Wednesday, March 7, 2018

IJC Great Lakes Regional Office bids farewell to Director Trish Morris: An interview with Michael Mezzacapo

2018 International Joint Commission Great Lakes Regional Office (GLRO) staff. (Left to right, front: Monique Myre, Lana Pollack, former GLRO Director Trish Morris, Mark Burrows. Left to right, rear: Michael Mezzacapo, Ken Getty, Diane Varosky, Sheila Dugmore, Antonette Arvai, Lizhu Wang, Jennifer Boehme, Dan Berube, Matthew Child, Raj Bejankiwar)
The International Joint Commission (IJC) was created by the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty signed by the US and Canada. The IJC is designed to prevent and solve disputes over transboundary water issues between the US and Canada. In 1978, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) was signed by the US and Canada to restore the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes. The Agreement formed the Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor, Ontario, the only bi-national office of the IJC.

The Director of the GLRO serves a four-year term under a rotating Canada/US leadership agreement. The position is responsible for the overall management of scientific and technical programs which support the GLWQA, in addition to budgeting financial resources of the office.

Trish Morris joined the IJC GLRO in 2014 after a successful career with the Army Corps of Engineers and Army Headquarters, effectively assisting the organization to navigate complex legal and policy matters relating to invasive species, the U.S. Clean Water Act, and remediation and revitalization of the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon spill. Her tenure at the IJC was highlighted by the GLRO integration of the Canadian and US budget streams and issuance of the first-ever Triennial Assessment of Progress Report. This year, she is departing the IJC to join the Navy’s efforts to manage the needs of Marine and Navy shore installations in the southwestern US.

Before leaving the IJC, Trish sat down with me to reflect on her tenure as Director of the GLRO.

1. What made you interested in working for the IJC?

A: Most of my legal career, before assuming the role as IJC GRLO Director, was involved in some aspect of water management and policy. Previous positions included working for the Army Corps of Engineers and the Army Headquarters overseeing Army Corps work. The Army Corps is directly involved with water management across the US. My previous jobs either managed or advised on subjects like the Everglades, Deepwater Horizon spill, Mississippi River, and the Upper Missouri main stem. At the Army HQ, I had the challenge and reward of advising the Corps on watersheds across the entire US.

Because of my previous experience, the Director position at the IJC GRLO seemed like a natural fit. The main attraction was the focus on policy and the ability to utilize my Master’s degree in public policy and peace operations. I embraced the opportunity to gain experience with international/binational issues and manage conflict between the two countries.

2. During your tenure, what have been some of the most significant challenges to Great Lakes management and restoration?

A: There are many challenges to running a binational office. However, one problem that stands out, that is not often realized, is the budgeting process. One of the more unique challenges and — ultimately — successes was aligning two budget streams from two countries, in two different fiscal years.

The GLRO, by treaty, is funded from fiscal sources of the US and Canada by equal moieties (meaning each country must contribute equal amounts). Previously the office used Canadian funds to cover expenses, and the US would reimburse Canada quarterly. However, this posed many problems. One major issue was the inability to take advantage of different funding streams available in each country.

I was able to successfully combine the GLRO budgets and merge funding from both countries. This success allows the IJC to fund more studies per year and more efficiently plan future projects. Aligning the budgets had a substantive impact, and the IJC is now more effective and ultimately better positioned to fulfill the mission of the GLWQA.

3. What project or projects are you most proud of during your term at the IJC?

A: One project I am most proud of was establishing the Sea Grant Fellowship program at the GRLO. Dr. Jennifer Boehme approached me with interest in providing educational and professional opportunities to recent graduates in the Great Lakes basin. After extensive efforts between the two of us, it finally came to fruition three years ago. Bringing a fellowship to the GRLO has been a fantastic opportunity for fellows and staff. It builds a connection to the community. It has been a positive and successful experience, and I’m proud that the IJC GRLO can offer such opportunities.

4. What is the next chapter in your career, and what advice can you offer to those wishing to protect the Great Lakes and their treasured resources?

A: The next chapter in my career is to be region counsel for the Navy, southwest region. The region includes California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. Besides the obvious issues of supporting the installation war fighters, civilians, and families in a unique training environment, water is or will be an issue for every one of those installations, each for differing reasons. In my new role, I will work on a broad array of water and environmental issues while supervising an office of attorneys.

The Great Lakes are such a treasured freshwater resource. The people in this basin are so fortunate. Water is going to be a conflict driver for many years. Without water or too much of it, citizens will face issues — whether you’re in Cape Town, South Africa, which is getting ready to turn off the taps of an entire city, or you're in Houston, which spent weeks under water. Water mismanagement and climate effects will be felt across the world.

I’ve learned so much from the professionals in the Great Lakes region regarding water management. But, the basin itself isn’t immune to complex issues. Last year Lake Ontario had massive flooding, which coincidentally coincided with a new water management plan called Plan 2014. The historic rainfall that caused destruction to communities in the US and Canada could not have been mitigated by any management plan, with the amounts of water experienced. Climate change will continue to stress our systems; we need to train young scientists and environmental professionals to figure out a way to be more resilient and improve our efforts to mitigate the effects of a changing climate.

I encourage those interested in protecting the Great Lakes to study the emerging issues and focus on prevention and protection. It’s important to preserve this treasure for many generations. It’s such a unique and beautiful area that needs to be protected.

