What is your title and what do you do in your position?
As the program manager for the Office for Coastal Management's (OCM) Ecosystems Program and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS), I provide leadership, policy and programmatic guidance, and strategic direction for the NERRS and the other conservation programs within the Ecosystems Program.
How did you end up working at NOAA?
I focused on water quality dynamics in graduate school, specifically trying to understand how small estuaries responded to storm events. I wanted to focus on a project with clear coastal management connections so that I could translate that knowledge to a job in public service protecting estuaries. NOAA was the perfect choice—where I can use science to drive management decisions. I was fortunate to find a position at a time when OCM was hiring, and I spent several years working in various capacities before taking my current position.
What do you like most about your job?
I love working with the dynamic and passionate individuals in NOAA and at each of our 29 reserves across the country. Even though there are about 250 folks working at the state level within the reserve system, we maintain a very collegial environment. We are very team-oriented and strive to build programs that use consistent protocols and approaches for cross-comparability across the nation. It's a win-win getting to work with smart, enthusiastic people to protect and sustain our coastal communities and resources.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Trying to build new partnerships with a plethora of public and private organizations. There just never seems to be enough time in the day to build and nurture some of those large-scale partnerships. It is also challenging to work with a number of agencies with different mandates and bring them together toward a common mission, but that's part of what makes it so very rewarding!
What is your educational background?
I have a BS from the University of West Florida and an MS from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, both in marine biology, with a focus on estuarine chemistry during my graduate studies. Ironically, I used the same equipment to monitor tidal creeks in North Carolina that we use in the reserve system.
What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?
I loved the coast and ocean as a little girl, and like many with dreams of being a marine biologist, I thought I would be swimming with the dolphins someday. My father was a physical oceanographer, so that inspired me, but he was the physics guy and I was the bio girl.
What is one of the most important things you've learned while working here?
I've learned how essential it is to seek and apply different perspectives and expertise to the complex challenges on the coast. The old paradigm was to conduct science, then translate it to management. The new paradigm is to bring stakeholders in at the beginning to help flesh out research questions, and then keep them engaged throughout the process so that the results are immediately applicable to the challenges at hand. In the reserve system, we call this collaborative science.
What advice do you have for young people wanting careers in the "ocean realm"?
Follow your heart and know that there are many ways to enter a career in the "ocean realm." Ocean and coastal issues are complex and require a number of disciplines working together to come to truly meaningful solutions and long-term protection. You can focus on any number of interests in the coastal world, like education, engineering, marine science, planning, etc., and make a difference!
What is one of the coolest experiences you've had on the job?
One cool experience I had was shark tagging in the Rookery Bay estuary. I usually do a lot of planning and managing in an office, and my colleagues who work in the states are hands-on in the field. However, I had the opportunity to go out with the team that tracks and manages the shark population to tag and assess the animals' health. Getting to hold a shark was very cool. The photo here shows me getting bait ready to lure in the sharks.