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Minnesota Grad Earns Marine Policy Fellowship

Erik Heinen

Erik Heinen

Erik Heinen is going places! Namely he's heading to Washington, D.C. and down the aisle. Heinen, a graduate student in Water Resource Science at the University of Minnesota Duluth is Minnesota Sea Grant's newest Dean John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship finalist.

"I was excited and surprised to be offered this opportunity," said Heinen, who is looking forward to, "applying my background in environmental and social sciences to resource management and global environmental concerns."

The Dean John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship was established in 1979. It allows outstanding graduate students interested in ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes policies to spend one year in Washington, D.C., honing their leadership and research skills.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Sea Grant College Program matches selected graduate students with hosts in the legislative branch, executive branch, or appropriate institutions in the Washington, D.C. area. The program is named in honor of one of Sea Grant's founders, former NOAA Administrator, John A. Knauss. Heinen's $32,000 fellowship begins in February 2002 and will be administered by Minnesota Sea Grant.

"We again had an exceptional pool of applicants," said Nikola Garber, Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship manager. "Out of 76 applications, we selected 10 finalists to work with the legislative branch of the federal government and 31 finalists to work with the executive branch."

Heinen will work with the executive branch. In December, he will travel to Washington, D.C., for orientation, interviews with prospective hosts, and placement. He's not planning to go alone, however. By then, he will have married Melissa Ostercamp, an epidemiologist currently working for Hennepin County in Minnesota.

"Erik has the essential elements that will maximize his success as a Knauss Fellow," said Carl Richards, director of Minnesota Sea Grant. "He has done excellent work examining nutrient dynamics within Lake Superior and has worked in one of the most innovative laboratories on the Great Lakes for limnological studies. Erik's combination of academic background, personal experiences, and personality will serve him well."

Heinen's passion for environmental issues led him to Africa as an intern for a Swedish agro-forestry organization and the Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute. Heinen is currently examining carbon and nutrient cycling in Western Lake Superior with James McManus, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota's Large Lakes Observatory.

"Erik is bright, insightful, and curious; those traits in combination with his hard work, make Erik an exceptional individual," commented McManus.

"Working on Lake Superior, and interacting with the research community studying the lake, raised my awareness of the diverse challenges that face managers of large complex ecosystems," Heinen said. "The Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship immediately caught my eye as a unique opportunity to look at coastal…problems though policy and to introduce different perspectives into government agencies.

"I hope to build a career dedicated to protecting and preserving the Earth's life support," said Heinen. "It's possible that I'll continue in policy in Washington, D.C. after this year. I'm sure my time in D.C. will be very rewarding."

To qualify for the Knauss Fellowship Program, students must be enrolled in a graduate or professional degree program in the United States and be studying a marine-related field. To learn more about the Dean John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, contact Minnesota Sea Grant at (218) 726-8107.

Knauss Survivor

Jonathan Pundsack, who left Minnesota to pursue a Knauss Fellowship in 2000 has not returned. Instead of coming back to the land of 10,000 lakes and 10 billion mosquitoes, he stayed in D.C. to continue his work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"The fellowship was an outstanding opportunity and I wanted to continue working on some of the things that I was involved with," said Pundsack, who is now the manager for Latin America and the Caribbean Research Applications Program of the Office of Global Programs and part of the 'Climate and Societal Interactions' team.

During his fellowship, Pundsack traveled to Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Kenya, and Jamaica.

"Our goal is to use climate information as a resource and decision-making tool," said Pundsack. "We support ways to use our understanding of climate to benefit people involved in such things as agriculture, water resources management, health, and disaster mitigation. This is an exciting topic since we are just beginning to unravel a lot of the mysteries of the climate system and how these findings may relate to better management of resources and better preparedness for events such as El Niño/La Niña."

Despite enduring a burglary and having the Army Criminal Investigation Division search his next apartment (the person living there before him stole a federal credit card from the Pentagon), Pundsack is definitely surviving D.C.

"One of the great things about D.C. is its proximity to the ocean, to several national and state forests, and places where you can find a slice of solitude. Of course there are lots of great things to do in and around D.C. -- museums, parks, theaters, music, great restaurants, you name it. I also met my fiancée through a local running group."

According to Pundsack, one of the more challenging parts of moving to Washington, D.C. was conquering the acronyms.

"It takes a long time to get used to all of the acronyms within NOAA alone, and then you realize how many other federal agencies there are in the area. You have to get used to 'Washington speak' and acronyms seem to be a standard part of most conversations. I'm still trying hard to hold onto my Midwest accent, and from time to time some colleagues give me a hard time for how I say 'out' and 'about'."

By Sharon Moen
August 2001

Return to August 2001 Seiche

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