Fellowship year in review: See the [climate] changes

Matt Dzaugis, 2017 Knauss Fellow

2017. It was quite the year to be in Washington, D.C. My time as a Knauss Fellow started with the election of a new president and ended with a government shutdown. Lucky for me, I was working in an office that coordinates global change research across government agencies so I was only ever asked one question, albeit frequently, when I told people where I worked: “So… what’s up with all the government climate change research?” In short, the answer is easy. I can point to the recently published government report on climate change that states “it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century… there is no convincing alternative explanation.”

Rewind to December, 2017: Knauss Placement Week. The Knauss Finalists (the fellows before we choose an office) hear presentations from all of the potential host offices. That week was quite a blur – 15 interviews with host offices in two and a half days – but I specifically remember the presentation for the National Climate Assessment (NCA) where the presenter said, “we are written into law, and we will publish this report.” This was only a week or two after an election in which climate change was a divisive issue. After hearing that presentation I would be remiss if I didn’t say I had some skepticism that a government report on climate change would actually be published. However, I decided to take the risk and join the NCA team and I truly believe it was the best choice I could have made.

To provide a little context, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) was mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990 to “assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” My Knauss placement was with USGCRP to help coordinate the writing of the NCA, a report that is also mandated by Congress to be published every four years. The NCA is a comprehensive report that analyzes the effects of current and projected trends of global change (both natural and human-induced) on diverse fields ranging from ecosystems and biodiversity to transportation and energy production, along with regional specific information. Governments and the public can use the NCA to inform their decisions, as it contains sector specific information. For example, coastal communities can use the sea level rise projections to inform coastal development, or the agricultural sector can use the precipitation and drought projections to inform future crop selection or selection of ranges for stock grazing.

NCA4 Volume I the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR) was published November 3rd, 2017 and NCA4 Volume II Climate Change Impacts, Risks and Adaptation in the United States, which I worked on, is due to be released towards the end of 2018. This past year we went from a rough outline of 27 chapters to a full-fledged draft that was released for the public comment. Over 300 subject matter experts from federal agencies, academia, state and local governments, and NGOs served as authors on this report. As a Knauss Fellow, I coordinated the authorship of six chapters, was the Lead Author on the Frequently Asked Questions chapter, and a chapter author on the Overview chapter. This was a lot of work and it kept me very busy every day.

Since I am constantly neck deep in climate science, it is hard to be removed from the news about suppressing and cutting climate science research. We don’t do this work in a vacuum. I read the news, I see the proposed budgets, and know what some people at high levels would like to do to climate research, but the importance of our work doesn’t change based of the opinions of a few. It was in this environment that made November 3rd, 2017 was one of the most exciting days of the fellowship. On November 3rd we released the final draft of the NCA4 Vol. I the CSSR and the public comment draft of NCA4 Vol. II Climate Change Impacts, Risks and Adaptation in the United States. Our largest conference room was transformed into a situation room: we had three TVs showing stats of view, downloads, and hits on social media. The release was timed with a press conference with scientists associated with each report. As news outlets released articles, we could see the spike in hits on twitter or facebook, and an increase in downloads. One screen showed a map of the world, where we could see all of the different countries that were downloading the report. It was all very exciting.

There is still a lot of work to be done. Vol. II has several more rounds of review before it will be published in December of 2018, not to mention all of the underlying metadata, graphics, and websites that have to be developed. But the science presented in NCA4 Vol. I and II is scientifically rigorous, supported by data, and extensively reviewed. I am very proud of the work we have done over this year and I am glad I had the opportunity to contribute to the program.


Knauss Reflections

Natalie Spear (2016 fellowship class)


In 2014, Jack visited Texas A&M  University, Galveston and gave a talk about water quality in wetlands and estuaries. He used the latter half of his allotted time to speak about a NOAA Sea Grant fellowship I had not heard of. I felt inspired by his words as much as by his enthusiasm for the fellowship program, of which he was an alumnus. I waited and listened after the lecture as several students asked questions about applications they were feverishly creating in hopes of becoming a Knauss Fellow. I felt excited about the prospect of an opportunity to work at the interface of science and policy, to learn how to turn data into actionable information that could contribute to conservation. Perhaps a year in Washington, DC as a Knauss Fellow would train me to be an alchemist, spinning numbers and figures into policy and legislation that would help improve the health of our ecosystems.


