KINGSTON, RI – January 11, 2023 – Senior year of college is usually a difficult task.
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 at her family business, quahoging on Narragansett Bay, and her role as president of the Student Alumni Association. Helger has been hauling clams in Narragansett Bay since she was a child and is also a serious Tootell Aquatic Center scuba class push-up competitor (currently 30).
Her enthusiasm for hard work and a challenge will serve her well when she takes over the family business after graduation in June.
Helger’s family operates a seafood market, Helger’s Bridgeport Seafood, in Tiverton, located on the banks of the Sakonnet River. The market attracts a wide range of dedicated customers (as well as some celebrities). She will be the fifth generation managing the family market.
Working in a family business is a job of love. Helger was ready to go straight into the workforce after graduating from Tiverton High School, but her mother, a teacher, encouraged her to look at URI for marine biology, to get the book knowledge to complement the on-the-job experience she gained growing up. .
Today, Helger is glad that she followed that advice and highlights the strength of the program she joined. “I love URI’s marine biology program—it’s the best there is,” she says.
To prepare for the job ahead, Helger also took courses at URI to complement her maritime studies, including courses in accounting and finance to prepare for a career as a small business owner.
Helger’s perspective on the business side of seafood also gave her a different perspective in the classroom. She can readily speak about the challenges that arise for those involved in fisheries when regulations are introduced to combat overfishing and other problems. “Fishing is important to our economy as well as sustainability,” she says. “I can talk to the fish and the commercial side.”
The market sells seafood wholesale and retail, with seafood sourced locally and from New Bedford Harbor, including quahog that Helger catches herself in the lower Providence River. Helger’s great-great-grandmother started the original market in Tiverton in 1937.
As she follows in her great-great-grandmother’s footsteps, Helger will work with buyers, wholesalers and agencies like the Rhode Island Department of Health. Her father, David Helger, will continue to play the role as she takes over the reins. Through working in the company, they developed a strong bond, which is confirmed by daily conversations and reports about the market, as well as by changing the photos of the daily shop window.
“He’s possessed!” she laughs. The shop sells seafood, everything from arctic char and scallops to swordfish and striped bass. The store attracts customers from outside of 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 Back Eddy in Westport to Scales & Shells in Newport. “You can trust our product,” says Helger.
The Helger family has deep roots in the Tiverton area and a strong business bent. The original Helger’s ancestor came to the area from Germany and had several children who branched out and started the business … today their entrepreneurial legacy dot the area, with the eponymous turkey farm, greenhouse, Christmas tree farm and Helger’s Ice Cream and many other businesses . If her job needs something, she’ll probably find a relative to do it!
At URI, Helger’s work on the Alumni Association, an organization that connects current students with URI alumni, gave her the opportunity to further develop her leadership skills. “It was also a great way to make friends,” says Helger. “It’s like a family.”
Helger completed her term as president on January 1, and is being succeeded by Kyersten Frabizio ’24.
“Arianna has been an exceptional leader,” says Michele Nota, vice president of alumni engagement for the URI Foundation & Alumni Engagement. “Always with a smile, she encouraged her fellow Alumni Association members to find new ways to connect students with alumni. Her pride for the University is infectious.”
SAA Program Director Kassie Patatanes echoes that sentiment, saying, “Along with her busy course load, volunteer work, and involvement with SAA, Arianna is always on top of things and has proven to be an excellent student leader during her time at URI. Her passion and dedication shine through her work on and off campus.”
“I learned skills and solidified my strengths through SAA,” says Helger. She plans to maintain her URI connection after graduation, out of gratitude for all that the past four years have given her here.
“I loved URI,” she says. “The experiences of working in the marine biological laboratories and on the trawler were really great. And the faculty is helpful and approachable; the professors are so knowledgeable and open.”
The marine biology program gave her a broader context for understanding coastal issues around the world, as well as an in-depth understanding of fish physiology, the wider world of fish, human impact, and the full range of sea creatures and regions beyond Narragansett Bay. “He also gave me a lot of random nerdy fish physiology facts to share at the market,” Helger laughs. Before she graduates, she will head to Bermuda this spring break for a study abroad program to study underwater photography and film.
Despite her young age and the fact that she will be joining a traditionally male-dominated industry, Helger said that everyone she has met on her journey to company ownership has been completely supportive and encouraging.
Helger also plans to use her marine biology degree and life experience to contribute to community discussions in the seafood industry. “I want to add my voice,” Helger says, noting that it’s important to include the people who actually do the work for discussions and regulations on issues.
“URI’s program has been really great to prepare me for my next chapter in our seafood business,” says Helger. “There are so many opportunities here at the University of Rhode Island.”
Learn more about the Alumni Association. SAA is always looking for new members!