Michael Mezzacapo is the 2017-2018 Michigan Sea Grant Fellow at the IJC’s Great Lakes Regional Office in Windsor, Ontario.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Sharing green infrastructure insights: An update from Margo Davis

Recently, my Great Lakes Commission (GLC) coworkers and I formally kicked off our green infrastructure mentoring network with our first quarterly webinar. Although this was the first time the network has convened as a group, behind-the-scenes coordination and individual mentoring activities have been ongoing for some time now. My role in the Green Infrastructure Champions project — and the mentoring network specifically — has been a really interesting and rewarding opportunity.

Green infrastructure tour (in the rain!) during the Green Infrastructure Champions workshop in Detroit, Michigan. Photo: SEMCOG

The mentoring network was open to communities and organizations across the Great Lakes basin and at all stages of green infrastructure implementation. Some network members are taking the early steps in getting green infrastructure off the ground in their communities, while others have several successful green infrastructure policies and installations.

I am responsible for coordinating the network, which included matching what we are calling “Emerging Champions,” or mentees, with appropriate “Pioneer Champions,” or mentors. As part of the larger project, we held two green infrastructure workshops — one in London, Ontario, and one in Detroit, Michigan — that also served as opportunities to get communities and organizations involved in the mentoring network. The Emerging Champions submitted a needs form, identifying the specific area(s) in which they could use mentoring. I then looked for partners in the Great Lakes basin with expertise that spoke to those needs. Often, this meant reaching out to a person or organization already engaged with our Green Infrastructure Champions project to get contact information of others involved in green infrastructure across the basin to get the right fit of mentor experience with mentee needs.

Green infrastructure tour during the Green Infrastructure Champions workshop in London, Ontario. Photo: GLC

In addition to using contacts that the GLC has already established, I have been able to follow up with people and projects I have been introduced to through networking opportunities. I attended the Healing Our Waters Coalition’s Great Lakes Restoration Conference back in October, and as I reviewed one of the mentee’s needs, I immediately thought back to a project I learned about in a session in the conference. I thought the experiences would align nicely, and I was able to get in touch with team members from the project to get them on board to serve as a mentor.

It has been a great experience for me to connect with collaborators across the Great Lakes basin and explain our project to people with varying levels of background awareness of the mentoring network. I have reached out to communities, nonprofits, and consulting firms alike to help establish an effective network that will work to share information and reduce barriers to green infrastructure. The webinar was a chance to get a glimpse at how the network operates as whole, and I am encouraged that it will be a valuable opportunity for the members.

Rain garden at The Enclave at Victoria Hills in Ingersoll, Ontario. Photo: GLC

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A month after Placement Week and a month before the big move: Thoughts from Lisa Peterson

My name is Lisa Peterson and I am one of the two Michigan recipients of the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. I am currently a PhD candidate at Michigan State University in the Quantitative Fisheries Center of the Fisheries and Wildlife Department. My advisor is Dr. Mike Jones and my dissertation research is focused on using acoustic telemetry data to estimate mortality of Great Lakes walleye.

Throughout my graduate degrees, I have had the opportunity to work with both stakeholders and managers of the Great Lakes region and found that I really enjoyed working at the intersection of research, policy, and management. That enjoyment is what led me to the Knauss fellowship. I wanted the chance to dive into the policy world and get a first-hand account of how the federal government facilitates fisheries management. I also wanted to expand my toolbox of skills to include marine fisheries management, in addition to my Great Lakes work. The Knauss Fellowship was a way to fulfill both those goals. Plus, being a Michigan girl born and raised in a suburb of Detroit, the opportunity to travel to D.C. and meet people from all over the country was a big draw as well!

In November, Janet (the other Knauss fellow, who also blogged about her D.C. experiences) and I flew to Silver Spring, Maryland, for what is called “Placement Week.” I assume some of you reading this may be potential Knauss fellows and are, like I did as well, spending a fair amount of time scouring the Knauss blogs trying to figure out just what this week is really like. This section is for you.
While most of Lisa's interviews happened at NOAA headquarters in Silver Spring, she did get to explore Washington, D.C., and visit the Department of Commerce. Photo: Lisa Peterson
First off, everyone is correct. It is, indeed, very exhausting. I would say in the week following Placement Week whenever anyone asked me what it was like, I would use words like “exhausting,” “stressful,” and “manic” to describe it. Now that I am a few weeks removed and I haven’t worn a suit since that final Friday of Placement Week, I have had a little more time to process the experience. Because yes, it is terribly stressful and busy, and they do make you wear suits all week, but it is also unlike anything I have ever done before — in quite a few positive ways.

Because while you are stressed out about the ridiculous number of interviews (eighteen for me), what you are really trying to do is find someone you WANT to work with, and the offices are trying to find a fellow that they also WANT to work with. It’s like a match-date game that ends with a job. So yes, you need to present your best possible self to these potential employers, but you are also interviewing them to see if they are offering a placement that matches what you want for your placement year. For me, once I realized that, it made the whole week a lot less scary. No less busy and stressful, but more manageable.

