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NOAA's Preserve America Initiative

Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

MEET: Cheryl Oliver

Senior Program Advisor for NOAA's Preserve America Initiative

As the Senior Program Advisor for NOAA's Preserve America Initiative, I develop and manage the events, activities, and exhibits for NOAA Heritage Week. I'm also the exhibit manager for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

Cheryl Oliver

What do you like most about working at NOS?

In my role as the facilitator (dragon slayer, gauntlet runner) for NOAA Heritage Week, I love the opportunity to work with a variety of individuals across all of NOS and NOAA. It is a great collaboration, and my colleagues' willingness to pull together for the good of the agency are truly inspiring and appreciated. As the sanctuary exhibit manager, I also work with exceptionally talented people at the sanctuary sites and their community partners to tell the ocean conservation story through exhibits, interpretive signs, and kiosks. I am no biologist or educator, but my colleagues in the field are amazing teachers. Through them I can share what works best and pass the information on to other sites as they develop their own exhibits.

What is the hardest part of your job?

There are so many great things about NOAA, our programs, and our people, it can be hard to decide which stories to tell during NOAA Heritage Week and through the sanctuaries' exhibits. I want to tell all of them.

What is your educational background?

I have a B.A. in political science from Salisbury State College (now Salisbury University) on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Salisbury's mascot is a seagull, so I guess I was destined to work at NOAA! I also hold a master's in public administration from the University of Houston. Go Cougars!

What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?

I am a native of the Maryland-DC area and grew up boating on the Chesapeake Bay. I worked the gas dock at the marina where my parents docked their boat. I swam, crabbed, fished, sailed, and motored through the summers. I yearned to own a Boston Whaler to zip around in. I really thought my career would lead me to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Natural Resources Police. They have really cool boats!

How did you end up working at NOAA?

My career with NOAA began in January 1986 at the Office of Coastal Zone Management. I have worked with associated programs ever since, including the National Estuarine Research Reserves, Policy and Evaluation, and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. For two years, NOAA sent me on a "detail" — a special assignment — to the Heinz Center, a nonprofit environmental think tank. In 2004, I was fortunate to become the staff lead for the NOAA Preserve America Initiative. The ensuing years have seen the establishment of the annual NOAA Heritage Week and a very popular exhibit called the Treasures of NOAA's Ark. To mark the program's seventh year, the permanent "Gateway to NOAA" exhibit opens on February 5, 2011.

What advice do you have for young people wanting a career in the "ocean realm"?

You don't have to be a biologist or environmental planner to be involved and participate. Find your strengths, whether they are communicating, teaching, or simply bringing people together. Identify the people, like biologists and planners, who can assist you with what you wish to accomplish. It takes all of us to tell the story of our oceans and our coasts.