KINGSTON, R.I. – Jan. 11, 2023 – Senior year of college is typically a heavy lift.
That description takes on new meaning in the case of University of Rhode Island senior Arianna Helger who not only carries a full-time course load but regularly juggles work in her family business, quahogging in Narragansett Bay, and her role as president of the Student Alumni Association. Helger has been hauling shellfish in Narragansett Bay since she was a child and is also a serious competitor in the Tootell Aquatic Center scuba class pushup challenge (currently at 30).
Her enthusiasm for hard work and challenge will serve her well as she takes over her family’s business after graduation in June.
Helger’s family operates a seafood market, Helger’s Bridgeport Seafood, in Tiverton, nestled on the shore of the Sakonnet River. The market draws a wide range of dedicated customers (and some celebrities, as well). She’ll be the fifth generation to operate the family market.
Working in the family business is a labor of love. Helger was ready to go directly into business after graduating from Tiverton High School but her mother, a teacher, encouraged her to look at URI for marine biology, to gain book knowledge to complement the on-the-job experience she’d gained growing up.
Today, Helger is glad she took that advice and touts the strength of the program she joined. “I have loved URI’s marine biology program — it’s the best there is,” she says.
To prepare for the work to come, Helger also has taken classes at URI that round out her marine studies, including courses in accounting and finance to prepare for a career as a small business owner.
Helger’s perspective on seafood’s business side has also given her a different point of view in the classroom. She can readily speak to the challenges that arise for those in the fishing business when regulations are put in place to combat overfishing and other issues. “Fishing is important for our economy, as well as sustainability,” she says. “I can speak to both the fish and commercial side.”
The market sells seafood wholesale and retail, with seafood sourced locally and from the port of New Bedford, including the quahogs that Helger harvests herself in the lower Providence River. Helger’s great-great-grandmother started the original market in Tiverton in 1937.
As she starts to follow in her great-great-grandmother’s footsteps, Helger will be working with customers, wholesalers and agencies like the Rhode Island Department of Health. Her father, David Helger, will continue to play a role as she assumes the reins. They have developed a strong bond through their work at the business, which is evidenced by daily conversations and check-ins about the market, and photo swaps of pictures of the day’s case display.
“He’s obsessed!” she laughs. The shop sells saltwater fish, everything from Arctic char and bay scallops to swordfish and striped bass. The shop draws customers from outside New England and even as far away as New Zealand. You’ll also find their fish on the menu at fine restaurants in the region, from the Back Eddy in Westport to Scales & Shells in Newport. “You can trust our product,” Helger says.
The Helger family has deep roots in the Tiverton area and a strong business bent. The original Helger ancestor came to the area from Germany and had several children who spread out and started businesses … today, their entrepreneurial legacy dots the area, with an eponymous turkey farm, greenhouse, Christmas tree farm, and Helger’s ice cream, and many more businesses. If her business needs anything, it’s likely that she can find a cousin for it!
At URI, Helger’s work on the Student Alumni Association, an organization which connects current students to URI alumni, gave her the chance to further develop her leadership skills. “It’s also been a great way to make friends,” Helger says. “It’s like a family.”
Helger wrapped up her term as president Jan. 1 and is succeeded by Kyersten Frabizio ’24.
“Arianna has been an exceptional leader,” says Michele Nota, vice president for alumni engagement at the URI Foundation & Alumni Engagement. “Always with a smile, she has encouraged her fellow Student Alumni Association members to find new ways to connect students with alumni. Her pride for the University is contagious.”
SAA Program Manager Kassie Patatanes echoes that sentiment, saying, “With a busy course load, volunteer work, and involvement in SAA, Arianna always steps up to the plate and has proven herself to be an amazing student leader in her time at URI. Her passion and dedication shine through her work both on and off campus.”
“I learned skills and solidified strengths through SAA,” Helger says. She plans to maintain her URI connection upon graduation, out of appreciation for all that the last four years have given her here.
“I have loved URI,” she says. “Experiences working in marine biology labs and on the trawler boat have been really cool. And the faculty are helpful and approachable; the professors are so knowledgeable and open.”
The marine biology program has given her broader context for understanding coastal issues around the world, as well as in-depth understanding of fish physiology, the larger world of fish, human influence, and the full scope of creatures and regions of the sea beyond Narragansett Bay. “It also has given me a lot of random nerdy facts about fish physiology to share at the market,” Helger laughs. Before she graduates, she’ll head to Bermuda this spring break for a study abroad program to study underwater photography and film.
Despite her youth and the fact that she’ll be joining a traditionally male-dominated industry, Helger said everyone she’s encountered on her path to business ownership has been fully supportive and encouraging.
Helger also plans to use her degree in Marine Biology and life experience to add to community discussions in the seafood industry. “I want to add my voice,” Helger says, noting that it’s important for discussions and regulations of issues to include people actually doing the work.
“URI’s program has been really great to get me set up for my next chapter at our seafood business,” Helger says. “There are so many opportunities here at the University of Rhode Island.”
Learn more about the Student Alumni Association. SAA is always looking for new members!