Ocean Conservancy Digital Comms Guru To Give Talk

Mary Baldwin University’s 2023 Smyth Lecture will feature environmental nonprofit communications guru and self-described “geek for good,” Robyn Stegman ’09, a senior manager of digital campaigns for the Ocean Conservancy. The free event is open to the public and will be held at 7 p.m. on March 22 in Miller Chapel. 

The interactive talk will center around Stegman’s efforts to fight climate change and environmental injustice using innovative approaches to social media and digital communications.

Stegman made a name for herself by spearheading a mid-2010s media campaign to raise awareness around a novel machine designed to fight a major trash problem in Baltimore Harbor. 

The device used river currents and solar panels to power a water wheel that turned a large conveyor belt that snagged garbage and funneled it into an internal dumpster for collection. The process would beautify the harbor and prevent thousands of pounds of trash from flowing into the ocean each year. 

Stegman convinced city officials to give the industrial-looking machine a makeover. She helped to dress it up as a garbage-gobbling fish with a rounded, white and lime-green canvas back, LED lips, and big cartoon eyes. Videos and social media posts introducing “Mr. Trash Wheel” went viral — eventually attracting nearly 30,000 followers on Instagram alone — and led to feature coverage in major national outlets like NPR, Wired, National Geographic, The New Yorker, and Discovery. 

The campaign’s success helped secure funding for a trash wheel family that has since removed about 2,500 tons of garbage from the harbor. More importantly: It inspired other coastal U.S. cities to adapt similar systems.  

From left: Mr. Trash Wheel set a precedent for environmental best practices in harbors around coastal cities; trash in Baltimore’s Harris Creek before the arrival of Mr. Trash Wheel.

Stegman parlayed the Mr. Trash Wheel media attention into an administrative marketing position with the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore. Next came a senior-level role with national environmental justice titan, Ocean Conservancy, where she helps drive awareness around everything from defending critical environmental legislation, to protecting vital ecosystems, to keeping trash out of the ocean, and pushing for sustainable fisheries.

“Robyn uses her marketing communication skills to provide the tools organizations need to connect to their audience in the digital world and build strong online communities,” said MBU school of business associate dean, Cat McPherson. “She sets a great example for students about the importance of supporting philanthropic causes, partnerships, and using technology and storytelling to bring their visions to life.”

“Robyn uses her marketing communication skills to provide the tools organizations need to connect to their audience in the digital world and build strong online communities.”

School of Business Associate Dean, Cat McPherson

The annual Smyth Business Lecture was established in 1997 through the generosity of late Mary Baldwin University Trustee H. Gordon Smyth and wife Mary Beth Smyth ’47. It brings national and regional business leaders to campus for public lectures and classroom workshops with students.