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U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®)

Meet: Zdenka Willis

Director, U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) Program

As the Director of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) Program, I have the privilege of leading the implementation of U.S. IOOS, which is a coordinated network of people and technology that works to generate and disseminate continuous data on our coastal waters, Great Lakes, and oceans.

Zdenka Willis

What do you like most about working at NOS?

The tremendous intellectual capacity and passion that people have for the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes - both our colleagues in NOAA and our many partners outside of NOAA. What we do matters to the health of the oceans and ecosystems. As just one example, NOAA conducts physicals of dolphins. Common drugs such as cholesterol-reducing medications are now being found in these marine mammals, which reinforces the connection between the land and sea.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Balancing the tasks that must get done to run a program with ensuring that we are executing on the promise of U.S. IOOS.

What is your educational background?

I have a bachelor's degree in marine science from the University of South Carolina, a master's in meteorology and oceanography from the Naval Postgraduate, and a master's in national strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?

Since I was 2, my family and I vacationed at Myrtle Beach and Litchfield Beach in South Carolina. I spent many long hours in the surf and walking the beach looking for shark's teeth. I have a home at Litchfield Beach now, where every summer, four generations of family gather to enjoy the coast.

How did you end up working at NOAA?

I spent 25 years in the United States Navy at the Meteorology and Oceanography (METOC) office. In 1988, I was stationed at the Navy Polar Oceanography Center/NOAA-Navy Joint Ice Center, where I worked with NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) on satellite requirements. From 2000-2002 I served as the Director of the National Ice Center/Commanding Officer of the Naval Ice Center, and again worked with NESDIS on ice and satellite issues. I decided I wanted to work for NOAA after retiring from the Navy. I am pleased to say that the friendships I made starting back in the late '80s remain, and I continue to work with many of my early NOAA colleagues.

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

Get educated on the wide range of places where you can put your degree to work. I chose the Navy to start my oceanography career, but did you know that at the federal level, in addition to NOAA, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, U.S. State Department, Marine Mammal Commission, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Arctic Research Commission, and Smithsonian Institution all employ oceanographers?