Also, the absolute best part of Placement Week is getting to meet and spend a lot of time with your cohort of fellows! I met so many awesome, intelligent, motivated people who were going through the same stressful time as me. By the end of the week, you have a whole big group of supportive friends. I have never said — and been told —“good luck” so many times in my life. That became both a greeting if you were rushing past each other heading to interviews, as well as the parting words after you spent 10 minutes with a group of fellows waiting for your interviewers to come down to security to let you into the building. And now moving to D.C. next month is a lot less scary, because I will already know 44 other people who will have just moved there! It really was a crazy week, but it was a good week as well.

At the end of that week of madness, I chose and was placed in the Office of Science and Technology, part of the National Marine Fisheries Service. I am going to be the Electronic Technologies Coordinator working with Brett Alger (a former MSU Spartan!). To me, this position was a great merging of my strengths (quantitative background) with what I wanted to get out of my fellowship year (do something new and get to interact with a wide variety of people and groups). The main goal of this position is to help with modernizing the fisheries-dependent observer programs, specifically the data-collection technology they have implemented or are implementing. There is going to be some flexibility with the specific projects I take on (another of my wants for the fellowship year), but they will likely involve policy development, working with the NOAA regional offices, and potentially working with some data.

I am excited to work with an MSU alum and learn how policy gets developed, and I am also excited to take on other collaborative projects as well. Of course, I am nervous to start a new job in a new city, but to be honest, mostly I am eager to start this new chapter of my life.

I will keep you updated!

- Lisa Peterson

Monday, November 27, 2017

Surviving Placement Week: A Q&A with Knauss fellow Janet Hsiao

The prestigious John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship provides a unique educational experience to graduate students who have an interest in ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources and in the national policy decisions affecting those resources. It is sponsored by the National Sea Grant College Program and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The program is named in honor of one of Sea Grant’s founders, former NOAA administrator John A. Knauss.

Students are matched with host agencies in Washington, D.C., such as congressional offices, the National Marine Fisheries Service, or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For one year, fellows work on a range of policy and management projects related to ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources.

Michigan Sea Grant is pleased that two candidates from Michigan were selected as finalists for 2018. Janet Hsiao and Lisa Peterson recently participated in Placement Week and have been matched with a host office. Their fellowship year will begin in February 2018.

Lisa Peterson (left) and Janet Hsiao (right) are ready for their first interviews during Placement Week in Washington, D.C.

Here are Janet Hsiao's impressions of the Knauss experience so far:

1. First, tell us a little about yourself.

Placement Week is a unique setting that brings people from all walks of life together. After a fast-paced week of continually meeting new faces, I did hone in on a brief self-introduction: I am originally from California and attended primary school in Taiwan.

Currently, I am nearing the end of my MSc degree at Michigan State University, conducting research on coastal habitats of Maui, Hawaii. My project attempts to contribute to the understanding of the hydrologic linkages between the landscape and nearshore coastal habitats. I characterized inland disturbances in the coastal environment in relation to spatial distribution of coastal ecosystem services, to hopefully inform management strategies for coastal conservation.

Outside of my graduate work, I am a year-round bike commuter and musician. I play the piano, euphonium, and carillon (currently at Beaumont Tower on the MSU campus).

2. Why did you decide to apply for the Knauss Fellowship?

Mentors on my graduate guidance committee encouraged me to apply for the Knauss Fellowship. I thought the fellowship would complement my science background with practical experiences in the federal agency setting. I am committed to pursuing a career in the field of natural resources conservation, and the fellowship offers first-hand opportunities to learn about national policies affecting marine and coastal resources. At the end of the day, I aspire to help people understand that the choices they make as individuals matter and empower them to take responsibility for the changes they want to see in their community. I believe the insights gained from the Knauss Fellowship — working at the interface between science, policy, and the public — would help me get there.

3. Placement Week in Washington D.C. is hectic. You learn about many different opportunities and interview with lots of offices. What is your main takeaway of Placement Week?

To be frank, I have yet to process the whirlwind that is Placement Week. Our days were composed of interviews, followed by daily Evening Events (EE) that served as additional networking opportunities to follow up on interview discussions. So much of Placement Week is contingent upon rapid decisions (e.g., which of the 70 host offices to interview with after 10 hours of back-to-back presentations, how to choose the 3 hosts to call back), with many factors that you cannot plan for (e.g., which offices show up to the EE, how you are literally numerically ranked amongst your amazingly qualified fellow fellows that also choose to meet with the same hosts).

My main takeaways from this week are to do the best in what you have control over (e.g., dress the part, be punctual), don’t expend energy on decisions and circumstances beyond your control, and eat snacks to minimize stomach growls during interviews. Placement Week was an eventful and intense shared experience that surely bonds past, present, and future Knauss fellows — an incredible network that I look forward to being a part of. 

Knauss fellows narrow down their top 16 interview slots at the beginning of a hectic week.

4. Where will you be working when the program starts in February 2018?

My 2018 Knauss Fellowship placement is with the NOAA Climate Program Office based in Silver Spring, Maryland. I am excited to join the Ocean Observing and Monitoring Division (OOMD) to work on the Tropical Pacific Observing System 2020 Project (! Ocean observation systems gather information to understand past and present climate and environmental conditions, and are important for predicting future changes. My main role will be to coordinate and support intra- and interagency activities, as well as develop and deliver materials for leadership, Capitol Hill, and the public.

