Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Pre- (well, mid-) Travel Blog: The first third of my fellowship year

By Lisa Peterson

To be honest, blog readers, the plan had been to post a blog before the month of May. Because May has been my busy travel month and I liked the idea of a pre- and post-travel blog. But as I am quickly learning during my Knauss fellowship year, time flies by extremely fast. You blink and suddenly you have been working at NOAA for almost four complete months, a third of your year over. And what a third it has been. I am in the midst of travel currently (attending the National Stock Assessment Workshop this week in California as part of my professional development plan), so I will think of this as a mid-travel blog and follow up in a month or so (after the bulk of my travel for the year is complete) to talk about these meetings I have been attending. 
Fellow MISG Knauss Fellow Janet Hsiao and I took some time to check out the cherry blossoms on the Mall. Photo: Lisa Peterson
I want to go a little bit more into what I am working on during my Knauss year, as now I have a much clearer picture of my specific projects. As I mentioned in my first blog post, I am working in the Office of Science and Technology with the Electronic Technologies Coordinator, Brett Alger. I’m working on a variety of projects, but I see myself as having two big ones. Both are related to electronic monitoring (EM — check out EM Explained here). The first is national standards. Throughout the year, I will be working with EM coordinators to think about standards, whether these be minimum requirements, policies, or just best practices, for the various components of EM systems (e.g. hardware, software, data files). My first task is to make recommendations for prioritization and timing and clarify the desired outcomes of creating these standards. Then the plan is to create a subgroup of the national Electronic Technologies Working Group to start working through the potential national standards components.

The other project I am working on combines my background in stock assessments with the EM work I am doing at NOAA. As electronic monitoring expands, special consideration needs to be taken with regards to how this new data is incorporated into the stock assessments that inform management. Some regions, like Alaska, are already incorporating EM into their stock assessments, while others, like the North East, are investing into research on how best to go about integrating their EM data. My goal for the year is to put together a document that synthesizes the current work that has been done on this topic, the progress being made by some of the researchers, and what some roadblocks may be, and potential paths forward. I’m hoping this will be useful to all the regions, no matter where they are in their EM programs.

This is shaping up to be a great year. I am learning a lot and am excited to continue my projects. In addition to the projects described above I am also helping with EM communications — check out this spotlight on the women of EM! I also do find time to explore D.C; see the pictures below!
I am still trying to hit all the main buildings and museums in D.C., but I am always impressed by the Capitol Building. Photo: Lisa Peterson
The beautiful cherry blossoms made for some cool pictures at the Washington Monument. Photo: Lisa Peterson

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The case for cooperation: Two countries, one vision

By Michael Mezzacapo

The Ambassador Bridge connecting Michigan and Ontario is more than a transportation link; it's a symbol of the two countries' commitment to cooperating. Photo: Adobe Stock
The final weeks of my Michigan Sea Grant International Joint Commission (IJC) fellowship provide an opportunity to reflect on the uniqueness of the organization, its mission, and the complexity of Great Lakes water quality issues between the US and Canada.

In today’s world of rapid-fire news cycles, sound bites, and tweets, it’s easy to feel that nothing lasts long. It can be refreshing to see commitment, longevity, and perseverance, especially on a single issue. I see all these characteristics in the relationship between the US and Canada, the IJC, and the staff who serve both countries.

Since the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty, the IJC has helped the US and Canada resolve complex issues related to water management and quality across the entire US and Canadian border. That’s over 100 years of cooperation spanning 5,525 miles (8,891km) of international border. This type of long-term commitment, diplomacy, and strategic planning has resulted in a stable and productive relationship between the two countries, sharing immense natural resources.
President Nixon and Prime Minister Trudeau signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972. Photo: IJC
The IJC has shepherded the two countries through conflicts and accomplishments. And the continued success of the IJC is evident in its numerous science-based reports which keep governments and citizens informed, all while helping shape important policy decisions on both sides of the border.

Over the last year I have had the opportunity to witness the commitment to cooperation by the Commissioners and the IJC staff at the Great Lakes Regional Office. They share a relentless dedication and passion to providing the governments and citizens with important information needed to protect the Great Lakes.

The IJC isn’t alone in this effort and cannot operate without the input and perseverance of Great Lakes residents, countless businesses, and non-profits who surround this unique and precious resource. Everyday citizens volunteer their time to clean up beaches, write editorial letters, and attend public meetings to voice their opinion and concerns over important issues, ranging from toxic pollution to recreation and invasive species.

