Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A new Knauss Fellow arrives in D.C.

This month, Sean Ledwin and 40 other graduate students became part of the 2009 class of Knauss Fellows in Washington, D.C..

I talked to Sean this week to learn about his fellowship placement and his first impressions. Sean says it has been a busy but exciting month, transitioning from life as a grad student in aquatic sciences at the University of Michigan to his placement within NOAA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C..

As a Knauss Fellow, Sean will be working in the Endangered Species
Division of the Office of Protected Resources, which is part of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. His new office oversees the management of 67 endangered marine species, including species of salmon, whales, and sea grass. They are currently preparing their biennial report to Congress about the status of each species. Although he’s only been on the job for two weeks, Sean already has a diverse list of projects, including assessing critical habitat for leatherback sea turtles and updating the web content about Hawaiian Monk, Northern Fur, and Gray seals. Within the next few weeks he plans to travel to Seattle to discuss his most controversial project, the status review of Stellar Sea Lions.

The other Knauss fellows have been adopted by a wide range of hosts in Washington, DC. Their new jobs include being a staffer with the House Natural Resources Committee on Capital Hill, negotiating fisheries treaties for the State Dept, and working on climate policy, fisheries or managing Marine Sanctuaries at NOAA.

Before becoming a Knauss Fellow, Sean had experience researching aquatic ecosystems, working with tribal groups on marine resource issues, and advocating for greater marine protection through an NGO. Although federal policies influenced his work in each of his past positions, he’d never fully understood how the government developed their official opinions. He’s fascinated to now be on the other side, deciding the type of protection required for threatened marine species. For example, his review of the Stellar Sea Lion recovery will influence whether they are removed from the endangered species list!

So far, Sean reports that he has received royal treatment. The National Sea Grant office has organized several receptions for the Knauss fellows, including one for all the fellows from the past 30 years. Many of the past fellows are now leaders in resource management and policy, creating a valuable professional network. Sean’s office has been particularly warm and supportive, in part because nearly half of the staff were Knauss fellows! Sean says that his new colleagues all have fantastic stories about unusual research projects and exotic travel, so they can easily relate to his transition from graduate researcher in Belize to Knauss fellow. Despite the not-so-exotic office setting, Sean and the other fellows are thrilled to attend Congressional hearings, meet Jane Lubchenko, and bring sound science into the federal decision-making process.

As Sean explained in his application, he sees the fellowship as an “exciting venue to help realize his goal of becoming an innovative manager and leader in coastal policy formation and implementation”. For now, he says, he’s just trying to absorb as much as he can, stay open new opportunities, and build his network - but the from sounds of it, he’s right on track.

Sean is happy to answer questions over email,
sledwin@umich.edu. He suggests that prospective fellows visit the Knauss website and drag down either Executive or Legislative to view the jobs of current fellows.