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                                      Above left to right: In the field – Matthew Oreska, Bianca Santos, Bethany Williams, William Goldsmith, and Nicholas Sisson.


Virginia Sea Grant is pleased to announce the five 2018 finalists for the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship program. Five students from Virginian institutions have been chosen for this prestigious fellowship, named for one of Sea Grant’s founders and former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) administrator. They will each be placed with a “host” in the legislative and executive branches for their yearlong fellowship. Punching above its weight, Virginia Sea Grant routinely garners close to, or at the maximum number of fellowships awarded to a state (six). As with each class of Knauss fellows, the 2018 finalists are an impressive group with diverse backgrounds and interests. Twenty four of the 33 Sea Grant programs are represented in this year’s class, which includes 61 finalists.

“Virginia Sea Grant has enjoyed more success in securing Knauss fellowships than any other state program, and it is largely due to the talent, knowledge, and motivation of exceptional graduates like these. They care deeply about how science informs really important decisions in society, although they are still learning how science makes a difference in policy. Knauss gives them that experience, makes them better scientists, better citizens, and better at informing policy. Virginia Sea Grant is so proud of them, the amazing things they will do in their Knauss year, and the impact they will have, five, ten, twenty years from now because of their Sea Grant and Knauss experience,” says the director of Virginia Sea Grant, Dr. Troy Hartley.

Knauss finalists are chosen through a competitive process that includes several rounds of review. If applicants are successful at the state Sea Grant program level, their applications are then reviewed by a national panel of experts. In November 2017, the 2018 finalists will travel to Washington, D.C. to interview with several executive or legislative offices. Following placement, they will begin their fellowship in February 2018. The John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship is a unique opportunity for exceptional graduate students to expand their educational and professional experience with national marine policy in the District of Columbia. 

Bianca Santos graduated from Stony Brook University in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Vertebrate Biology, and a minor in Ecosystems and Human Impacts. She will be completing her Master’s degree in Marine Science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) in August of 2017. Her research has focused on developing an oceanographic model to identify likely locations and drivers of sea turtle mortality in the Chesapeake Bay. Santos is primarily interested in issues of bycatch, and improving mitigation against vulnerable marine species. In 2016 she participated in Virginia Sea Grant’s Advanced Science Communication Seminar, where she was able to use infographics to communicate the work she was doing to a broader audience. Bianca is hoping to use the Knauss Fellowship as an opportunity to jump into the world of policy head-on, and explore an interest she has always had, but never had the chance to investigate first hand. Bianca is originally from New Jersey, and she spent the five weeks prior to starting graduate school backpacking through Africa.

William Goldsmith graduated from Harvard University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Art in History, along with a Secondary Field in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. He is now in the home stretch of his PhD at VIMS, where he is co-advised by Drs. John Graves and Andrew Scheld. During his time at VIMS, he was awarded the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)- Sea Grant Fellowship in Marine Resource Economics, and given his passion for marine resource management is excited to be a 2018 Knauss Fellow. Goldsmith’s dissertation has focused on the recreational fishery for Atlantic bluefin tuna on the US East Coast. His research examined the preferences and motivations of private and for-hire recreational anglers, and assessed the post-release survival of bluefin tuna caught in the light-tackle fishery. When Goldsmith began at VIMS four years ago, his car had 70,000 miles on it, which he has since doubled by chasing the bluefin up and down the coast to deploy tags. Goldsmith is excited to begin his year as a Knauss Fellow in the hopes that it will enable him to better understand the role of science in the policymaking process. More about Goldsmith’s research can be found here.

Matthew Oreska earned his Bachelor of Science in Geology and Economics from the College of William and Mary before attending University of Cambridge for his Master’s degree in Biological Sciences. He is currently working on his PhD in Ecology at the University of Virginia (UVA) and anticipates graduating in December of 2017. Matthew’s graduate fellowship focused on quantifying the carbon offset benefit generated by seagrass meadow restoration. He became interested in modern ecology through his undergraduate work in paleoecology, and later work at the National Museum of Natural History. At UVA he has been working with Facilities Management to help them potentially meet UVA’s greenhouse gas reduction goal through the purchase of carbon credits. As a Knauss Fellow Matthew is looking forward to learning about the workings of the federal government firsthand. He hopes to be able to assist with the process of drafting legislation, and is confident the experience will help him make his science work more applicable to various stakeholders. Matthew hales from Richmond, Virginia.

Bethany Williams, a Virginia Sea Grant research fellow working toward her Master’s degree at the VIMS, is excited to engage with policy makers as a Knauss Fellow in 2018. Williams’ current research aims to understand how global change affects ecological interactions, specifically focusing on how crabs that have contrasting effects on marsh plants can affect the ability of a salt marsh to build vertically as sea level rises. She is hoping, as a Knauss Fellow, to gain experience in the process of taking science and turning it into policy. Williams can often be found accidentally catching fiddler crabs in her pant legs as she walks through mud in the field. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Florida State University (FSU) in 2015, and will be finishing her Master’s degree in Marine Science at VIMS in 2018. More about Williams’ research can be found here.

Nick Sisson, a second year Master’s student at Old Dominion University (ODU), grew up in a small coastal town in southern New England which largely influenced his interest in marine science. Working as a lobsterman when not in school, he was able to see the interaction between science, policy, and resource use. This was especially evident during a Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan meeting he attended from the viewpoint of a fisherman. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of California Santa Cruz in 2012, Sisson worked field seasons in Washington, California, and Alaska, before settling down for a few years at a NOAA lab in Kodiak, Alaska until starting graduate school. At ODU, he is working on novel approaches to balance human and ecological needs in the oceans. Nick is excited to immerse himself in the inner workings of national marine policy while living in the nation’s capital.

Learn more about Knauss alumni by visiting “Where are they now?” on the Sea Grant website.

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