I can confidently say the voices of the Great Lakes residents are being heard and governments are responding. Change sometimes takes longer than we like. But the foundation and the stability of the relationship between the US and Canada and its commitment to protecting the Great Lakes, that hasn’t.
We can act today to ensure a healthy future for the Great Lakes. Photo: Michael Mezzacapo
Building and maintaining long-term relationships is critical in today’s changing world. The US and Canada share a unique bond and are positioned to lead by example. The 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty, the IJC, and the Great Lakes Water Quality agreement are testaments to the importance of a shared mission and cooperation. If we all stay committed to the goal of protecting the treasured resource we call the Great Lakes, they will remain great for future generations to come.

Settling in: An update from Knauss fellow Janet Hsiao

Squid dissection at NOAA Kids Day! 
It's hard to believe we’re a quarter of the way through the Knauss Fellowship! Since February, I've experienced a government shutdown, snow day, and wind day — the past three months have been eventful to say the least. Now that I’m more settled in DC, I'd like to share snippets of what I've been up to with the faithful Michigan Sea Grant blog readers.
Knauss fellows volunteered as judges at the 2018 Rock Ridge High School Science Symposium.
Being a part of NOAA's Ocean Observing and Monitoring Division (OOMD) has been a fascinating introduction to physical oceanography. OOMD maintains 50 percent of the global ocean observing system, which includes various technologies (e.g., Argo floats, surface drifters, buoys) that measure temperature, surface currents, salinity, and other essential variables that characterize the ocean. The data feed into models for weather, climate, ocean, and marine forecasts. The long-term records also help us understand how the ocean modulates climate patterns.
Sensors such as buoys, offshore platforms, and ship-based weather stations contribute to the Global Ocean Observing System. Image: JCOMMOPS
Under the guidance of Dr. David Legler, my main responsibility is to facilitate the Tropical Pacific Observing System (TPOS 2020) Working Group within NOAA. This working group aims to improve sustained observations of the tropical Pacific to better understand the El NiƱo-Southern Oscillation. It has been eye-opening to witness different groups (e.g., oceanographers, modelers, program managers) come together to work towards a shared vision. I was empowered by the opportunity to practice prompting collaborative meetings, despite not being a content expert. Knowing who to talk to when is half the battle, as well as setting clear meeting objectives and operationally minimizing technical difficulties. 

Through supporting OOMD communication efforts to multiple audiences, I also gain insights on aspects of how the federal government operates. I help draft messages to our partners and leadership through different stages of the federal budget process. I follow NOAA vessel Ronald H. Brown's journey around the world, and contribute to the blog that chronicles its quest to gather ocean data. There are also opportunities to participate in many public outreach events, such as NOAA Open House and the USA Science and Engineering Festival. I am incredibly honored to work alongside knowledgeable and passionate colleagues, and look forward to what the rest of the year holds. Stay tuned for more updates!
NOAA Science on a Sphere at the 2018 USA Science and Engineering Festival.
Knauss fellows hang out at the Ocean Conservancy's screening of Planet Earth: Blue Planet II.

Stream sampling and goby guts: Graduate student research with Corey Krabbenhoft


I'm Corey Krabbenhoft and I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in Donna Kashian’s lab at Wayne State University in Detroit. I am very excited to be contributing to Michigan Sea Grant’s graduate research this year. Let me start by telling you a little bit about me:

I am originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I received my B.S. and my M.S. in Biology from the University of New Mexico. My master’s research was on the trophic ecology of young-of-year fishes in arid land rivers.

While the major questions in the Southwest are largely about water demand and species conservation, I found invasion ecology here in the Great Lakes to be concerned with a similar problem — what can we do to protect native species and ecosystems? This is what inspired my dissertation work. I have spent the last few years investigating round goby invasion in Michigan tributaries of the Great Lakes.

