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Knauss Fellowship

The National Sea Grant John A. Knauss Fellowship provides a unique educational and professional experience for graduate students who have an interest in ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources and in the national policy decisions affecting those resources. During the internship fellows will share their scientific expertise with policymakers in Washington, and receive first-hand experience in how science is used in the policy arena and how decisions are made. The Fellowship, named after one of Sea Grant's founders, former NOAA Administrator, John A. Knauss, matches highly qualified graduate students with hosts in the legislative and executive branches of government, located in the Washington, D.C. area, for a one-year (Feb. 1st - Jan. 31st) paid fellowship.

Minnesota Knauss Fellows - Where Are They Now (2016)

Kelly Pennington | 2010 Fellow

"This is an incredible opportunity that will pay off greatly!" - Kelly Pennington

2016 Position: Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Coordinator, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

As a Minnesota Sea Grant 2010 Knauss Fellow, Kelly Pennington worked with the U.S. Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee tackling jobs such as drafting and negotiating legislation and meeting with stakeholder groups. She primarily worked for the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, the committee responsible for guiding the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard. Pennington was especially busy helping the Committee track natural resource and economic issues stemming from Deepwater Horizon, the oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.

At the end of her fellowship, she stayed on in Washington, D.C., as a Federal employee of the Senate Commerce Committee for three years, working on a variety of bills, including the marine debris program reauthorization and Coast Guard authorization. Kelly also visited an offshore oil rig and worked on committee hearings covering topics from icebreakers and weather satellites to genetically engineered fish.

Since 2015, Kelly has worked for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, focused on aquatic invasive species prevention. She has been working closely with the DNR's legislative team to shepherd and track the agency's initiatives in the Minnesota Legislature. "I am learning so much about how the executive branch agencies help to advance their legislative priorities," Kelly explained.

The Knauss Fellowship kept Pennington on the move. She attended the Maine Fishermen's Forum, and traveled to Rhode Island for a law symposium about the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. She was even sent overseas to France to attend a meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of the Atlantic Tunas.

During the year spent as a Knauss Fellow, Pennington worked on a myriad of topics, including ocean acidification and Northeast fisheries. Pennington recalls, "I learned a lot about these and other issues and also how they fit into policy debates." Her Knauss Fellow experience helped her gain a deeper understanding of Congress and the legislative process.

Pennington, who earned a Ph.D. in Conservation Biology from the University of Minnesota, offers advice to students considering applying for the Knauss Fellowship: "This is an incredible opportunity that will pay off greatly." The Knauss Fellowship gave Pennington a better understanding of legislative process and professional business settings and landed her a career in policy.

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Anne Cooper | 2009 Fellow

"The Knauss fellowship was a defining career opportunity for me. It was a crash course in communicating science and its relevance to society." - Anne Cooper

2016 Position: Professional Officer, International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, Denmark

Anne Cooper was a 2009 Minnesota Sea Grant Knauss Legislative Fellow, and we caught up with her to ask her about her experience then and how it impacted her career today. Here's what she told us:

"Today I work with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) in Copenhagen, Denmark. At ICES I lead the development and implementation of a precautionary methods framework for data-limited stock assessment that aids policymakers' move toward sustainable exploitation of more than 60% of fisheries in the northeast Atlantic. In addition, I forward issues of scientific integrity, transparency and accountability for science and society. I am motivated by a deep commitment to improving people's lives and the health of aquatic ecosystems. The Knauss fellowship was a defining career opportunity for me. It was a crash course in communicating science and its relevance to society. I enjoy working at the interface of science, management and policy, and as a Knauss alumna I am well positioned to support sustainable commercial fisheries, healthy oceans, and vibrant coastal communities the world over."

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Barb Peichel | 2003 Fellow

"Having the Knauss fellowship on my resume has definitely increased my career opportunities." - Barb Peichel

2016 Position: Clean Water Council Coordinator, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Barb Peichel is currently the Clean Water Council Coordinator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). "My typical day may include prepping for meetings of the 28-member Clean Water Council who represent diverse water interests and advise the Legislature on how constitutionally dedicated water funds should be spent," she says.

Previously, Peichel worked as a watershed project manager and state legislative coordinator for the MPCA. She also worked as a tidal wetland project coordinator for the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve.

As a 2003 fellow, Peichel worked in the office of Senator Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii. Her work ranged from becoming proficient on ocean fisheries and marine mammal issues - a monumental task for a Minnesota farm girl - to climate change, public lands, and invasive species. She learned how to write constituent letters, hearing and floor statements, get support for bills, and staff the Senator.

Peichel has used her fellowship skills a lot since 2003. In California she started the process of requesting federal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding for a major estuary restoration project. "If I had not known the federal process, it would have been intimidating to request these vital project funds." Back in Minnesota, Peichel used her talents to support state agency legislative initiatives. Even last week, she staffed Clean Water Council members at a Senate confirmation hearing.

