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Episode 2: So, You Want to be a Fellow?

A Conversation with Former Sea Grant Knauss Fellows

In this episode of On My Coast, we connect with former Sea Grant Knauss Fellows and discuss their experiences as fellows, where they are now, and some advice for prospective fellows. 

Tune in for conversations with Jordan Rutland (Analyst II: ESA/MMPA Support Services, Ocean Associates, Inc.), Jim LaChance (Aquaculture Projects Coordinator, Maryland Sea Grant), and Maddie Kennedy (Student Opportunities Manager, NOAA Sea Grant).


Related links:




Jim LaChance  00:00

On my coast, the water is cold and full of food.


Maddie Kennedy  00:04

the days only get better,


Jordan Rutland  00:06

dreams become reality.


Amara Davis  00:18

Welcome to the On My Coast Podcast, where we share the stories of people on America’s coasts, whose experiences and challenges have inspired and been the focus of Sea Grant’s work for over 50 years.


Amara Davis  00:30

The National Sea Grant College Program or Sea Grant is a Federal University partnership program that brings science together with communities for solutions that work. It was originally created through an act of Congress in 1966. And the state and national programs work together with community partners to create and maintain a healthy coastal environment and economy.


Amara Davis  00:51

These stories are relevant because they show the important and necessary work that can happen through diverse inclusive collaborations.


Amara Davis  00:59

In this episode of On My Coast, we’ll be connecting with former Sea Grant fellows to discuss their experiences and learn a bit more about where they are now.


Amara Davis  01:07

Sea Grant offers several different fellowships and internships at the graduate and undergraduate levels and at the state and national levels. One of those is the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. It’s a highly competitive program matching graduate students who are interested in ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources with legislative and executive hosts to create a unique educational and professional experience.


Amara Davis  01:30

I would know! I’m currently a Knausss fellow with the National Sea Grant Office, and although my graduate research focuses on spiny lobster fisheries and disease, my position here blends my science and communications background in a way I didn’t know was possible when I first started studying marine science.


Amara Davis  01:46

Meet Jordan Rutland, a Savannah State graduate and 2019 Knauss fellow:


Jordan Rutland  01:51

I am, a contractor with Ocean Associates in support of NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources, specifically the Permitting and Conservation division.


Amara Davis  02:02

Jim LaChance, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and 2020 Knauss fellow:


Maddie Kennedy  02:08

I’m currently the Aquaculture Projects Coordinator at Maryland Sea Grant, and later on this year, I’ll also be the National Agriculture Extension Coordinator for collaboration between Sea Grant and the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. In 2020, I was a Knauss fellow placed in the office of Senator Markey from Massachusetts.


Amara Davis  02:29

and Maddie Kennedy, a graduate from the University of South Alabama and a 2017, Knauss fellow:


Maddie Kennedy  02:35

My job title changes by the day, but currently I go by Student Opportunity Manager for the National Sea Grant College Program. What that means is I get to work with students all day and talk about how to get folks into the next stages of their career.


Amara Davis  02:49

There is no right pathway to Knauss. Each of these folks came to the fellowship through very different avenues, and with very different skill sets.


Jordan Rutland  02:58

I was getting my master’s at Savannah State, and the first course I took that just really really captivated me, besides Marine Mammalogy was my Fisheries Management course. And I really enjoyed it. And I was like, “Hey, I think I like policy.” And I think as part of the requirements, I only had to take one policy class, but I was like, let me try another one, you know, and I was like, “Yeah, I do really like this.” And I was also a LMRCSC fellow while at Savannah State, and so we ended up going to an EPP conference, and there was a person there who talked about the Knausss fellowship. I looked at Dr. Hoskins and I was like, “I think I want to do this, I think this is it”, you know? “I’m going to apply for this.” It wass really my interest for policy and you know, just wanting to know more, because you know, there’s only so much you can learn in a semester for a class. So really just wanting to go in deep.


Jim LaChance  03:44

I came to Knauss because I saw an opportunity to use my scientific training, hopefully to inform legislative and policy development and to begin to feel out nonacademic opportunities for my PhD training. And so I figured maybe I’d find a new career path or if not, if I stayed in academia, stayed in research, then I’d at least learn how best to tailor my future research and work to have the greatest impact.


Maddie Kennedy  04:10

Luck. No, I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I hadn’t heard about the Knauss program until maybe three weeks before the application was due. A friend sort of nudged me in that direction. And so I, on a whim, I applied, but after looking more into it, I realized that it was a path that I was super interested in. I spent a lot of time in academia, I had my master’s degree. I’d been an intern, I’d been a lab tech, I watched my dad in academia. I loved science, but my personality isn’t really suited for the sort of sink or swim of the PhD lifestyle of constantly fighting to get grants, etc. So, I really wanted to learn what it was like to be outside of academia, but still involved in science and helping connect people to the science was particularly interesting to me.


