Vikki Spruill: Creating a Civic Anchor for the Community of Boston

684 1024 Olivia Sayah

Vikki Spruill, CEO and President of the New England Aquarium, has led
the impassioned fight for ocean conservation in many different organizations
throughout her career. Her love for the ocean began in high school when living
in Florida. However, after receiving her master’s degree in Communications,
Spruill worked at public relations firms, until a specific project presented the
opportunity to pivot back to the ocean. This experience pushed her to start the
nonprofit organization SeaWeb, focusing on translating science and raising
awareness of ocean issues and communicating to policymakers and
journalists. This work helped elevate public awareness of ocean issues at a
time when most of the focus was on terrestrial challenges. She also served as President and
CEO of Ocean Conservancy, a nationally renowned advocacy organization and the Council on
Foundations, an association of philanthropic organizations working to advance the common good.
For the past year, Spruill has led the New England Aquarium and its research institute, the
Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, and furthered its reputation as a leading institution for
scientific research, advocacy, and public education.


Individual moments will lead to great purpose


We recently had an opportunity to speak with her and reflect on her career, her proudest
moment and her career accolades. Vikki’s career has been focused on purpose – she
has been most proud of the opportunities she has had “leading teams of people beyond
individual moments in service of larger goals” and watching organizations “grow into
greatness.” A major fight of her career has been turning complex information into
accessible information for the public, especially in the past when there was less
awareness about environmental issues. In her time at SeaWeb, she co-created the “Give
Swordfish a Break” campaign. This initiative brought awareness to the overfishing of
swordfish and prompted the public to think more critically about the seafood choices they
were making. This movement heavily influenced the framing of the current sustainable
seafood movement.


Support & Community


Vikki is a recent transplant to Boston from Washington DC, and she believes that the
instant connection to peer level female professionals that the Forum provided was
instrumental in her transition and that the community and support that came from the
Massachusetts Women’s Forum when moving here was invaluable. She spoke about her
mentors as powerful women that guided her within her personal life and career. Her
mother taught her confidence and instilled in her that she “could do anything,” in sharp
contrast to a male teacher who once told her “there wasn’t a place for women in the
sciences.” In her career, Spruill was mentored by women like Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the
past Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and marine
biologist, Sylvia Earle. She is also inspired by her two daughters who have continued her
legacy through involvement with nature and ocean conservation.


Opportunities come in many different forms


When counseling emerging leaders in her world Vikki recommends that they do not close
themselves off. She credits many transitions in her career to her ability to “be open to
opportunity!” She would advise her former self and others not to overthink things and to
go with the natural flow. She believes following this path will lead you to where you are
meant to be in life.


A “Civic Anchor” in the community


Vikki lights up when she talks about her vision for the Aquarium and how she plans to
transform the institution going forward. In comparison to previous advocacy work where
she did not have a captive audience, Vikki’s vision for the New England Aquarium began
with the opportunity to have an existing “flow of people to influence and educate.”
Through community outreach and lecture series, she sees the museum becoming “more
than a place to take your kids” and hopes that the Aquarium is seen “as a civic anchor in
the community” and a leader in marine conservation.


Small steps are the key to change


Vikki recommends educating yourself and starting with a small step as a way to get
involved in preventing climate change and aiding ocean conservation. She encourages
members to visit the New England Aquarium website at to get more information
about its conservation work. The Aquarium recently led an initiative for a plastic-free July
where they brought awareness to the issues of single-use plastic. Vikki asks we examine
our habits as consumers and try to eliminate single-use plastic from our lives. Vikki
believes that in order to solve issues of climate change, it is important to be civically
minded and elect officials well-informed around environmental issues.


Vikki Spruill has worked tirelessly to conserve our oceans and continues to do so in a high-stakes moment for our planet. It is our privilege to call her a member and a part of our MWF community.


Olivia Sayah

All stories by: Olivia Sayah