This article was published in the Autumn 2014 issue of Coastwatch. See the other interviews from this issue here.

Ashley Erickson

Ashley Erickson.

Ashley Erickson is the leadership development and education manager for the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions  (update March 2016: Erickson is now the assistant director for law and policy at the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions). At the center, Erickson focuses on strategic engagement and outreach with primary decision-making and research audiences. Before accepting her permanent position, Erickson was a law and policy fellow at the center. During her Knauss fellowship in 2010, Erickson worked as a legislative staffer for U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif.

Originally from Elizabeth City, Erickson earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and English from the University of Virginia and a Juris Doctor from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law, where she focused on ocean and coastal law, and international and federal fisheries regulation.

The following interview has been condensed and edited.

• What was the general focus of your Knauss fellowship?

Erickson and Farr

Ashley Erickson and Congressman Sam Farr look down from the Capitol dome. Photo courtesy of Ashley Erickson.

I worked in the House of Representatives as a legislative staffer to Congressman Sam Farr, who represents a district along the central coast of California. I was his primary staffer for all things marine policy, science and Native American affairs. I was required to meet with constituents, agency staff and representatives from nongovernmental organizations and brief the congressman on the important ocean issues of the day. Capitol Hill was a fast-paced and demanding environment, exhausting and exhilarating all at once. I worked to advance his environmental and ocean agenda via policy drafting and analysis, issue research, letter and testimony preparation, and administration of the House Oceans Caucus. I also was responsible for coordinating with Congressman Farr on his position and activities for the Committee on Appropriations, focused on the Commerce, Justice and Science subcommittee, including organizing congressional support for NOAA’s annual budget.

• Please share a highlight or an accomplishment from your time as a fellow.

I worked closely with the congressman and other ocean champions in the House of Representatives on the CLEAR, or Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act. This bill contained a variety of oil-spill response provisions. It was introduced in the summer of 2010, immediately after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. My efforts on behalf of Congressman Farr were focused on a section devoted to a new governance structure for the nation’s new National Ocean Policy, a champion issue for the congressman. The bill was polarized down party lines from the beginning, but after weeks of back and forth and negotiations and amendments, the bill passed the House with the National Ocean Policy provisions still intact. This was a huge success, reflecting a significant amount of effort from congressional staff, industry and the nongovernmental organization community alike. I was thrilled. Unfortunately, it never made it through in the Senate before the close of the 111th Congress, but the experience of working with the committee on bill language, galvanizing support from members to support it on the House floor, and watching as the House passed the bill late into the evening was an experience I’ll never forget.

• What have been the greatest opportunities that have come out of the Knauss fellowship experience?

Ashley Erickson and husband

Erickson met her husband Dan Reineman during her time as a Knauss Fellow in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Ashley Erickson.

On a professional note, my exposure to the network of researchers and practitioners working on marine science and policy in California through my work as a staffer for a California congressman led me immediately to landing a job at my current organization. While working as a Knauss fellow, I met the Center for Ocean Solutions’ Executive Director Meg Caldwell.

She encouraged me to apply for an Early Career Law and Policy Fellowship with the organization. Almost three years later, I’ve now been hired on as a permanent member of the senior staff at the center, working on outreach, engagement, leadership development and educational components of the center’s research. On a personal note, the best thing to emerge from my experience as a Knauss fellow is that I met my husband, Dan Reineman, who was in the Knauss fellowship class before mine.

• What surprised you most about your experience as a fellow?

I was most surprised to learn how influential small groups of constituents, and sometimes even individual constituents, can be on members of Congress. The emphasis that members place on their constituents’ views and opinions when making decisions for the country was astounding to me — it really put the old sayings of “power to the people” and “democracy for the people by the people” into a whole new light. I also learned that the power of the constituency can be both positive and negative, as you can imagine. On the one hand, the underserved and underrepresented can have their views heard, but on the other, the squeaky wheel always gets the grease.

• Would you recommend that others apply for this fellowship? Why?

Absolutely — I already have. I’ve submitted written recommendations for at least three graduating attorneys since leaving my fellowship. This was one of the richest educational experiences of my life. I learned more about policy and governance in 12 months on Capitol Hill than I ever imagined I would or could after graduating from law school. The life skills, the depth of understanding about how our country operates, the intense introduction to the federal budget and appropriations processes, and just generally learning how to communicate about issues with diverse audiences in a dynamic environment were all lessons I found to be both exceptional and unexpected. I feel so fortunate to have had this experience — it is one that you cannot replicate anywhere else outside of Washington, D.C.

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