Asked what the most important take-away from the fellowship was, Peichel said "I gained an immense appreciation for how hard-working our federal elected officials and their staff are. Senator Akaka was wonderful to work for because of his friendly, aloha spirit and his commitment to protect the environment."

Peichel also said the trips to Puerto Rico and Hawaii provided opportunities to better understand ocean issues first-hand — seeing mangroves, fish farming, and bioluminescent phytoplankton and snorkeling for the first time made appreciate the vast ocean resources even more and realize the great importance of protecting these resources. She said the other fellows were amazing people - her favorite memory was when the legislative fellows conducted a mock hearing for the executive fellows.

Peichel would definitely recommend this fellowship — she says she is still using the legislative skills and having this fellowship on her resume has provided more career opportunities.

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Erik Heinen | 2002 Fellow

"The Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship immediately caught my eye as a unique opportunity to look at coastal problems through policy and to introduce different perspectives into government agencies." - Erik Heinen

2016 Position: Environmental Administrator for Great River Energy, MN

Erik Heinen was a 2002 Knauss Fellow through Minnesota Sea Grant. A graduate student in Water Resource Science at the University of Minnesota Duluth, he was selected out of 76 applicants to work in the executive branch of the federal government in Washington, DC. During his fellowship, Erik worked at the EPA's Office of Water, Oceans and Coastal Protection Division. He stayed on at EPA for another year working on regulation development. "I really enjoyed my time in DC and learned so much from my exposure to EPA as an organization and the regulatory development process," Erik reports.

After two years in the heat of Washington, Erik and his wife took a year off to travel the world, visiting 16 countries. Upon returning, he took a position near Boston consulting government and private industry on interpretation of water regulations and the development of compliance strategies. "The background in national regulations that I gained at EPA was extremely helpful for my role supporting clients in understanding both the perspective of the regulator and the meaning of complicated regulations," says Erik.

Currently, he works for Great River Energy, a rural power cooperative that generates and transmits electricity. He is responsible for compliance and water-related regulations and tracking and commenting on new regulations. "I love my job; the position exposes me to the rapidly evolving power industry and a wide range of biological, engineering, economic, legal and other issues," he says.

Before receiving the fellowship, Erik'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 also studied carbon and nutrient cycling in Western Lake Superior at the University of Minnesota's Large Lakes Observatory.

"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," Erik says. "The Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship immediately caught my eye as a unique opportunity to look at coastal problems through policy and to introduce different perspectives into government agencies."

Erik and his wife, Melissa Ostercamp, have six year old twin daughters and a 4-year-old son.

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.

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.

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David Moe Nelson | 1989 Fellow

"I can truly say that the Knauss fellowship launched my career here at NOAA ... Every year the class of fellows forms a tight-knit peer-group that sticks together through the fellowship year and beyond." - David Moe Nelson

2016 Position: Marine Biologist for NOAA

David Moe Nelson was the Minnesota Sea Grant Knauss Fellow in 1989 after completing his graduate work at the University of Minnesota from 1985 to 1988. For his master's research in fisheries and wildlife, he conducted a crossbreeding experiment with several stocks of lake trout to analyze their genetic differences. For his fellowship, he was assigned to work with NOAA's National Ocean Service in the Strategic Assessment Branch in Rockville, MD.

"I can truly say that the Knauss Fellowship launched my career here at NOAA. The fellowship is only for one year, but after several months I became intrigued with the work at hand with my team, and was offered an opportunity to stay on when the fellowship ended. Every year-class of fellows forms a tight-knit peer-group that sticks together through the fellowship year and beyond. Some fellows leave after a year, to pursue opportunities elsewhere, but for those of us that stay in the DC area, we tend to stay in touch and help each other out whenever we can," David explains.

David's remembers his Knauss Fellowship year as a unique and exciting time, "Fellows come from Sea Grant graduate programs all over the US, and we collectively make Washington DC our own for a year. For me, this was now 25 years ago, so the entire fellowship year is a favorite memory — exploring a new city and region with a new set of friends."

At the end of his fellowship year, David was offered an opportunity to stay on with NOAA in the DC area as a marine biologist focusing on regional and national assessments of living marine resources. During the 1990s, he transferred to NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, in Portland Oregon, primarily working on salmon hatchery issues in relation to the Endangered Species Act. He later returned to the DC area, where he is now with NOAA Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment's Biogeography Branch, working on specific projects from regional national scales. When not at work, David is a part-time musician, playing string bass and other instruments with several groups the DC area.

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Projects & Funding:


Valerie Brady
Associate Director of Research
Peter Thibault
Fiscal Officer

This page last modified on September 20, 2017     © 1996 – 2019 Regents of the University of Minnesota     The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
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