5. What are you excited about learning or doing?

With my background in aquatic landscape ecology, predominantly in freshwater and coastal systems, I am grateful for this opportunity to learn more about the world’s oceans and how all these systems are interconnected. In the coming year, I am looking forward to joining a supportive team of people that are genuinely invested in my learning. My particular office at the OOMD has given past Knauss fellows the autonomy to shape their fellowship experience and pursue multiple professional development opportunities. Over the course of the year, I will be working at the interface between science, policy, and the public. I hope to gain greater interdisciplinary understanding so that I can identify opportunities to disseminate information to relevant stakeholders, and ways for me to contribute as an individual to be a more effective advocate for sustainable resources management.

Janet works with MSU students to download ocean observation data from NOAA's National Data Buoy Center — a foreshadowing of things to come!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Uniting against harmful algal blooms: An update from Margo Davis

One of the standout aspects of my fellowship at the Great Lakes Commission so far is the collaborative and multidisciplinary focus that underlines our work. It has been an eye-opening experience to see how different groups and interests come to the table to address collective concerns. Perhaps the best examples that I have had the opportunity to work on are the harmful algal blooms (HABs) projects I am involved with. I work with our partners to help develop factsheets, organize data to be used for visualizations, and coordinate webinars and other information sharing opportunities.

HABs in the Great Lakes basin are typically characterized by a green scum or mat of algae, and they have the potential to produce toxins that are harmful to people and animals. Western Lake Erie is the most prominent and egregious example of HABs problems in the Great Lakes, but HABs concerns are present across the Great Lakes basin. HABs in the Great Lakes are caused by excess nutrients entering our waterways – often largely from agricultural land use, but also from urban sources like wastewater and stormwater.

Algal blooms in Lake Erie's western basin can threaten drinking water supplies, aquatic habitats, and recreational waters. Photo: Zachary Haslick, Aerial Associates Photography, Inc.

Although blooms are caused by actions on farms, at wastewater treatment plants, and in cities, the resulting toxins and scums are responded to by public health officials, water treatment plants, and the fishing and tourism industry, so the solution to HABs sits between these numerous parties. This creates a diverse and complicated mix of partners – and it has been fascinating to see how knowledge can be shared and alliances can be forged. That is not to say that conversations are always easy and agreement is always forthcoming, but the act of involving stakeholders from all sides of the issue is incredibly valuable.

This was exemplified at the Ohio Sea Grant’s "State of the Science: Understanding Algal Blooms" conference. The table I was sitting at included an agricultural researcher, water quality researchers, and an agribusiness leader. Our table was just a microcosm of the various fields represented at the conference, which went on to include water treatment specialists and public health researchers. It also included people from both inside and outside of the Lake Erie basin, highlighting the importance of sharing information across the Great Lakes watersheds facing HABs concerns.

Despite the numerous sectors involved, progress on Lake Erie simply is not where it needs to be. As is evident in the photo above, the bloom was raging this year, coming in as the third worst bloom in the last 15 years. To better track the wide-ranging actions on Lake Erie and resulting progress toward goals of reducing nutrients, the Great Lakes Commission launched a website with The Nature Conservancy under the Blue Accounting initiative. ErieStat will bring the varying efforts from different jurisdictions to the same platform, using common goals and metrics. It has been exciting to be a part of this project as new collaborations are built in the Great Lakes basin.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Living in Canada: A crash course from Michael Mezzacapo

The IJC offices enjoy an unbeatable view of the Detroit River. Photo: Michael Mezzacapo

