Each year, Maryland Sea Grant welcomes its new class of Knauss fellows—graduate students in science fields who want deep experience in how to shape federal policy. The fellows spend a year in Washington, DC, working for federal agencies or congressional representatives who focus on ocean and Great Lakes issues.
Named for former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator John A. Knauss, the fellowship celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. Many Knauss fellows continue their careers in marine science policy after their fellowship year, and some currently work at Sea Grant.
This year’s Knauss fellows are all diligently teleworking, said Hallee Meltzer, a communications specialist with NOAA’s National Sea Grant Office. Because the fellowship relies on a lot of in-person networking opportunities, and those have been cancelled, Meltzer said the Knauss fellowship team has played a more active role in organizing events than they have in the past. Virtual events include professional development panels to learn about offices within NOAA and ask the leadership questions; the fellows will even have a chance to meet with NOAA Acting Chief Scientist Craig McLean.
The virtual setting has fostered some creative ways of staying connected, Meltzer said. Past fellows are mentoring current ones. Fellows are also hosting virtual social events, like online movie-watching parties and “The Great Knauss Bake-Off,” a virtual cooking competition with weekly challenges.
Laura Almodóvar-Acevedo is serving as a legislative fellow for the office of U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California’s 47th District. For her doctorate, she is also researching habitat use of juvenile black sea bass in the Chesapeake Bay. Studying at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, she is specializing in ecology as part of the Marine Estuarine Environmental Sciences (MEES) graduate program at the University of Maryland. Her research includes a habitat survey to study black sea bass’ temporal distribution and habitat preferences, the effect of temperature on their respiration rates, and a model to explore their available sustainable habitat in the Bay. Laura is from Puerto Rico and earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez. She is also an alumna of the Maryland Sea Grant Research Experiences for Undergraduates, an immersive summer research program focused on the Chesapeake Bay. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, and playing guitar.
Katie Hornick is working as a habitat restoration specialist in the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service’s Office of Habitat Conservation. She works on a range of topics related to developing monitoring and evaluation approaches for restoration efforts related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Katie earned her bachelor’s degree in natural science from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. After graduating, Katie spent a year and a half in Puerto Montt, Chile, studying the effect of salmon aquaculture on microbial diversity and community composition of sediments. She then pursued a PhD at University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), where she worked at the Horn Point Laboratory under the direction of Louis Plough. Her dissertation research focused on Harris Creek, the largest oyster sanctuary restoration project in the world. She used molecular tools to compare genetic diversity of restored and wild oysters and built a computer model that integrated oyster genetics and biology with real-world restoration scenarios. In her spare time, Katie enjoys making jewelry, kayaking, hiking, and exploring new places with her pug, Oliver.
Amanda Lawrence is working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in the National Wildlife Refuge System for the Coastal and Marine Program to support coastal watersheds and their surrounding communities through conservation and restoration projects. Amanda grew up outside of Annapolis, just a short bike ride away from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. She completed a dual-degree program, receiving bachelor’s degrees in environmental marine science and biology from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Salisbury University, respectively. She is completing a master’s degree in the MEES graduate program. Her thesis involves studying male sex hormones to understand the size at which the male Jonah crab, a commercially important species, reaches maturity. She hopes this research can be used to support the fishery. During graduate school, Amanda was awarded the National Institute of Standards and Technology Fellowship. She was also a NOAA Living Marine Resources Cooperative Science Center fellow and an intern with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Mukilteo, Washington, where she studied the effects of ocean acidification on Dungeness crab larval development. She loves being near the water in any capacity, be it researching, kayaking, or diving.
Wenfei Ni works at NOAA Research’s Climate Program Office, focusing on climate science, adaptation, and resilience issues. She earned her bachelor’s degree in marine science from Nanjing University, China. She continued her graduate study on sediment dynamics of underwater sand ridge systems in the East China Sea. After bearing witness to a massive macroalgae bloom while working on a research vessel, Wenfei decided to change her research topic to environmental issues in the ocean and continued her doctorate work at UMCES. Her thesis used numerical models to study the impacts of regional climate change and watershed nutrient management on the Chesapeake Bay’s oxygen depletion zone. She hopes the work can provide climate adaptation strategies for water quality restoration in the Bay. She is part of the tour guide team at the Horn Point Laboratory and a volunteer water quality monitor for ShoreRivers, a regional nonprofit organization.
Caroline Wiernicki works in the Office of the Oceanographer of the Navy. During her fellowship she is working on interagency policy in topics relating to oceanography, meteorology, precise time, and astrometry. Caroline earned her bachelor’s degrees in environmental science and English from Duke University. While at Duke, she worked on research projects including the spread of invasive seagrass in the U.S. Virgin Islands, competing population dynamics of seals in the western Atlantic Ocean, and community-based conservation practices in small-scale fisheries in the Gulf of California. After completing her undergraduate study, she returned home to Maryland, earning her master’s degree from UMCES’ Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. Her master’s work focused on the disturbance ecology of black sea bass off Maryland’s coast, using acoustic telemetry coupled with an oceanographic model to track changes in black sea bass movement in response to summer storms. In her free time, Caroline enjoys running, reading, and any activity that gets her on the water.