an early age, I realized this would be the only time I wouldn’t have responsibilities. I had a great group of friends. My sister Jaime was one grade ahead of me, and really smart. I think I rode her coattails a bit. But my teachers tried to convince me that I was just as smart as Jaime. It gave me courage.