After I learned I was awarded the Michigan Sea Grant fellowship opportunity at the International Joint Commission (IJC), I realized that I had a unique opportunity to reside in Canada for the year. Moving is never easy, let alone moving to a foreign country. Seemingly simple aspects of your daily life can become challenging due to certain regulations or requirements. Information about the immigration process can also be confusing and located in many different places. The prior Fellows have lived in the US and commuted to Windsor, as all of the IJC American employees do. My goal here is to give future Sea Grant fellows interested in the IJC a quick peek into the process of temporarily moving to Canada, should that be the choice of future Fellows. *The advice below is for informational purposes and not recommendations or guidance from the IJC or the U.S. or Canadian governments. No compensation was received and no recommendations are intended.*
1.     Housing: The first major hurdle to moving anywhere is finding a place to live. Windsor has a decent mix of apartments and houses for rent at rates cheaper than downtown Detroit, but they tend to go fast. Classified internet sites are your best bet for scoping out housing in the area. Consider renting a temporary residence through one of the major home share providers for a month to get a feel for the city and then make a choice on where you want to live. There are several neighborhoods and districts in Windsor; research each area and make a decision based on what fits your needs best. I chose to live in Walkerville, which is a neighborhood close to the IJC office but slightly quieter than downtown while still offering a great selection of restaurants, shops, and bars. I walk to work every day and have a great view of the Detroit River.
TIP: Think about renting a furnished place. I chose this route; it's far easier than hauling all your stuff over the border. Check home sharing sites which let you rent short-term; sometimes hosts will rent long-term contracts at discounted rates. Plus, you reduce the number of bills you have to pay because electricity, the internet, and hydro are usually lumped into your monthly payment.
2.     Transportation: Let's face it, cars are the dominant mode of transportation here. After all, this area is where the automobile industry was born. But the city of Windsor has an excellent bus system that is relatively cheap. You can even take the city-run tunnel bus across the border to Detroit. So don’t fret if you don’t own a car. And if you are bringing your car, you can simply keep your current U.S. state driver’s license and plates. Because the position is temporary, there is no need to import your vehicle or change your plates and driver’s license. I would suggest obtaining a copy of your automobile title, registration, and insurance and keeping them in a folder in case customs needs these.
TIP: You may need to find an insurance company that covers you in both the U.S. and Canada. Most larger insurance companies operate in both the U.S. and Canada.
3.     Cell Phone: This was something that nearly slipped my mind when researching the moving process. After all, you will be in a foreign country. There are a couple of options here: get a new cell phone plan in Canada or keep your U.S. plan. Be prepared to pay a hefty amount for both options. My service provider has a plan that allows me to use my phone in Canada as if I was in the U.S. (including unlimited talk and text), without any extra fees or charges. Many cellular providers in Canada provide similar plans, if you wish to go that route.
TIP: Get enough data! You’ll want a decent amount to use navigation applications, etc. Some service providers will slow your speeds after a certain amount of data usage in Canada. Also, some internet services won’t work when on a Canadian IP address. My suggestion is to get a VPN router application. This way you can watch your favorite programs or use your preferred paid streaming services.
4.     Importing your belongings and pets: Because I chose to rent a furnished place, I could pack everything I needed in my car. But bringing your things across the border can bring challenges in the form of paperwork and restrictions. You can find more information here. I suggest creating a spreadsheet of everything you are bringing with you and include its corresponding “yard sale” value. Ironically, the process of bringing your furry friend over is quite easy! Instructions for that are located here. But remember, your pets will need updated rabies vaccines. Also, make sure they are comfortable and have plenty of food and water, as crossing the border for the first time can take a few hours.
TIP: Make copies of your documents!
5.     Bank account: Banking isn’t all that different in Canada, but there are things to think about. Because of U.S. regulations, you can’t send your paycheck to a Canadian bank account. You’ll have to create a U.S. account with one of the Canadian banks first. Confusing? It certainly is. Essentially you create an account that you can have U.S. funds deposited into and then transfer those to your Canadian account. Other options are available too. For example, you can send your paycheck to an existing U.S. bank account and simply find a credit card that has zero foreign transaction fees and use that to pay for items. However, you’ll then have to pay high fees to withdraw money from the ATM in cases where cash is needed. Be mindful of the exchange rate and fluctuations in the market.

6.     Health care: Canada has universal health coverage, and this includes temporary workers. The process is easy and painless; find out more here. You’ll need to be physically in Canada for three months before you can receive coverage, but you can apply the first day you move. Purchasing temporary medical coverage while you wait is highly recommended. Check the internet for companies that offer a variety of coverage plans so you can find the one that best suits you.
Although there are similarities to living in the U.S., residing in Canada provides me with first-hand experience of life in another country. Windsor is a diverse city, and its residents have been warm and welcoming. I enjoy working with a binational staff and the opportunities it provides. Each candidate’s situation will be unique, and it is important to evaluate your own needs, desires, and finances. Although it may seem complicated at first, my suggestion is to break things down and take a closer look; you’ll be glad you did.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Advice from the first American woman to walk in space: Reflections from Ellen Spooner

Ellen Spooner with Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, who served as the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from March 2014 through January 2017.

The first American woman to walk in space — appointed as the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from March 2014 through January 2017 — addressed us, the 2016 Knauss Fellows, at our end-of-the-year pinning ceremony. As we closed out our fellowship and began the next chapter of our careers, she shared interesting stories from her past and imparted some of her wisdom. Along with the typical but always reassuring graduation advice of accepting the failures and successes in life as part of the winding path to reach our professional goals, Dr. Kathy Sullivan gave some notable guidance. 

As one of the first female astronauts in NASA, Dr. Sullivan spoke about the leadership there and how they taught her a great deal about how she wants — and doesn’t want — to lead others. She said that with every boss we have, we should take note of what we like and don’t like about their leadership style, write it down, and use that to reflect upon how we will lead others. With my experience at NOAA, I was lucky enough to add a fair amount to the list of leadership skills I want to emulate. NOAA leadership was able to keep that fine balance of getting work done while keeping the mood in the office light and upbeat. To be fair, though, it is hard to not be excited about your work when your job is to protect adorable seals and other amazing marine life.

The funny thing about being an astronaut is that the job market is pretty small without a lot of options outside NASA. So when she decided to leave, she found a way to dissect the duties she had as an astronaut into skills that were translatable to other jobs. The ability to translate your specific skills and experience in one job to another is an invaluable ability that will get you far. As a trained scientist moving into the professional world of communication and education, I really resonated with this advice.

Then Dr. Sullivan gave an example of how a scientific background prepares you to be a good leader. While she was a professor at Ohio State University, she noticed a difference in the students who studied other subjects compared to those who studied science. Students would come into her office hours to discuss their grade on a paper, and she would ask them to defend why they made the argument they did in the paper. She often found that non-science majors based their arguments on rationalized beliefs, while science majors provided facts as evidence to support their conclusions. Perhaps a background in science provides the skills needed to dissect an issue, analyze the information at hand, and make a decision based on evidence, which is what successful leaders do.

