Making their mark: Knauss Fellows explore science and policy issues during yearlong fellowship in Washington, D.C.

February 11, 2019
Knauss Fellows explore science and policy issues during yearlong fellowship in Washington, D.C. Clockwise from top left: Maureen Brooks, Emily Russ, Melanie Jackson, Zoraida Perez-Delgado.

Since 1979, the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship has placed 1,291 fellows into positions in federal departments and agencies and U.S. Congress. The Knauss Fellowship, named after one of Sea Grant’s founders and former NOAA Administrator John A. Knauss, gives graduate students who are interested in ocean and coastal resources and in national policy decisions surrounding those resources the opportunity to be hosted in a branch of government for one year.

Four University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science students were among the 60 finalists for the coveted fellowship this year. Maureen Brooks, Melanie Jackson, Emily Russ, and Zoraida Perez-Delgado were given placements in the executive branch, working for either the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or the Navy in Washington, D.C.

Maureen Brooks hopes to work with different agencies to learn how science can be translated into ocean policy. She has been placed at the U.S. Naval Observatory and will be working as an interagency and international policy liaison on issues relevant to Naval operations, such as ocean monitoring systems and marine weather.

Brooks has always been fascinated with the natural world and knew from a young age that she would pursue a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) career of some kind. The only challenge was deciding what she wanted to specialize in. Throughout her time at UMCES, her PH.D. advisor Victoria Coles became her role model as a female scientist.

“She not only does interesting research from climate science in Chesapeake Bay to modeling microbes in the Amazon River plume, but she also has always made the time to be a mentor to me and to other early career women in physical oceanography,” says Brooks on her advisor.

Melanie Jackson’s role model in STEM is Sylvia Earle, the first female chief scientist for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and now she will be an executive fellow at NOAA’s Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs. As Jackson acts as a liaison between NOAA and Congress, she is “excited to learn more about the marine policy process by attending briefings between NOAA officials and members of Congress and their staff” and interested in further understanding NOAA’s research portfolio.

Zoraida Perez-Delgado from UMCES’ Chesapeake Biological Laboratory will also be working for NOAA in their Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. She hopes that being a Knauss Fellow will help her understand future career opportunities and provide her with the skills necessary for making informed decisions regarding training for her Ph.D.

Emily Russ’s doctorate research has focused on coastal resilience. By working in the Engineer Research and Development Center of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the Knauss Fellowship, she hopes to learn how to integrate science, policy, and society to promote resilience and sustainability on a national level.

Both Melanie and Maureen commented how their passion for science began early in their lives and had few hesitations to enter the science realm.

Our 2019 Knauss Fellows will be in their respective positions from February 2019 to January 2020, making their mark in Washington D.C.


In honor of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we asked what advice they would give to young girls interested in pursuing science:

“Follow your passion! Never be afraid to ask questions or reach out to a mentor if you need advice. Also, seek out opportunities that expose you to new things, whether that's a field trip, a volunteer opportunity, or an internship. You never know where it might lead.” - Maureen Brooks

“If you work hard you can achieve almost anything. Don't be afraid to ask volunteer for an environmental organization, aquarium, or in a laboratory in your area to gain experience.” - Melanie Jackson