If you’re not familiar, round gobies were introduced to the Great Lakes around 1990. They came from the Ponto-Caspian region (Eastern Europe) via ballast water exchange. They have since invaded all five Great Lakes and are actively moving upstream into many Great Lakes tributaries. Every summer since 2015, I have gone to seven tributaries in Michigan to hunt down round goby populations.
Watersheds sampled in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Clockwise from top are the Ocqueoc, Au Sable, Rifle, Clinton, Rouge, Stony Creek, and Muskegon River watersheds. Image: Corey Krabbenhoft
With a lot of help from the fantastic students at Wayne State, I conducted fish surveys on each river every year. We sampled both in areas where round goby occur and in areas where they have not yet invaded. We completed community surveys for fish and macroinvertebrates, some basic habitat assessments, and collected voucher specimens to bring back to the lab for further analysis.
Seining for fish at the Clinton River near Rochester, MI. Photo: A. Wicks
I am now doing a lot of lab work to find out more about how round goby specifically impact native species. I used a native competitor, the Johnny darter, as a representative native species because of the similarity of its niche (small-bodied, benthic) to round goby and its widespread distribution. I am interested in whether the Johnny darter changes its reproductive or feeding habits after round goby invade a stream. To do this I have been doing a lot of dissections. For each voucher specimen, I remove its gonads and weigh them; relative to the total body weight, this measure (called gonadosomatic index or GSI) gives an estimate of the fish’s investment reproduction (since gonads grow rapidly leading up to spawning). I then remove the entire gut tract, open it, and identify the contents. Ultimately, I will compare the contents of the gut to the food available at each site (from our macroinvertebrate samples) to see if Johnny darter food preferences change after round goby invasion. 
A dissected round goby with his gut (left) and gonads (right). Photo: Corey Krabbenhoft
Another goal of this project is to work with local watershed organizations who are regularly monitoring the quality of these rivers. I have been working closely with the Friends of the Rouge, which organizes macroinvertebrate sampling events three times per year. At these events, anyone can volunteer and with a little on-site training, can help sample and track the quality of the river at any one of their 103 sites throughout the watershed (keep an eye out for their next event!).
A volunteer sorts through macroinvertebrates at a bug hunt with the Friends of the Rouge. Photo: Corey Krabbenhoft
These events are a great way for citizens in the watershed to learn about their local river and what they can do to help maintain a healthy ecosystem. The organization is also a great resource for long-term data on river quality. We have coordinated our sampling efforts with Friends of the Rouge over the last few years so that we can compare our data with theirs, and hopefully utilize almost 20 years of data produced by their volunteers. Long-term and widespread data sets like this are so hard to come by, and the folks at Friends of the Rouge have been great to work with! I am hoping that this collaboration will allow a longer time-scale perspective on how the Rouge River has changed over the years, especially following the invasion of the round goby.

I’ll be back again soon to keep you updated, but in the meantime, you can find me at or on my Twitter page: @ckrabb.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Great Lakes go to Washington: Great Lakes Day with Margo Davis

In what I have to imagine is a perennial highlight for the Great Lakes Commission-Sea Grant Fellow, I traveled to Washington, D.C. last month for our Semiannual Meeting and Great Lakes Day on Capitol Hill. I have been to Washington numerous times while living on the East Coast, but never had the opportunity to interact with the lively policy scene. So I was excited and a tad intimidated when, on my first day, I was sent to attend a congressional briefing on a newly-released report on equitable water infrastructure in the Great Lakes. Although I certainly consider myself civically active, I was not used to this type of sanctioned, more formal event, and I certainly wasn't used to having a congressman introduce the panel! Rep. Bob Gibbs of Ohio provided opening remarks, but I really became awed when Rep. Gwen Moore — who represents my home district in Wisconsin — arrived and addressed the room. Not only was it a great experience to learn about the report directly from those that prepared it, but exposure to the Capitol Hill setting was great for me (and hopefully made me a little less green for Great Lakes Day later in the week).

After some Commission business the next day and a half, Great Lakes Day arrived. We started with a breakfast in one of the Senate buildings, which featured speeches from elected officials from across the Great Lakes states and on both sides of the aisle. The senators and representatives discussed their constituents’ priorities and the steps they are taking to protect those priorities. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Rob Portman, co-chairs of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, spoke back to back and highlighted bipartisanship as the backbone of the Great Lakes delegation.
Great Lakes stakeholders at the Congressional Breakfast to kick off Great Lakes Day. Photo: Reilly Manz, Great Lakes Commission

Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), co-chairs of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, greet each other between speeches. Photo: Reilly Manz, Great Lakes Commission
Across the board, the bipartisan significance of the Great Lakes was a common theme and perhaps never more apparent than when closing speakers Reps. Debbie Dingell and Fred Upton, both from Michigan but from opposing parties, spoke together about their understanding of the importance – both to them personally and to their constituents - of protecting the Great Lakes and the frequency with which they work together to do so.

Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Fred Upton (R-MI) close out the Congressional Breakfast. Photo: Reilly Manz, Great Lakes Commission
After the breakfast ended, GLC staff, Commissioners, and a wide range of Great Lakes stakeholders visited elected officials and their staff to further discuss priorities and encourage the Great Lakes delegation to continue working together to protect the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Commission exists to work with the states and provinces to promote their collective interests and address issues of common concern. So, in addition to providing materials, we also reminded staffers that the GLC can be a resource, both in the tools we develop and as a point of contact for key issues.

One valuable tool that I worked on ahead of Great Lakes Day is our Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) interactive map. Each year, the Sea Grant Fellow works with the GLC’s GIS team to update the GLRI database in preparation for public use. We get data from the EPA on every GLRI project, and then scrub the data for consistency and to link updates to their original project. The GIS team takes it from there to import all of the new information on to the map. This tool is important to show how the GLRI funding is being used in each state, and has congressional district overlays so that elected officials can zoom in to see what projects are occurring closest to home. As Great Lakes funding continues to be at risk, we hope this tool is a helpful way of displaying the value of the GLRI.

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.