At the end of Dr. Sullivan’s speech, each Knauss fellow had the opportunity to stand up and share some of our most memorable moments from the fellowship. When it came to my turn, there were so many moments I could have mentioned, from discussing the importance of ocean literacy in schools with leaders from all across the world, to providing low-income students with access to science education and highlighting a path to science careers. But I decided to take the opportunity to thank my fellow fellows, because my most memorable moments during the fellowship were those late-night discussions over (possibly a few too many) beers, debating the current issues of our government, the environment, and particularly the ocean. Penny Pritzker, the former Secretary of Commerce, once said that “the people you surround yourself with are the key to long-term success,” and I felt truly blessed to have been surrounded by such bright and talented people for the past year.

After we each shared our moments, we got a photo-op with Dr. Kathy Sullivan herself. I was so excited to meet her that I was the first one in line to get my photo taken. Dr. Sullivan waved to me and said, “Come on over, Ellen.” That was the perfect ending to an amazing year: the Administrator of NOAA herself had remembered my name.

So in the end, no matter where you came from and where you are going, learn to dissect what you have done into skills that can translate into different jobs and you will reach the stars.

Ellen and Dr. Sullivan mark the occasion with a handshake.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Choosing the Right Path: Trevor Meckley Looks Back

Trevor Meckley with Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, who served as the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from March 2014 through January 2017.
The Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship provided me the exact experience it advertised: a “unique educational and professional experience for postgraduate students.” But I didn’t necessarily follow the exact mantra repeated to fellows during the Knauss placement week. During placement week, fellows are matched up with host offices through a weeklong process that culminates in a draft, where offices rank fellows and fellows get the opportunity to choose their office in the order that they appear on the ranked lists. Surprisingly, this professional ocean science nerd draft receives far fewer tailgaters than either the NFL or NBA drafts. Maybe the 9 a.m. start time was the problem.

However, the important Knaussian twist on those better-known drafts is that draftees still get to pick their placement position based on the order each office ranked them. In other words, a fellow could end up selecting an office that ranked them lower, if other fellows above them selected a different position. During placement week, one of the two most common pieces of advice were to “go in a new direction and step outside of your comfort zone.” I had a slightly different and perhaps more boring approach to finding my host office. My four priorities for selecting a fellowship position were:
  1. A position that I would enjoy and might want in a career.
  2. A position focused on the nexus between science and how management communities use the science.
  3. A position with an office that had a track record for hiring successful Knauss Fellows or supporting contractors.
  4. A fellowship with a group of colleagues that seemed like a group I would be happy working with, allowing me to experience the office dynamic for a year. 
Much of this perspective came from being a recent graduate student with a first child on the way, longing for a sure future and the beginning of a career. I wanted to set myself up for a position that might work out long-term.

The year ended as I wanted it to end. I work for CSS, a professional and technical services provider that contracts employees to many federal offices, including my host office, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) at NOAA. This means I work in my host office managing projects for the Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise Program (EESLR). EESLR provides a suite of science products to inform coastal managers of local coastal vulnerability and solutions to mitigate flood risk on our coastline. Projects principally explore the vulnerability of natural coastal ecosystems (e.g., salt marsh, mangroves) to evaluate the potential for natural structures (e.g., barrier islands, wetlands, etc.) to reduce coastal inundation. Projects also aim to develop best practices for the inclusion of ecosystems in coastal protection strategies. I get to manage projects that complete high-level science leading directly to tools that can be used by decision makers. I am not conducting the science; my role is ensuring that ongoing funded research leads to products that are valuable. This begins during the strategic writing of the competitive funding opportunities and careful selection of the best proposals. This is a position at the nexus of science and the management communities using the science, with a great group of colleagues, that I could be happy in for the long term.

The funny thing about my year in which I took a more careful approach than advised to finding a position — even though it worked — is that I no longer feel the same pressure for finding a position. The Knauss placement week, combined with the effort of job-searching during the fellowship, has distilled useful knowledge about job-searching and building relationships.

One of the most valuable perspectives I gained was that, if embraced, career change can be exciting and rewarding. If I want to work around federal science in this era, at any time I could be searching for a new job or switching focus despite being successful in my position, partially as a result of working with changing political administrations. I’m aware that this will not be my last job; thankfully, there are many jobs I could be happy doing. As long as you work hard and are successful, there will be positions for you and they often present themselves organically through the network of contacts that you develop and maintain.

The bottom line is that the Knauss process has completely changed the way I think about interviews and my career. When selecting a position, I have no interest in overselling myself or fighting for a job that doesn’t fit. It can be easier said than done, if you are job-searching when out of work, but there should be a strong feeling of a good fit when taking the position. This brings me to the second and primary mantra discussed during the Knauss Fellowship: “Follow the force.” It is a nerdy way of saying that you should feel drawn to the position you are interviewing for and the people you will be working with. It is really just a catchier way of reiterating my 1st and 4th position-hunting priorities. This mantra is one that I will keep with me, and you would be hard-pressed to find any former Knauss fellow that disagrees with it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Last-Minute Survival Guide to Sea Grant Fellowship Applications (IJC Fellow Edition): Advice from Allison Voglesong

The deadline to apply for the International Joint Commission-Sea Grant Fellowship is less than two weeks away. It is amazing to think that a year ago I was scrambling to finesse my essay, wrangle recommendation letters, and manage anxieties over whether my numerous inquiries to the Michigan Sea Grant staff disqualified me based on my apparent oblivion. For those of you doing now what I was doing last year, this blog may help. This blog provides tips for general Sea Grant Fellowship applications as well as specific pointers for the International Joint Commission Fellowship application.

