The possibilities really are endless for graduates of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. Just ask recent Ph.D. recipients Emily Trentacoste and Alyson Fleming. Both women were each recently awarded a Sea Grant Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, an esteemed, national program that provides highly qualified graduates with first-hand educational experience in national policy decisions affecting ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources.
Recipients of the competitive Knauss Fellowships are paired with "hosts" in the legislative and executive branch of government located in the Washington, D.C., area. This yearlong fellowship, which begins annually on Feb. 1, is named after Scripps Oceanography alum John A. Knauss, one of Sea Grant's founders and a former NOAA Administrator.
“This is one of the few post-graduate opportunities that is explicitly established to allow excellent, modern scientists to work on policy applications,” said Jim Eckman, director of the California Sea Grant Program. “This fellowship gives an invaluable look into the inner workings of government at the ground floor.”
During the next year, Trentacoste will complete her fellowship at the Aquaculture Program Office, part of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, while Fleming will complete her fellowship at the Office of Marine Conservation, part of the State Department's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
The prestigious Knauss Fellowships call for high-caliber graduate students, and both Trentacoste and Fleming fit the bill.
“Each of them has a background that clearly illustrates their interests in applying science to real-world problems,” said Eckman. “Besides being great young scientists, they are working on solutions for current, real-world problems. This made them great Knauss Fellowship candidates.”
Applying to the Knauss Fellowship was a logical next step for Trentacoste, a former Scripps Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine (CMBB) student, who received her Ph.D. in January of 2014.
Trentacoste always knew that she wanted to work in marine biology, an interest that was cultivated at a young age by regular trips to the beach.
“I probably knew by seven years old that I wanted to study marine biology; my seventh and eighth grade science fair projects revolved around marine microbiology,” said Trentacoste. “It wasn't until college that I was able to take my first marine biology class, but I got my hands on whatever I could before that.”
While at Scripps, Trentacoste performed groundbreaking research optimizing biofuel production in algae under the mentorship of Mark Hildebrand and William Gerwick. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) recently named Hildebrand’s lab best in the nation for algal biofuels research.
Trentacoste’s breakthrough algal research, along with additional policy classes taken through the Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) program at Scripps, and completion of a two-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) Fellowship, helped her prepare for the next phase of her career.
“I’m so excited for this opportunity. I’d always been planning on going into policy so this fellowship is the perfect way for me to do it,” said Trentacoste. “I’m passionate about communication and scientific research, and marine policy is the perfect intersection of both.”
Similar to Trentacoste, Fleming also knew from a very young age that she wanted to study biological oceanography.
“I wanted to study ocean science since I was six years old,” said Fleming. “I decided in the second grade after we had a curriculum segment on whales and then I just never changed my mind.”
While Fleming was a student at Scripps Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (CMBC), she studied cetacean population structure and its applications to management.
Working under the mentorship of Jay Barlow and Lisa Levin, Fleming co-authored a comprehensive report on the global status of humpback whales for their review under the endangered species act conducted by NOAA. This project gave her an intimate familiarity with endangered species management, and exposed her to the type of management decisions that science directly informs.
After graduating from Scripps with her Ph.D. in 2013, Fleming wanted to broaden her scientific knowledge by testing the waters of science policy.
“The Knauss Fellowship exposes you to a totally different scope of scientific policy, and I’m excited to dive in and try science policy first hand,” said Fleming.
Fleming notes that her Scripps education and research will help her immensely as she begins her work for the Knauss Fellowship. “I’m constantly reminded of the depth and breadth of oceanographic research that I was exposed to at Scripps,” said Fleming. “CMBC is a very competitive program that prepares students for interdisciplinary and diverse research.”
Fleming is currently working with state and international departments on fisheries affairs and regulations and international treaties, and has enjoyed the change of pace from her previous scientific work.
“A lot of important human elements are related to fisheries and scientific policy,” said Fleming. “Working within the state department gives me a very unique, in-depth exposure to these elements.”
This is not the first time Scripps alumni have been chosen to participate in the Knauss Fellowship. Just last year, Kristin Anderson, Grantly Galland, and Miriam Goldstein—all impressive Scripps graduates—received Knauss Fellowships.
“Obviously Scripps turns out some of the best Ph.D. and Master's-level scientists in ocean science in the country,” said Eckman. “Increasingly, many Scripps students are becoming interested in and working on the application of their science to real-world, applied issues, even during their graduate careers. Those students are very powerful candidates for this program.”
Trentacoste and Fleming join 47 other outstanding recent graduates from across the nation as they embark upon their Knauss Fellowship journey. For more information on the Sea Grant Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship program, visit https://seagrant.noaa.gov/Knauss.
- Brittany Hook