Tell us about your work / research. What kinds of things do you do?
I am the superintendent of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, which is part of the National Ocean Service within NOAA. I am responsible for managing the sanctuary under the federal National Marine Sanctuary Act for the benefit of the American people. Our mission is to protect, conserve, and restore the sanctuary while allowing for compatible uses. We use outreach, education, research, monitoring, and resource protection (regulations and enforcement) to accomplish our mission, working in partnership with other agencies, NGOs, academia, industry, local communities, and stakeholders.
What sparked your initial interest in your current career?
I have a master's in biological oceanography from the University of Washington, as well as a B.A. in biology and an M.B.A. I started my career with NOAA in 1987 as a commissioned officer aboard a NOAA ship. While I am interested in science, I realized while in graduate school that I am especially interested in applying science to marine policy and marine management. I also really love being at sea and the challenges of conducting effective field research, whether from aboard a large research vessel or by SCUBA diving.
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
As a junior in college I fell in love with ecology and marine ecology. This was catalyzed by spending a quarter in Costa Rica and Jamaica doing field tropical terrestrial and coral reef ecology. Doing field research on coral reefs seemed incredibly interesting, exciting, and fulfilling to me. One of my professors told me that I could certainly succeed in a marine science career if that's what I wanted to do. Once I was in graduate school, I realized over time that I didn't want to be a purely academic scientist. I bailed out with a master's degree and ran away to join the NOAA Corps. I have been very fortunate in my career with NOAA ever since.
What element of your work / study do you think is the most fascinating?
I love sharing our ocean discoveries with the public of all ages. When we explain the science and the management challenges, people from all walks of life are engaged and want to help protect their marine ecosystems. For all that we have learned, every time we get beneath the surface of the ocean we are making new discoveries. Notwithstanding the gridlock in Washington, I remain optimistic that we can get important changes in marine laws and policies if we keep sharing our discoveries and solutions with the public, other agencies, and with decision makers at all levels in the U.S. and abroad.
What other jobs led you to your current career?
My entire professional career has been with NOAA. In 1987 I received my commission in the NOAA Corps. In 1992 I got out of the NOAA Corps as a lieutenant and started working as a civilian for NOAA. I have worked in Santa Rosa, California; Silver Spring, Maryland; and Santa Barbara, California. I worked for NOAA Fisheries on salmon conservation and salmon recovery under the Endangered Species Act, both in the field and in Washington, DC. Since the fall of 2002 I have been the superintendent of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
What are your degrees and certifications?
B.A. Biology, Dartmouth College, 1984. M.S., Oceanography, University of Washington, 1987. M.B.A. Sonoma State University (Cal State), 1996.
What are your hobbies?
Surfing, diving, cycling, and electric guitar in a funk band.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career like yours?
Get at least a master's degree with a solid grounding in the hard sciences and environmental policy, then pursue a position with a state or federal resource management agency like NOAA. While you're still in school, take advantage of great hiring opportunities such as the NOAA SeaGrant fellows program. When you get an opportunity, any opportunity, make the most of it by being absolutely awesome at your job. This will be noticed. Keep a sense of humor, be passionate, and be kind. Always be thankful for the opportunities you have been given. Be flexible, remain a life-long learner, and realize that there are many different pathways to success as long as you are a hard worker, get along well with others, and remain passionate and committed to making a positive difference in the world.