Each year, several North Carolina graduate students land the opportunity to work in the crux of critical coastal and ocean policy. As participants in the prestigious national John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, they gain unique educational experiences that reach far beyond Capitol Hill and the Beltway in Washington, D.C. North Carolina fellows have worked with a congressman on a bill regarding oil spill response, headed to Spain to represent their host offices in international negotiations on bluefin tuna, and worked with the Caribbean Fishery Management Council on defining essential fish habitat.

“I feel so fortunate to have had this experience — it is one that you cannot replicate anywhere else outside of Washington, D.C.,” says Ashley Erickson, a former fellow from North Carolina who now is the leadership development and education manager for the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University.

Established in 1979, the 12-month Knauss fellowship honors one of the founders of the National Sea Grant College Program. The fellows are assigned to a home office within the executive or legislative branches of government in the Washington, D.C., area.

State Sea Grant programs recruit potential fellows from universities across the state as nominees for the national program. Since 1979, North Carolina has provided 67 fellows.

“The Knauss fellowship provides a strong developmental foundation for future leaders at the local, state, national and international scales. Regardless of where these individuals find their niche in life, the diverse skill sets and expanded self-awareness that is developed during the fellowship result in individuals better prepared to address a variety of life and work challenges,” notes Susan White, executive director of North Carolina Sea Grant.

“These individuals have a lot to offer our state and program, from their experiences and perspectives. It’s wonderful to see North Carolina Sea Grant’s relationships with these individuals, both current as well as previous fellows, continue to grow,” White adds.

Asked if they recommend that others apply for the Knauss fellowships, past fellows interviewed for this story all responded with great enthusiasm and the same word: absolutely.

This fellowship is valuable beyond the experience it provides, notes Sara Mirabilio, North Carolina Sea Grant fisheries specialist and former Virginia fellow.

“Fellows offer a system of support, opportunity and exchange among each other, many of whom are now leading environmental practitioners  throughout the U.S. and in numerous foreign countries,” she says. Margaret Spring, a former North Carolina fellow who now works for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Erickson currently collaborate through a partnership between the aquarium and the Center for Ocean Solutions. Spring also serves on the management committee for the center.

Knauss fellow comradery does not just stay within state lines. While working for Congressman Farr, Erickson met Dan Reineman, the outgoing Hawai’i Knauss fellow in Farr’s office. Erickson and Reineman are now married.

In this first installment of a new occasional series, Sea Grant checks in on three past North Carolina fellows to ask, “Where are they now?”

Margaret Spring, Vice President of Conservation and Science at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Margaret Spring

1998 Knauss Fellow Matt Kendall

Matt Kendall

Ashley Erickson

Ashley Erickson

This article was published in the Autumn 2014 issue of Coastwatch. To view it as it appeared in the magazine, click here.

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