Due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, the scheduled lectures may be postponed or canceled. Please check back for further information.

Registration is requested for all programs, which start at 7 p.m. in the Aquarium’s Simons Theatre unless otherwise noted. Programs last approximately one hour. Most lectures are recorded and available for viewing on the lecture series archive page.

Email aquariumlectures@neaq.org with questions about our lectures, RSVPing, or for more information.



Cornell Brooks


(Photo: Tom Fitzsimmons)

Let Justice Roll Down Like Water: Environmental Justice and Unjust Democracy

POSTPONED, check back for details on when this will be rescheduled 

Cornell Brooks, Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership and Social Justice, Harvard Kennedy School; Director of The William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice at the School’s Center for Public Leadership; and Visiting Professor of the Practice of Prophetic Religion and Public Leadership at Harvard Divinity School 


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once declared about our American democracy, “let justice roll down like water.” Those words ring hollow for Flint, Michigan, and other communities across our country. Flint citizens paid $100 a month for lead-poisoned water, while one corporation paid $200 a year to pump 400 gallons a minute of pure Michigan groundwater. Flint citizens–and marginalized American communities—seek not only environmental justice but a just democracy. Environmental justice demands not only the just allocation of natural resources, but the just use of our democratic resources.  With both our natural and democratic resources, Americans can build not only healthy communities, but a healthy democracy.

About the speaker: Cornell Brooks was most recently visiting professor of social ethics, law, and justice movements at Boston University’s School of Law and School of Theology. He was a visiting fellow and director of the Campaign and Advocacy Program at the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics in 2017. Brooks served as the 18th president of the NAACP from 2014 to 2017. Under his leadership, the NAACP secured 12 significant legal victories, including laying the groundwork for the first statewide legal challenge to prison-based gerrymandering. He also reinvigorated the activist social justice heritage of the NAACP, dramatically increasing membership, particularly online and among millennials. Among the many demonstrations, from Ferguson, Mo., to Flint, Mich., during his tenure, he conceived and led “America’s Journey for Justice” march from Selma, Ala., to Washington, D.C., over 40 days and 1,000 miles. 

Before leading the NAACP, Brooks was president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, where he led the passage of pioneering criminal justice reform and housing legislation, six bills in less than five years. He also served as senior counsel and acting director of the Office of Communications Business Opportunities at the Federal Communications Commission, executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington, and a trial attorney at both the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the U.S. Department of Justice. Brooks served as judicial clerk for Chief Judge Sam J. Ervin III on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Brooks holds a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was a senior editor of the Yale Law Journal and member of the Yale Law and Policy Review, and a Master of Divinity from Boston University’s School of Theology, where he was a Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar. Brooks has a B.A. from Jackson State University. He is the recipient of several honorary doctorates, including from Boston University, Drexel University, Saint Peter’s University, and Payne Theological Seminary as well as the highest alumni awards from Boston University and Boston University School of Theology. Brooks is a fourth-generation ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

marine mammal trainer

Diving into the Mind of a Marine Mammal Trainer at the New England Aquarium

POSTPONED, check back for details on when this will be rescheduled

Kim Cummings, Senior Marine Mammal Trainer, New England Aquarium
Allison Onofrio, Marine Mammal Trainer I, New England Aquarium
Kim Podesta, Marine Mammal Trainer II, New England Aquarium

Learn about the different approaches and backgrounds of three of our marine mammal trainers, who work with our Atlantic harbor seals, California sea lions, and northern fur seals. Here at the New England Aquarium, each seal or sea lion has two primary trainers. One primary trainer works Sunday through Wednesday, and the other primary trainer works Wednesday through Saturday. In the simplest of definitions, training is teaching. Each behavior that you see our seals and sea lions do during their training sessions is something a trainer has taught them. 