For my 2016 Knauss Fellowship year, I shared a cubicle wall with Jack at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This was one of many manifestations of The Force –a phenomenon that was introduced to my cohort in concept (with little explanation beyond allusions to Star Wars) during our placement week activities– that I experienced during my fellowship.  Aspects of the EPA’s work are about walking a fine line that balances human use of the environment with ecological needs, which in turn enables ecosystem use and ensures human health. The fine line had my attention:  walls, barriers, and boundaries also have the potential to connect, and I was eager to learn more about this dynamic.

Catalyst: Blue Mind Summit

In May of my fellowship year, I attended the 6th annual Blue Mind Summit where I learned about research and applications of the myriad benefits that healthy aquatic ecosystems offer to humans, aside from their role as integral components fulfilling our basic needs. After the conference, I had a conversation with the meeting organizer, Wallace “J” Nichols about how the body of transdisciplinary research that helps elucidate the neurobiological, psychological, and cognitive benefits of being in, near, and around water might be of service to my EPA host office. In researching and developing the Blue Mind Rx statement with J, the path became more clear.

Main project

Through more than 60 focused conversations with EPA staff and leadership, across several offices that are often siloed in effect, I learned about their work, challenges, and successes; the tangible connections and relevance between mental health (as a component of human health) and the mission of EPA’s Office of Water surfaced.

With the support of the Sea Grant program, my host office colleagues, and the research of experts in mental health, neuroscience,  psychology, neuroeconomics, and more, I had the opportunity to contribute to the development of a nascent and already meaningful project. The work continues, and I am excited to discover what lies ahead.

The People

The willingness of my host office mentor and our entire branch to support and be part of this exploration has stoked the fire within me to continue working towards the protection of our nation’s waters. I am curious about conversations that exist on paper and traverse time, between policy makers and scientists living and passed, who have woven legislation, policy, and peer-reviewed science into the balance (as it exists today and into the future) between use and stewardship of our water.

My Knauss year has been filled as much with learning about water policy and science as it has been about people. I am touched by the heart, dedication, and expertise of those I’ve had the fortune of working with at the EPA. While I may have left my cubicle at the EPA, I remain connected to the network of dedicated staff who are working to uphold the mission of the agency. I have felt humbled by the accomplishments of my Knaussmates and warmed by the camaraderie and inclusiveness extended to affiliates of the fellowship and beyond. May The Force live on.

Knauss Fellowship: The Highlights

Hello! My name is Kaitlyn Schroeder-Spain and I was the 2015 Texas Sea Grant Knauss Marine Policy Fellow. I wrote this blog to summarize my experiences throughout the year – and to hopefully answer some common questions. In short, the Fellowship is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I highly recommend joining the Knauss and Sea Grant family if given the chance!

Do I need a PhD, JD, or MS? First, Knauss Fellows are diverse! Some are scientist going for their PhD or Masters, and some are lawyers. Regardless, I think we all have a shared passion for service, as well as caring for our oceans and coastal communities. I did the fellowship before finishing my PhD (i.e., during my PhD). It’s definitely been a challenge, but well worth it. You may be on a different path, however – many fellows defended/graduated just before beginning the fellowship, other defended during the fellowship, and some (like me) went back to finish their degrees after the fellowship.

What’s your background? I am a first generation college student in my immediate family, and am currently finishing-up my PhD in Coastal and Marine System Sciences (CMSS) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC). I chose to pursue my PhD in CMSS and focus on marine ecotoxicological research, because I want/ed to conduct research that provides relevant scientific information to policy-makers. I first became interested in research while at the University of North Texas (UNT), where I graduated summa cum laude with B.S. in Biology in 2010. At UNT, I was a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and Emerald Eagle Scholar; I worked on a research project with marine fishes for two years and fell in love with research. My mentors and time at UNT have continued to influence me, as this is where I first learned the importance of camaraderie among women and other groups because it can inspire others to become involved in science. To complete my PhD research, I mentored and supervised several undergraduates, many of whom were women and were participating in summer REU programs, McNair, or similar programs at TAMU-CC. Collectively, my experiences as a teacher, mentor, and researcher inspired me to consider the broader applications of research like mine and others. And in pursuit of this knowledge, I applied for the fellowship.

What’s your research about? (shameless plug) I work in Dr. D.L. Smee’s Marine Ecology Laboratory at TAMU-CC. Briefly, my research focuses on the effects of common mosquito/vector control toxicants on an important ecological and commercial species, the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus). Results indicates that blue crabs can become uncoordinated, and less able to escape predators and catch prey, when exposed to low, legally allowable concentrations of pesticides. This work has broader implications for policy-makers, as pesticide exposure may contribute to crab population declines.