This view could be yours!

Tips for Sea Grant Fellowship applicants:
  • Register your application ASAP. Do not wait until the last minute. Using the online application link, start your new application. You will get a fellowship code and a link that will allow you to go back in and submit your documents to complete your application. 
  • Ask questions. Between January and the February deadline, I sent a dozen emails with questions ranging from eligibility to support for my recommendation letter writers. The Michigan Sea Grant staff are helpful and prompt in their replies — and they will not think you are a basket case for asking many questions if you are polite, gracious, and to the point. 
  • Give recommendation letter authors adequate prior notice. In fact, at this juncture in the application timeline, my advice may be moot. If you are asking for letters of recommendation within a two-week timeframe, don’t be afraid to send them a draft letter you have written for them. Send your essay and resume and provide your authors with the key points they will need to endorse you. Check to ensure your authors receive the link to submit their letter, and if it was lost in the interwebs just ask the friendly folks at to re-send the link. 
    • Get a mix of representation. If you are not currently enrolled and wrapping up an educational program by the time the fellowship will start, get a recommendation from a teacher or advisor from your current or most recent graduate institution. For those of you who plan on continuing your education after the fellowship concludes: don’t include future academic references, unless they were also past or current educators. Ask your supervisor from a recent or most relevant job or internship to demonstrate your workplace experience and ethic. 
    • Ask someone close to you. Are you torn between two authors? Choose one from the most relevant experience instead of simply the most recent job. Related: request a recommendation letter from an author who knows your skills directly, rather than someone prestigious but with no intimate familiarity of your unique talents. 
    • Be a pest. Politely make sure your recommendation letter authors can and will complete your letters within the deadline. You can complete your Sea Grant application before your letters are in, and you will get an automated “APPLICATION COMPLETION” email after you submit your application through the online system. Be a gentle, polite pest and follow up with your authors to ensure their letters are in before your deadline.

Tips for International Joint Commission-Sea Grant Fellowship applicants:
  • Write to your best self. As always, the IJC is looking for the strongest overall candidate. When I applied, the IJC was also specifically looking for someone specializing at the intersection of Great-Lakes-water-policy-science-communication-multimedia-production. If you are a specialist in these same areas, great, I hope you apply! If you are a scientist who has the entire Lake Michigan food web memorized, great, I hope you apply! The Fellowship RFP is designed so you have the opportunity to highlight your unique skill set and expertise. Which leads me to my next tip: 
  • Do your homework. This fellowship will place you at the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes Regional Office, so it will be very helpful for you to know what that means. Hint: you really MUST become acquainted with the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which spells out the jurisdiction of the Great Lakes Regional Office. It will help to know about the overall legal framework of the IJC (see the Boundary Waters Treaty). You may travel to either of the IJC’s section offices in Washington, D.C., or Ottawa, Ontario, that work on issues for other boundary waters as well, but you will work in snowy — I mean sunny —Windsor, Ontario, the headquarters for the IJC’s Great Lakes water quality work. Get to know the alphabet soup of acronyms relevant to the work here (there won’t be a quiz at your interview, but you will be better off the more you know): 
    • GLRO: Great Lakes Regional Office 
    • GLWQA: Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (“the Agreement”), and amendments
    • AOC: Areas of Concern 
    • BPAC: Binational Public Advisory Council 
    • LAMP: Lakewide Action and Management Plan 
    • CMC: Chemicals of Mutual Concern 
    • LEEP: Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority 
    • BMP: Best Management Practice 
    • AIS: Aquatic Invasive Species 
    • BWT: Boundary Waters Treaty 
  • Be clear about your intentions. What do you want to gain from this fellowship opportunity? How will a year at the IJC’s GLRO help you in your education or career? This fellowship will be a full-time job for you for 12 months, and you will want to make the most of it, so bring some ideas about the topics or projects you want to work on and benefit from in the process. Become familiar with the current work and priorities of the GLRO, which you can find out by perusing the recent news releases and following the IJC’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts. Yes, I know the personal education and career goal statement for the fellowship asks you what you expect to gain in the way of career development, but take it to the next level and be specific. If you do not have Great Lakes experience already, explain why you want to venture into this new-to-you field. If you are an old pro with Great Lakes water quality issues, how does the IJC’s unique binational, conflict-management position give you a new perspective on familiar issues? How do you hope to be challenged? These are the big-picture questions you are going to need to ask yourself to complete a top-notch application.

