In 1996, the people at NOAA had a bright idea—to seek out gifted postgraduates and match them up with coastal zone management programs for two years of on-the-job training in management and policy careers. Twenty years later, that bright idea casts an impressive light—106 coastal management fellows from 42 universities have boosted the reach and effectiveness of coastal stewardship in 26 states and territories.
"The fellowship is a great deal for fellows, coastal programs, and taxpayers," says Jeffrey L. Payne, acting director of the NOAA Office for Coastal Management, which administers the program. "Fellows get first-rate training and networking opportunities. Programs get the best and brightest for critical projects. And when graduating fellows decide to stay in the field—and many do—the taxpayer gets seasoned public servants who can hit the ground running."
The influence of the fellowship doesn't end when the stint ends, say several former fellows, who describe in this feature what was special about their time in the program and how it marked the course of their careers.