What did you do during your fellowship? I was an Executive Fellow at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the Division of Ocean Science (OCE). But there are many opportunities – including placements at other agencies like NOAA, EPA, DOE, FWS, BOEM, others  (i.e., Executive Fellows), as well as positions on the Hill (Legislative fellows). As a Fellow, I primarily worked on two major projects: (1) an internal workforce study for the OCE Division Director, and (2) an interagency effort to develop national guidelines for science programs that support ecosystem based management. The latter project included working closely with a “Science Team” of 10 scientist-who-also-do-policy from several agencies. I met some pretty amazing people. I also had the opportunity to learn about the NSF peer-review process and sit-in on some panels. The NSF Fellow before me, however, organized/led a review panel – so there’s a lot different opportunities at NSF. Note: Placements opportunities vary year to year.

So, what else did you do? Importantly, I learned a lot and I had a lot of fun (see photos below!). In addition to the opportunities associated with my projects, I attend scientific and policy lectures (including one given by a Nobel Laurette), career development workshops, and NSF “field trips”, including bowling at the White House/Eisenhower Building! I also joined the NSF Mentor-Mentee Program (as a mentee), which helped me maneuver through the fellowship. Lastly, the fellowship is a great career opportunity – but don’t forget to go outside, enjoy D.C., and to travel to nearby areas.

Any advice on the application process? This topic could be its own blog. It may sound trite, but the best advice I have is: be yourself, follow your gut, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. A quote from Mahatma Gandhi that has been on repeat for me this past year is: “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears”.

From me, to you: Additional Recommendations for Potential Fellows. Explore the Texas and National Sea Grant webpages! Also, don’t hesitate to contact me (kaitlyn.schroeder@tamucc.edu), and/or other alumni! We love answering questions. Personally, I talked to a couple of fellows before applying. It’s also highly recommended (hint: possibly required for some programs) that you contact the Texas Knauss Sea Grant program directly (or your home state program if you’re not lucky enough to be the great state of Texas). When I applied – and as of the date I wrote this blog – you should contact the Texas Sea Grant Research Coordinator, Mia Zwolinski (mzwolinski@tamu.edu; 979-458-0449). I think this step is IMPORTANT, even before you apply! Before I applied, I spoke with the coordinator at the time and I found it very insightful. That conversation helped me determine that I might be a good fit, and motivated me to submit an application.

My year in photos:

International Oil Spill Conference

Hello Readers….

My name is Kimberly Bittler and I am a 2014 Knauss Fellow with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) at the Department of the Interior. BSEE regulates offshore energy activities including oil drilling and renewable energy development, making sure that these activities are safe for workers and the environment. BSEE enforces our regulations, conducts rigorous inspections of offshore operations, and invests heavily in research to prevent incidents and in the technologies used to respond to oil spills. As a fellow at BSEE, I am able to work on both sides of the research program.

This May, I was lucky enough to use my Knauss travel funds to attend the International Oil Spill Conference (IOSC) with BSEE’s Oil Spill Response Division in the lovely Savannah, Georgia.


My Master’s research was all about blue crabs, and how they can find the estuary during droughts. While other members of my lab conducted research on the effects of oil and dispersants in the environment, I had not worked with oil very much before starting at BSEE. Attending the IOSC was an amazing experience to learn! There was an open exhibit hall, with tons of the equipment used to clean up oil spills. The coolest part of the entire conference was the aerial and on-water demonstration of the state-of-the-art technologies used to respond to oil spills.


BSEE has funded research to develop oil sensing instruments that can be mounted to drones (such as those above, see video from a lead-up demonstration below). These drones can help first responders know the properties of a spill quickly and safely, so the best and safest response can be used.

The on-water demonstration at IOSC also included some more conventional responses including booms and skimmers. Overall, I learned a ton and had a great time meeting so many professionals in the oil spill response field during my week in Georgia at IOSC. Right after IOSC, I hopped on a plane to Houston, Texas to attend the first workshop of the Ocean Energy Safety Institute (OESI). Check back soon to hear about that trip!


PS: Thanks to Deron Johnson of BSEE for providing the event photos

Exploring the Botanic Garden in D.C.

I moved to D.C. for the Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship from Texas in February. Despite the relentless snow that lasted through early April, D.C. has been wonderful so far, and there are so many museums, monuments, and sights to see!

I absolutely love botany, and luckily for me, there is a beautiful Botanic Garden (www.usbg.gov) right next to the national capital. There was a “Symphony of Orchids” exhibit when I had a chance to visit during the Sea Grant Knauss welcome reception at the Botanic Gardens back in March. I snapped a few photos of the lovely orchids between meeting previous Knauss fellows, who compose an extensive and strong network of professionals in D.C.



