Nicolle Fagan

Nicolle Fagan, B.S. ’08, speaking about the importance of conservation at a youth summit in Hong Kong.

The Palau Project team with the President of Palau, H.E. Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. 

Science communication drives global conservation

As the Marketing and Communications Director for the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, Nicolle Fagan, B.S. ’08, is living her dream job. "I work very closely with researchers, policy experts, fundraisers, partners and other communications team members to advance the conservation efforts of the Aquarium," Fagan shares.

Except, she actually has two roles that seem like true serendipity. Fagan has always been passionate about animals, art, and the intersection of both. Earning dual degrees at the University of Miami, the ocean lover has partnered with colleagues and co-founded the Palau Legacy Project

Fagan moved to the Pacific Island of Palau with her husband, Steve Killelea in 2016. Killelea earned his undergraduate degree from UM in Political Science and went on to complete a Juris Doctorate from New England School of Law in Boston. After beginning his career working as an Assistant District Attorney in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Boston, the opportunity to be the Special Prosecutor in the Republic of Palau was a sparkle on the horizon. The couple took the chance of a lifetime and moved to the tiny island nation. 

Aligining her passion and talents, Fagan quickly joined forces with key conservationists on the island and designed  the "Palau Pledge," an international pledge that tourists take upon arrival to the pristine and critically endangered environment, known for tourism and scuba-diving. 

Palau is the first nation to change its immigration laws to benefit environmental protection. Upon entry, visitors must sign a passport pledge to act in an ecologically responsible way while on the island. The Palau Pledge was designed to include the ideas of children living on the island, to protect them, as well as future generations of Palauans. The pledge includes an ethical tour guide to visually showcase the aspects of how to respectfully treat the environment and aid in critical protection. "Every tourist who takes the pledge needs to follow this sustainable checklist or risk a fine."

As one of the most decorated and successful environmental social impact campaigns of 2018, the project continues to earn recognition. As the work continues to build, inform, and educate, it has also achieved the UN's sustainable development goals. Fagan is closely connected with the ongoing efforts to raise awareness around the campaign. 

Learn more about Nicolle Fagan’s inspiring journey since her time at the U in this Q & A:

What made you decide to attend UM?

I was looking to escape New England and the "typical" college setting that everyone comes to expect. I was also looking to escape the brutal winters! I was a talented swimmer and surfer, and I was looking forward to spending more time in the ocean. I was also looking to experience a different culture and learn more about the world. UM has such a great reputation as an international school—I knew that I would be exposed to a lot of different cultures, both on and off campus. 

You hold two degrees from UM; Communications and Psychology. Why did you select both and how do they intertwine?

I originally wanted to pursue a career in psychology because I was very interested in learning about human behavior. I wanted to discover what drove decision-making and how to influence behavior change. At the same time, I was also looking for an outlet for my creative energy. In high school, I painted, threw pottery, sketched and sculpted whenever I had the opportunity. I was constantly seeking out art classes and opportunities to create something. 

After really exploring the different opportunities and schools within the University of Miami, I was drawn to the School of Communications after seeing a few of the traveling art exhibits that came through. One of them was by Paul Nicklen, a National Geographic photographer, who was just starting to gain notoriety for his work in the arctic. 

Have you always been passionate about the environment?

Yes, I have always been passionate about the environment and natural world. When I was a little girl, I would read National Geographic, Nature, Ranger Rick, Highlights—anything I could get my hands on! I even read actual textbooks about animals, to the point where I became a walking encyclopedia for scientific names and facts. I spent most of my time outdoors, going on hikes with my dad and looking under rocks in the backyard with my siblings.  

When did you recognize the importance of effective communication around environmental and science topics?

I worked for many years in the advertising business, managing clients from huge brands like FedEx and Jack Daniel’s. I’ve always loved working and I’ve really enjoyed every job that I’ve ever had, but I started to notice that something was missing. I wasn’t fulfilling a critical passion of mine—doing good. This culminated when I was chosen to attend the One Young World summit in Dublin, Ireland in 2014. Being surrounded by young people who were passionately pursuing these amazing, world-changing projects, made me ask the question, “If not me, who?” That was a turning point—from there, I started to actively look for opportunities to use my talents for good. 

How did Steve's work bring you both to Palau? 

Steve had applied for the job in Palau, but never expected to actually hear back. When he did, we were both shocked! The opportunity was too interesting to turn down. We knew that regardless of how long we stayed in Palau, it would be a life-changing experience. 

When did you first realize that your experience and skills could bring about incredible local and global change?

We formed the Palau Legacy Project within one month of arriving in Palau. The timing was incredibly fortuitous. My three colleagues and myself all had skill sets that were very unique to Palau, and the fact that we were all there at the same time was incredible luck! Because of my time at One Young World, I knew that my experience and skill-set could be put to good use. 

Why is it important to share visuals of places/creatures/environments that we love and need to protect?

Visuals and storytelling have incredible power to inspire people and transport them. Seeing truly is believing. Capturing a powerful image that illustrates a problem or that highlights a unique aspect of life on our planet can elicit a response that written text cannot. We live in a very visual world, particularly when it comes to social media. It’s essential that we are able to captivate our audiences first in order for them to take the next step of changing behavior or getting involved.