Other FAQs:
  • For whom would I work? You would work for the IJC GLRO Monday through Friday 9-5 (ish). However, you would not become a U.S. State Department employee, nor would you be individually contracted with the U.S. government. Rather, you get paid via Michigan Sea Grant. However, you do not work for Michigan Sea Grant; they sign your checks and help you get the fellowship, and occasionally you will blog for them. 
  • Should I be taking classes concurrently? As a Fellow, you are not permitted to take a class (or classes) toward a degree or certificate during the Fellowship; you should complete coursework by or on June 1. In my case, I deferred the start of my grad school until after this fellowship due to the full-time obligation of the Fellowship. In my opinion, it was a great decision. 
  • I submitted my application. What next? If (let’s be optimistic and say “when”) you are selected, you will receive an invitation to interview from Michigan Sea Grant. You will meet with a team of Sea Grant staff and IJC staff. Then this team will select the top few applicants to endorse and you will receive a Decision to Endorse email. The IJC will coordinate with you to schedule your second interview. You may be asked to submit additional documentation before this next interview, which will be in Windsor at the GLRO with several IJC staff including the GLRO Director. Then, I hope, dear reader, you will receive the fellowship offer email – make sure you are sitting down when it comes as you will likely be quite excited! 

I hope these tips help the prospective Fellows out there. If you are reading this blog, you are a step in the right direction for preparing the best application possible. The most important advice is: be yourself. Keep up the great work! The IJC will be lucky to have you at its service.

Allison Voglesong
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Monday, January 9, 2017

Engaging Youth in Marine Science: An Update from Ellen Spooner

After a grueling week of sitting through 52 presentations back to back, doing 13 interviews across the city, and hours of self-marketing at evening “Happy hours” — otherwise known as Placement Week for Knauss fellows — I got the education/communications position shared between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Office of Communications and the Smithsonian Natural History Museum’s Ocean education team.

This was very exciting to me, as it provided the unique opportunity to see how two very well-established and impactful institutions work toward the protection of our ocean and inform the public about that protection. Both institutions carry out marine research and share that science with the public, but they use different methods for doing so.

The Smithsonian Natural History Museum is the single most visited museum in the United States and is one of the top 30 places visited in the world with 7 million visitors a year. In addition, it has the largest collection of marine fish and whales in the world.

NOAA Fisheries is largely responsible for the management and protection of all fish, mammals, and sea turtles that live or come into U.S. waters. The United States has the largest exclusive economic zone or special rights over the largest area of ocean in the world. Hence, NOAA Fisheries is responsible for a large part of life in the ocean and is a world leader in doing so. Therefore, these institutions have a large influence around the world and have been excellent places for me to learn from the best.

In this unique position, I bring the vast wealth of ocean knowledge from NOAA to the millions of visitors at the Smithsonian. I do this using a variety of methods which include bringing NOAA scientists into the museum to talk with our visitors, or helping update exhibits at the museum by providing the latest information and research on marine organisms from NOAA. Through this work, I have had the opportunity to learn how to strategically communicate with Congress, the press, and the public on scientific and sometimes controversial topics and how to engage museum visitors with science in a fun and interactive way.

Yet, one of the most important audiences I have worked with in this position is students from underserved communities. I had several very rewarding experiences working with a variety of students whose interest and excitement about the ocean astounded even me.

One of my first experiences was with NOAA Enrichment in Marine Sciences and Oceanography (NEMO) program, where local Washington, D.C. high school and middle school students work with marine science experts to learn about the ocean and do various marine science activities after school. I was thrilled to find out that one of the schools that participates in this program was in my own neighborhood, so I jumped on the opportunity to get involved. It is so easy to get caught up in your own life but it is so important to give back to the community you live in and here was my chance. There were about 20 middle school students in this classroom, and the moment we brought out the preserved squids for a lesson on physiology, there was excitement, fear, and intrigue. We eased the students into handling the squid by teaching them about the outside features first, and once we cut inside, they were all excited about it.

Squid dissection at Mckinley Middle School.

There was just as much excitement when I brought my dear friend and extremely motivated shark biologist, Symone Johnson, into the Natural History Museum to speak with our visitors about the work she has done researching sharks. She brought a real shark jaw and had photos of her work for students and visitors to look at. During this program, a large group of children ran over to her and all wanted to touch the shark teeth. They had never seen someone who looked like them do that before (meaning marine biology). We're excited to get involved.

Symone Johnson holding a real shark jaw for a group of students.

Not only did I get to work with students in Washington D.C., but I also had the opportunity to travel down to Louisiana with the Gear Up program. Smithsonian is a partner in this program, which prepares low-income students for college and a future career. For this program, I developed a lesson on ocean currents that shows how the ocean regulates our climate.

After I taught one of the classes, a student asked me, “Are you a Marine Biologist?” I answered, “I guess you could say that.” Then, she asked if it was hard to become one. I responded “I'm not going to lie, there were some times in school that were really difficult for me, but I always found the help I needed to work through it, either by going to my teachers’ office hours, getting help from my classmates, going to tutoring, or reading the book. So even though there are difficult parts of school, there is always someone or something that can help you out. You just have to find it.” She then responded by saying she might want to do that, be a Marine Biologist. This was one of the most rewarding moments of my career. When working with students, you know not every student is going to find what you teach them interesting, but that's not the goal. The goal is to expose them to as much as possible so they can know what their choices are and figure out what they like from there. I was able to help one student find her interest.

Students participating in the Gear Up program in Louisiana.

I could not have had these amazing experiences and this fellowship without the help of so many people along the way, and I want to be that person for others. I want to provide that opportunity to as many students as I can. So I want to thank all those who have supported me along the way: from those who helped me in undergrad through those horrible chemistry exams, to those in graduate school who enlightened me to all the issues of the world, and to those during this fellowship who have helped me grow as a professional and have shown me how it's done best.