Brassidium, “White Knight”


Epidendrum ciliare


Cacao tree (Theobroma cacao)… just in case you ever wondered where chocolate comes from!!



The City of Magnificent Distances

My morning commute begins with a short walk to the metro, a 20 minute train ride, a brief climb up the escalator (accompanied by the sounds of a local brass band and ubiquitous car commuters), followed by a brisk walk to my workplace: NOAA’s Office of Education housed in the Department of Commerce headquarters. For the last 5 months this commute has provided me with a unique view of the city and our nation. As I cross the grand avenue of Pennsylvania I glance to my right, the entrance to the White House, and to my left, the federal house known also as the U.S. Capitol. Each day this walk reminds me of where I am, how far I’ve come, and what still lies ahead. As it were, the capitol once served as a similar reminder to President Lincoln. (Pardon for a brief history lesson but as a resident of the district I’ve come to find myself as an armchair historian)


During our Civil War the U.S. Capitol rested with a significant portion of its grand dome only half complete. President Lincoln, who was inaugurated under the unfinished dome, believed that the incomplete Capitol symbolized a fractured Union and pressed for the completion of the dome. Despite the heavy strains of war the dome was completed a couple years later, not long before the Battle of Gettysburg (150 years ago this week, more on that in the next blog).

Sometimes called the City of Magnificent Distances, Washington still serves as a symbol of the Union to the rest of the free world and also, as I have learned, to the scientific world. It has surprised me the quantity of science discussed around the city and it dawned on me the other day that D.C. is a perpetual scientific conference. Professionals, professors, government employees, and graduate students in any area of science attend conferences to remain at the forefront of their field, to build networks of new potential partners and collaborators, and to return to their work invigorated with the idea of new projects and new horizons. D.C. is in a continuous mode of each of these aspects. Two weeks ago I attended an event focused on citizen science at the White House Executive Office Building (more on that in the next blog). Last week I toured the Naval Observatory here in D.C. and learned how they keep time for the rest of the world (more on that later too). And just this week I sat on a panel with some of the nation’s leading minds on fisheries management, blue carbon, and disaster preparedness (a whole other blog on that still to come). After each of these events I’ve been lucky enough to meet with these experts, one-on-one, to delve deeper into domestic and global issues with questions and ideas of my own.

Therein lies the most difficult aspect of the fellowship to date and the challenging choices my fellow Knauss-fellows must ponder. For us career opportunities and potential pathways  constantly present themselves. With enough leg work and elbow grease each of these opportunities can become reality. For now though, this City of Magnificent Distances is a constant reminder of where we are, how far we’ve come, and what still lies ahead.

By 2013 Knauss Fellow: Sepp Haukebo


2013 First Inaugural Knauss Fellowship Luau in rural Virginia

Fellows with Benefits

I am not sure where to begin.

The amount of fun I’ve had in one month…

The amount of people I’ve meet in one month…

The amount of work I’ve accomplished in one month…

Well, maybe you get the picture. My first month as a Sea Grant Knauss Fellow has been an amazing one! I’ve been working hard, networking big-time, and made so many friends, all in such a short time too. I’m pretty sure that my other “knauss-ers” will be my friends and colleagues for life. In fact, I’m been told that I’m already a part of the “knauss mafia.” (Secretly, I think this mafia somewhat runs DC)

Anyways, back to benefits… So pretty much anywhere I go I snap a picture. This helps me track my activities, which one would think is easy to do, but after a little while everything seems to mesh together. I’m starting to even to take notes on the back of business cards about where I met who. So, yes, pictures help. And, of course, my calendar helps too. For example… Oh yeah, I met the acting undersecretary of NOAA at the Sea Grant Association meeting on this day. But, the fact of the matter is that the action never stops. Every Knauss fellow knows of a social event, guest lecture, sports event, or conference going on just about every day. Having the Knauss network substantially increases the amount of activities you can attend. It’s probably the absolute best way to get introduced to all that DC has to offer. 

So now, you may ask – what has happened all this past month? Well, I’ve attended many social events, conference receptions, closed-door meetings, federal agency partnership discussions (NOAA/FEMA/NWS/EPA/OCRM/USLA), a few Sunday brunches, explored the capital building, and even participated in a climate rally. I’ve met some important people, including Sea Grant’s National Advisory Board, just about half of Sea Grant’s State Directors, other Sea Grant Extension agents, and a Senator or two. I’ve also mingled with members of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, the World Bank, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Knauss alumni network. Sounds cool, right!? Well, to add to this list, I’m writing this blog on a flight to California! Yup, going to Sea Grant’s Climate Extension Workshop in sunny Santa Monica.

