Katrina Sukola -- the healthy divide

Katrina Sukola is another scientist with whom I connected through unexpected serendipity.

Two summers ago my son came home from summer camp at the High Park Nature Centre rhapsodizing about a kid named Clem who was in his group. They were both into Voltron and Lego and nature and want to be architects or designers of some kind when they grow up! So on the last day of camp I tracked down Clem's father and offered him my email address. Clem's mom emailed me later and told me she remembered me from the University of Waterloo dance program. We had taken ballet classes together at the Carousel Dance Centre -- a dance school that ran out of the Dance Dept. studios in the evenings when university classes were done. Vania, Clem's mom, was in high school and I was taking extra ballet classes to supplement my university classes.

Fast forward a year and a half: Pablo and Clem are good friends, still into Voltron and Lego and being architects, and also Star Wars and graphic novels and theories about Dumbledore based on the Fantastic Beasts movies.....When I put a call out for female scientists who might be interested in participating in my art/science interviews, Vania recommended her sister Katrina -- who also took dance classes at the Carousel Dance Centre.

Katrina balances a career as a water quality/water resources specialist, with teaching yoga and over some of the years maintaining a performance life in dance.


LUCY: what is your practice or history with science, personally and professionally?

KATRINA: I did my undergrad in environmental chemistry, and M.Sc. in chemistry with research related to fresh water aquatic systems. After grad school I did an internship researching toxicology  -- chemical fate and effects --in marine waters, and my first job after that was managing a lab and doing chemical oceanography research. After that I shifted to non -profit work for a local watershed organization, managing their water quality monitoring programs.  While working, I couldn't get enough and volunteered for other environmental non-profits. Now I do environmental consulting, with water quality and hydrology as my area of specialty. 

I continue to support local environmental nonprofits, not as much as previously, but still tapped into some nonprofits. And my bookshelf has a collection of non fiction science books, mostly focused on some environmental issue --water, forestry, climate, and aquatic ecology -- for some "light reading".

LUCY: What are some of your favourites for “light reading” as you put it— climate, ecology, water etc? I’m always looking for more books to add to my reading list!

KATRINA: I don't have a favourite author, but I am interested in certain topics. My favourite place to get books is a small bookstore in Tofino, BC, so a lot of the books are themed around the Pacific Northwest (Even when I lived on the east coast, I would fly here for holiday and get books). A favourite book is the Golden Spruce (by John Vaillant about logging in BC), This Crazy Time (by Tzeporah Berman starts with logging and ends with Climate change and environmental organizing), and books about water resources, and local guide/foraging books although I don't forage much.

LUCY: And what is your relationship to art and creativity, personally and professionally?

KATRINA: I started dancing at the age of 5, and danced through high school, ballet, tap, jazz, ballet exams, and dance competitions. I also studied piano for 6-8 years. More recitals and competitions. I taught dance my 1st year of undergrad, but took a break from dance for 3 years until grad school when I took adult classes at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. I moved to Boston and continued at the Boston Ballets adult program, and took other classes as well (contemporary, flamenco, aerial) for about 8-10 years. I was also in two dance companies and performed in a number of shows.

Now I teach yoga. Although my teaching is rooted in traditional yoga, my classes usually have some element of movement that challenges my students coordination. I think of it as movement education in a yoga class :) I went to a  contemporary dance class a few weeks ago, first time in 4 yrs. I have a full schedule so hoping to go back.

Over the years I've also taken a number of art classes - 2 week pottery intensive,  2 different print making series (1 and 6 week), metal clay workshops, jewelry classes, and knit whenever I'm inspired (usually just baby gifts these days). 

Teaching yoga is my creative outlet. Designing classes, sequences and flows, plus music playlists. I teach full time and do environmental consulting part time.  I needed that balance between art and science.  Consulting full time was too serious, but I love my science side, and couldn't imagine not doing it all.

LUCY: What dance companies did you work with and when? after grad school? during?

KATRINA: After grad school while working in Boston, I performed with Screech to a Stop/Around the Corner Movers (2007- 2013), and some projects with independent choreographers for a number of shows and festivals (2004-2013).

LUCY: What motivated you to keep performing when you were on a path for science?

KATRINA: It was when I moved to Winnipeg for grad school that brought me back to dance. It was something familiar in a new place. That's what motivated me to continue dancing when I moved to Boston. A sense of community, something familiar, a way to meet people, and get out of the house! It was nice to have a different group of people that where outside of the science background I was surrounded by. Even though my day job is science-based, I was never and still not addicted to work, and like to leave work at work, and have something else. I like having that balance, or different side. 

My husband, also a scientist, is the same way. We're not obsessed with science all the time, which is typically of most science based people.  It was also interesting to meet other dancers who were also scientists, who felt the same way as I did about about their co-workers, they took it too seriously, most of the time. Or more commonly, dancers who become yoga teachers, which is where I ended up.

LUCY: How do you frame or experience creativity in your scientific work? and from the other perspective, do you feel your experience or process in science informing your work as a yoga teacher?

KATRINA: My yoga teaching is alignment based, giving lots of cues. That being said, I'm learning not to use cookie cutter cues, but allowing space for students to create their own pose, based on their unique structure and needs. I use real anatomical terms, and plan classes around muscle groups to prepare for the class's peak pose. As part of maintaining one of my teaching licenses, I have to do continuing education, that usually involves technique and anatomy. The body work training I'm currently doing also overlaps with anatomy focused continuing education.

As far as experiencing creativity in my scientific work, that doesn't come up as often. Most of my projects are related to policy, that are rigid and concrete. I'm not involved in the design phase of projects, but the permitting and regulatory side. Sometimes there is out of the box thinking (a project on the coastline or bay adopting for mid- or late-century sea level rise), but most jurisdictions have design requirements. When there're missing, we tend to recycle concepts or ideas, so projects meet the necessary approvals. And any idea we brainstorm has to be approved by the client. To be honest, I prefer when the client does their homework, and provides a design that would be approved. There are too many rules to check, they change, and vary across jurisdictions.

LUCY: Have you witnessed in your work in hydrology etc. the coming together of art and science for public dissemination or education etc? I think of this beautiful TedX Talk excerpt : 

KATRINA: When I worked for a non-profit, I did a lot of public presentations, trainings, and workshops for environmental education and program development. I managed a citizen science water quality program. Over 40 volunteers collected water quality samples year round, over 100 ppl attended our trainings and workshops to learn about river herring and volunteered to count fish for population studies. As a non-profit, we had 5 employees, and a team of hundreds of volunteers  who participated in our programs. A good presentation - plus flyers, webpage, online and print media, etc. -- would drive membership and volunteer participation. We also worked with youth, which usually involved some type of creative outlet  -- making watersheds in a box, signs for new rain gardens, etc.

In consulting, most of our documents go out to the public for public review (for comments and approval by authorities). We have a team of publishing specialists who create good looking documents. The documents go through vigorous editing and formatting so documents are easy to read for the public. The better, and more clearly written the document, the less comments we anticipate, and the quicker the approvals. The reports included figures, photos, and  maps, developed by our editing and data team. The figures and maps usually have a lot of data that explains (or supports) data better than text.  When writing my analysis, I always need to see design figures, maps, etc and create tables and figures, before getting into my analysis.

LUCY: That is a nice segue to an upcoming interview with a data science. An element of the art-science intersection, I hadn't really considered before. Thank you Katrina for your time and effort in this email back and forth to make this interview happen!!

Art + Science interviews are made possible with the generous support of the Chalmers Family Fund Fellowship program, administered by the Ontario Arts Council.


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