Yini Shangguan spent years studying algal blooms under an expert in the field, Pat Glibert, her advisor at Horn Point Laboratory.
Now an expert herself, she is using her lessons from the lab and field studies to help the nutrient team at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water.
Shangguan and two students from Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, Aimee Hoover and Stephen Gray Redding, were part of a group of five graduate students selected as 2017 Knauss Marine Policy Fellows through Maryland Sea Grant.
An honor awarded to only to the most outstanding applicants nationwide, these students get to spend a year working with government leaders to see from the inside how science can help make sound policy decisions.
“It’s an opportunity for the students to have a year-long experience close to when they’re finishing their graduate work, which can really be a boost for their resume,” Fredrika Moser, Maryland Sea Grant director, said. “They also learn a lot, and they develop a lot of different skills.”
Since 1979, the Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship has invited outstanding graduate students to spend a year in federal legislative- or executive-branch offices that work on ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes policy issues.
Graduate students can apply through their state’s Sea Grant program (there are 33 programs in all), which will select six to forward to the national office. A pool of 150 applicants nationwide will be narrowed down to match the number of available positions, which can change annually.
It’s an opportunity for the students to have a year-long experience close to when they’re finishing their graduate work, which can really be a boost for their resume. They also learn a lot, and they develop a lot of different skills.
There are currently 12 legislative fellows, with funding appropriated through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Executive branch offices are each responsible for the cost. Which of those offices participate depends on availability of funding and can range from 50 to 70, Moser said.
The selected finalists come to Washington, D.C. in November to get to know the participating government offices and interview for their best match.
“At the end, everybody’s got a job and they start Feb. 1,” Moser said.
Some students might find a perfect fit, and all three UMCES picks have: While Shangguan can use her background to help the EPA, Hoover and Redding, both fisheries scientists, found a place with NOAA Fisheries.
It doesn’t always work out that way, Moser said, but the overall idea of the fellowship is for the students to build a new network and help them decide what they want to do at the end of their one-year program. It also helps expand students’ perspectives of life after graduate school.
“Everybody comes in being a really strong critical thinker, disciplined, and smart,” Moser said. “It’s a wonderful growing experience for any of the students who learn they have this inherent skillset that transcends their particular research topic and is applicable to lots of different problem solving.”
Aimee Hoover, NOAA Fisheries
Aimee Hoover is spending her fellowship with the same government agency where she started her studies of leatherback turtles, the largest of marine turtle species.
In May, she earned a master’s degree specializing in fisheries science. Her thesis work focused on understanding how leatherback turtles move during different life stages.
She started that work in Hawaii as an undergraduate when she worked as a contractor with NOAA Fisheries. Hoover was tasked with describing the movement of Western Pacific leatherbacks and found a way to predict where they might be in the ocean to help develop a dynamic management tool for fishermen.
As a graduate student under Associate Research Professor Helen Bailey at UMCES’ Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, Hoover continued her focus on leatherback turtles and using science to provide information to fishermen. For her thesis, she studied their movement and dispersal from nesting beaches in Costa Rica to understand implications for management and conservation.
“Very little is known about where they grow, and adults are often accidentally caught in fisheries,” Hoover said.
With numbers dropping 98 percent over three decades, the Eastern Pacific population is at risk of local extinction, she said. A better understanding of where the young develop and where adults are most likely to be throughout the Pacific can result in better management.
As a Knauss Fellow, Hoover is working in the Office of Science and Technology’s National Observer Program where she will help report fisheries bycatch, the unused or unwanted portion of catch in a fishery, across all the regions monitored. The work is important, she said, to ensure fisheries are sustainable and efficient, especially when it can involve protected or endangered resources.
Hoover said she hopes the fellowship broadens her view on the integration of science into policy.
“It gives me the opportunity to look beyond my foundation of knowledge, exposing me to opinions and perspectives of many stakeholders,” she said. “This strengthens my own research and comprehension of others’ research, as well. It prevents tunnel vision that can happen as people pour so much time and effort into a highly focused subject, and it opens the door to more creative approaches and new ideas to solve problems.”
This strengthens my own research and comprehension of others’ research... and it opens the door to more creative approaches and new ideas to solve problems.”
Stephen Gray Redding, NOAA Fisheries
Stephen Gray Redding earned a master’s degree specializing in fisheries science at the May commencement.
He studied how oyster reefs and other coastal habitats respond to environmental changes as an undergraduate and research technician at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
As part of the Marine-Estuarine Environmental Sciences graduate program, he worked toward his master’s degree under Professor David Secor at the UMCES’ Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. Redding studied movement and migration habits of Atlantic mackerel.
The fish is common in northern parts of the Atlantic Ocean, but Redding worked to determine whether it lives in groups across that space. Using the otolith, bones in the inner ear, he could determine certain bodies of water the fish had visited and draw conclusions about the groups it was part of.
“If we could have a better idea of where these fish are going, where they’re from, and where they might end up, we could get better numbers and guesses for stock assessments that we do,” Redding said. “These stock assessments help us set the levels of fishing that we think are sustainable.”
For his fellowship, Redding is working with NOAA Fisheries’ Highly Migratory Species Division. There, he is collaborating with stakeholders and decision-makers to ensure sustainable management of valuable and complex fish populations.
These stock assessments help us set the levels of fishing that we think are sustainable.
Yini Shangguan, EPA
Yini Shangguan earned her doctorate degree in December 2016 from Horn Point Laboratory. She focused her thesis on how plankton communities in Floridian lagoons respond to changes in nutrient quality and quantity.
As a graduate student, she enjoyed volunteering as a tour guide to educate the general public about the latest research in Chesapeake Bay. Now as a Knauss Fellow, she said she’s hoping to practice how to build a bridge between scientists and policymakers.
“Trained as a scientist, I have analytical thinking and understand the relationship between nutrients and algal blooms, however, my knowledge on how data would inform decision-making is lacking,” Shangguan said. “Interacting with federal, regional, and state agencies helps me learn who the audiences are, and where their interest lies, thus promoting the communication between different parties.”
She said the fellowship also serves as an opportunity to explore other career paths. She wants to pursue a career in making data-driven strategic planning.
In her fellowship, Shangguan is working with scientists and policymakers to better understand the overall condition of estuarine, near-coastal, and coral reef environments. She also is helping set standards that the EPA nutrient team and the agency’s regional offices can follow.
“Making sure the standard is scientifically solid and practical is important for the effective and fair enforcement, therefore realizing EPA's mission to protect human health and environment,” she said.
Interacting with federal, regional, and state agencies helps me learn who the audiences are, and where their interest lies, thus promoting the communication between different parties.