As mentioned, I’ve got a few pictures. I’m going to post some of them here to give a little taste of my experience thus far.


Henry (Hank) Hodde

2013 Sea Grant Knauss Fellow



Stephen F. Austin in the Capital building. Go Texas!


Atrium inside the World Bank building. Yes, those are people on the very bottom!


Representing NOAA!


Senior Scientist from the Office of Naval Research talking about issues in the Arctic!


Sea Grant Climate Network Workshop in California


Texas Sea Grant’s own John Jacob, instructing other Sea Grant agents on his weTable


Climate Rally!


So many conferences, they share buildings! Left or right??


Violinists at a GIS confernce? Yes!


Took some personal time in Cali too! And, my girlfriend got in on the action.


Oh yeah, I got 3 parking tickets arleady… 


0 to 100mph

Almost exactly one year ago, I was scrambling to throw together my 2013 Dean John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship packet. And I thought… Did I get my passion across? Am I really as deserving as my letters of reference say? Did I choose the right font? Would I like D.C.?

I cannot believe these thoughts passed through me that long ago. But, they did. Why did this come up today..?

Well, let me begin by introducing myself. My name is Henry Hodde (I like to go by Hank) and I am the 2013 Sea Grant Knauss Fellow for the National Sea Grant Office. Great spot, huh?! Here, I am the Focus Team Coordinator for Sustainable Coastal Development and Hazard Resilient Coastal Communities (my passions). I am on the 11th floor of NOAA Headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. I just got my @noaa.gov email address, my security badge, have attended a lot of meetings thus far, and my business cards are in the mail. I take the metro rail from DC every day. I have two roommates and luckily my own bathroom. I have found an awesome food market down the street and have already got a parking ticket. Oh… and I just celebrated my 30th birthday with all my other 2013 fellows; it’s like we are family already.

A lot has happened in the two weeks since I’ve started. Maybe even more drastic, is the change in my life since the announcement of me being a Knauss Finalist. Since then I have survived placement week, finished my thesis, and got my Master’s! My stuff is now all moved in and my boxes are unpacked. I know my way around and never feel bored. I can even see the Capital building lit up at night from my balcony. I’ve made it to DC!

But, most importantly, my cubicle is right next to Chelsea Berg, the Knauss Program Manager for the National Sea Grant Office. And, as she receives phone calls just about every 15 minutes from eager and nervous students from around the nation, I am reminded of the scramble taking place to complete all those application packets.

Good luck!

-Hank Hodde, 2013 Knauss Fellow



The Karma Comes Around

“Eat it! Eat it! Eat it!” the class chanted as Captain Whitney dangled a live, bay anchovy over her open mouth. The anchovy, she explained, is an important fish in understanding the food web and water quality in Corpus Christi Bay. This is the sort of shenanigans you’ll witness onboard the Karma (a.k.a. the Floating Classroom): sudent interaction with an unavoidable dose of education. When was the last time you saw a group of middle schoolers chanting with the lecturer throughout a lesson on ecology, adaptation, and marine biology?

I met up with the Karma at the downtown Corpus Christi pier as part of Texas Sea Grant’s on-boarding process, a crash course in understanding what Sea Grant does in Texas and other coastal states around the country. In January I’ll head to Washington D.C. as a Knauss Fellow with intentions of soaking up marine science policy like a sponge, or in this case an overgrown middle schooler getting ready to eat fresh caught anchovies.    

Dr. Russ Miget and Captain Whitney earn the undivided attention of students from grades 4-12 for two-hour trips, three times a day. Each trip handles a wily 25 students and the Karma averages 2400 students annually, but the busy season doesn’t start until after statewide standardized testing in the spring, for fear of distracting the students during test prep. Russ tells me they can handle much more students if the schools would send them in the fall and early winter too, but they just don’t get the numbers. Much of the students are from urban neighborhoods and have never been on a boat, much less experienced the Texas Coast. 

For me however, it was a chance to “Benjamin Button” back to my younger self, joining in with the chanting, “Eat it! Eat it! Eat it!” I decided to do as Captain Whitney and a few brave 6thgraders in this Texas sushi ritual. I kicked my head back, opened wide, and tossed the critter down the hatch. “Tastes like nothing,” I heard the kid beside me tell his classmates. “Tastes like learning!” I told him. He made a screwed up face and stuck his tongue out at me with the anchovy still pasted on. With some coaxing he finally swallowed the fish and said it wasn’t bad. After that the kid wouldn’t stop asking questions about the boat and the bay. I guess science, like anchovies, sounds pretty gross at first but goes down much better when you’re actually in the field.  

-Sepp Haukebo, 2013 Knauss Fellow