Kim Cummings, Senior Marine Mammal Trainer, New England Aquarium

Kim Cummings, Senior Marine Mammal Trainer, New England Aquarium

Topic: California sea lion pups require a huge amount of maternal investment to survive. The females usually breed between June and July then give birth a year later. The pups nurse for nearly a year and require a lot of attention and care from their mom. On Nov. 17, 2016, Tipper, a 4-year-old, female California sea lion arrived at New England Aquarium from Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey, where she was living with two adult males. Later in the year, it became apparent that she was pregnant with her first pup. Kim Cummings will share some of the intriguing and heartwarming experiences that defined the first two years of Ron’s life. You will be surprised to discover that raising a sea lion pup is incredibly similar to raising a child!

About the speaker: Kim Cummings joined the Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Team in 2012 after working at Mystic Aquarium for almost 10 years. She has cared for a variety of marine mammals, but the majority of her career has been with California sea lions. Kim loves the close relationship that develops with the animals she cares for and enjoys seeing their unique personalities and learning styles shine through. In addition to caring for marine mammals, Kim also enjoys working closely with interns and volunteers to help them find their path in the animal welfare field. Kim is excited to share the story of the newest addition to their sea lion family with you.

Marine mammal trainer Kim Cummings and Ron

Kim Cummings and Ron, a California sea lion

Allison Onofrio, Marine Mammal Trainer I, New England Aquarium

Allison Onofrio, Marine Mammal Trainer I, New England Aquarium

Topic: Has it ever crossed your mind how trainers structure their training sessions? Have you wondered what goes into training a new behavior? Or what goes through a trainer’s mind during a training session? Have you ever heard someone talking about husbandry training and wondering what that means? Marine Mammal Trainer Allison Onofrio will guide attendees through a training session with Reggae, a 26-year-old Atlantic harbor seal. She will dive deep into the mind of a trainer and discuss how we train, why we train, and how we form the special connection we do with our marine mammals.

About the speaker: Animals have always fascinated me. When I was a kid, I found myself staring at animals outside or at zoos and aquariums, thinking to myself: “Why are they doing what they are doing?” “How can I learn as much as I can about them?” It wasn’t a big surprise to anyone when I started volunteering at the New England Aquarium five years ago. During this time, I learned as much as I could about the animals, the ever-changing oceans, and the impacts humans have on their surrounding environment. However, everyone knew where my true passion lay: animal behavior, animal cognition, and, most of all, marine mammals. I feel lucky to be able to wake up in the morning excited to go to work and care for the animals that I do!

Marine mammal trainer Allison Onofrio and Reggae

Allison Onofrio and Reggae, an Atlantic harbor seal

Kim Podesta, Marine Mammal Trainer II, New England Aquarium

Kim Podesta, Marine Mammal Trainer II, New England Aquarium

Topic: From California and Alaska to Boston, the seals and sea lions that live at the New England Aquarium come from hundreds of miles away. Due to environmental concerns of overfishing, climate change, and pollution, the animals in our oceans are finding themselves stranded, injured, or developing illnesses that prevent them from being able to survive in their natural habitats. With the help of rescue centers, zoos, and aquariums, these animals are able to have a new place to call home. Despite the survival challenges created by warming temperatures, pollution, overfishing, and industrialization in the ocean, we can all help mitigate environmental concerns. Kim Podesta will discuss the small actions you can take to help protect marine mammals.

About the speaker: I joined the Aquarium’s Mammals Department in 2012 as a volunteer assisting training staff and learning about animal husbandry and our seals and sea lions. I found that my prior experience assisting clients and technicians at a veterinary hospital helped prepare me for the husbandry and visitor interactions required of marine mammal trainers. After four years as a volunteer, I became a Marine Mammal Trainer. I have been working with northern fur seals, California sea lions, and Atlantic harbor seals at the Aquarium for the past three years and am involved in our animals’ daily enrichment, husbandry, and training. 

Marine mammal trainer Kim Podesta and Reggae

Kim Podesta and Reggae, an Atlantic harbor seal

These programs are made possible due to the generous support of the Lowell Institute. Founded in 1836 with a mission to inform the populace regardless of gender, race, or economic status, the Lowell Institute has reached thousands of Boston-area residents by sponsoring free public lectures and other educational programs.
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