I feel like things are changing rapidly right now. Our political context and discourse — have the role of science in that discussion — has just gone through a major, and surprising shift. A shift that was not predicted by the best available public opinion survey science — so our primary way of knowing as scientists, failed us. That can be unsettling too.
Furthermore, our ecosystems, our coastlines, our fisheries, our climate, our neighborhoods, and our communities are all changing. Much of that change comes with more uncertainty than we may be comfortable with. But one thing we learn from ecosystems is that to be resilient in the face of change, we need diversity. In society, a diverse local economy is more resilient than a single, large employer-dominated community. Research shows that innovation comes from diversity of knowledge, skills, and perspectives. Thus, those that thrive are those that can leverage diversity, adapt, and adjust to meet new needs, and identify new opportunities in the changing environment.
Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) has had these concepts in mind as we have experimented, evaluated, and refined our comprehensive set of graduate and post-graduate fellowship programs. We fund and manage graduate research fellowships for masters and PhD students, fisheries population dynamics, and marine resource economics PhD fellows, and this year, coastal storms PhD fellows. We support post-graduate fellowships in marine science policy in Washington, DC (Knauss Marine Policy fellows), and in state government (Commonwealth fellows in Virginia, and Coastal Management fellows in state Coastal Zone Management offices). Coupled with alumni stretching back to the inaugural Knauss Fellowship class of 1979, VASG has a large professional cohort of peer mentors, executive coaches, and support at all stages of the career ladder.
And so, in addition to the fellowships’ financial support for stipends, tuition, fees, and the like, VASG is expanding a suite of professional development training that aims to provide fellows with the professional skills, competencies, and networks to ride the waves of change, to find opportunities and be innovative in the face of change, and to have clear competitive advantages in their careers. Specifically, we are supporting advanced science communication training, competencies to be effective in the science-to-policy and management arena, peer networking, and executive coaching to develop professional savvy and networking abilities, and skills at team science and collaborative leadership.
These skills and abilities will be put to the test by our incoming class of Knauss Marine Policy fellows, who are going to Washington, DC, to begin their one-year fellowships on February 1, 2017. It will be a dynamic time of change for them. There will be uncertainty. There will be times of discomfort, and maybe even active conflict.
One of our fellows, Julia Snouk-Hurgronje from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), will be on Capitol Hill in a Congressional Office. Taylor Armstrong (VIMS), Sasha Doss (Virginia Tech), Melissa Karp (VIMS), and Amanda Laverty (Old Dominion University) have host offices in the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, while Gina Digiantonio (University of Virginia) will be going to the Department of the Interior.
Recently, to support our incoming class, VASG hosted a reception, and invited the outgoing class, plus some key, experienced VASG Knauss alumni and DC-based friends of VASG who have lived through changes of administrations in the past. We discussed what to expect, how to manage in such change, and how to continue to get the critical jobs done.
VASG’s Knauss fellows, as well as all of our fellows, staff, and alumni, are our shining stars. Their impact extends throughout their careers, well beyond the years for which they are funded by VASG. VASG is also a community, and our fellows, staff and alumni support each other, enable our success, and celebrate our success — I always tell our incoming fellows, “I want you to leave your VASG experience saying, ‘I’m not just any fellow, I’m a VASG fellow, and that is something special’.”
Thank you for visiting the VASG website, and for reading this inaugural Director’s Blog. I hope you see something special in VASG too. We are Virginia Sea Grant, and at its core, Virginia Sea Grant is people — people assembled in a large professional community — people making a difference, innovating, and thriving in a changing world.