Amara Davis  04:58

The Knauss fellowship experiences is unique. It officially starts with placement week–a usually in-person extreme networking event that’s gone virtual amidst the COVID19 pandemic–tons of professional development in almost any area, you can think of, and actual fellowship, sharing this experience with your cohort and building meaningful connections that lasts a lifetime.


Jim LaChance  05:17

I was part of the legislative fellows cohort, which is a bit smaller group. Our in-person interactions were obviously derailed a bit by the pandemic. But it was great to be able to meet a bunch of hardworking, like-minded, kind people that care about the ocean and Great Lakes and really want to make a difference. You know, day to day, I’d say, being a legislative fellow, particularly working in the Senate, my role was to support the senator as part of his oceans team. And so for me, that was everything from marine conservation, climate change issues, fisheries, aquaculture, renewable energy, offshore wind development. And so I would be writing environmental briefings, memos, oversight letters, draft some legislation, rounding up co-sponsors for different efforts, doing a lot of communicating with Congressional Research Service to do background research on various topics. I’d be providing ideas for social media content. You get to wear a lot of hats, which is, after being in academia where you’re more encouraged to be a specialist, it was refreshing.


Maddie Kennedy  06:23

It was a blur. That was a year that you know, I wish I remembered more of the details, but I think that it’s all kind of mushed together because it was such a positive experience. I got to try something that was completely out of my wheelhouse. My master’s degree was in near coastal ecology. I studied seagrass. I worked with ducks. But when I came to the Knauss fellowship, there was nobody talking about seagrass. There’s nobody talking about ducks. But what they were talking about was coastal resiliency and disaster preparedness. And I jumped on that opportunity to learn in a new space. And I fell in love with that space. And, you know, really got to learn about how federal agencies respond to those events. So it was it was an amazing, it was amazing experience. I did lots of really cool things like traveling. But really my experience was probably similar to many other fellows. It was life changing. My career took a completely different path that I never expected because of the finance fellowship.


Jordan Rutland  07:22

It surpassed everything that I expected it to be, to be honest, I learned so much. And so I think one of the biggest decisions people have to make once they start trying to figure out what host office they want to be in is, do I want to stick with what I’ve been doing? Or do I want to try something completely different? Because Knauss can provide you the opportunity to do that if that’s what you want to do. And you know, it was really hard for me to get my foot in the door for marine mammals. So I was like, I’m sticking with it. And I’ve just learned so much. I learned so much with public display. I got to travel, I went to Spain, and attended the Society of Marine Mammalogy Biennial Conference. I also was able to travel to Sarasota, Florida, and help with health assessments with bottlenose dolphins, which was a great opportunity. I was able to do some outreach in New Orleans at HBCU Climate Summit. So yeah, overall great experience. I also got to go to Hawaii and visit various public displays, because that’s also something my office does–work with public display. Just overall great opportunity. I’ve learned so much.


Amara Davis  08:30

With so many opportunities to learn and so many amazing folks open and willing to share their knowledge, it’s hard to say what the biggest takeaway from this fellowship is. Then again, with so many fellows from different backgrounds, and starting or continuing different journeys, we should probably expect that each answer will be personal.


Maddie Kennedy  08:48

No one knows what they’re doing. I think? Even those at the top, you know, you kind of fake it until you make it like I think that’s a cliche, saying, but it’s definitely true. The best part of being in the fellowship is that you’re not expected to know everything, and that you can really learn from your mentors and peers. This was a quote that I learned this summer is that you’re not growing unless you feel uncomfortable, or you don’t know what you’re doing. And I really believe that that is the beauty of Knauss is that you’re allowed to be in that space of learning, and that you should feel safe in that space of learning. That was my biggest takeaway from the fellowship is that it’s okay to be a learner for life. It’s okay to be uncomfortable because it means you’re growing. And I think that that’s something that I learned from Knauss. Your comfort zone is boring, and Knauss really taught me to stretch and be outside of that comfort zone.


Jim LaChance  09:40

The biggest takeaway I had, honestly, was  that there are offices on the hill that really do value science. I think they are atypical–there aren’t a lot of, you know, scientific graduate degrees necessarily in a lot of the offices but it is, in particular offices, you can really tell from interacting with people, how much they value that knowledge and experience. And that was exciting and refreshing to see.


Jordan Rutland  10:05

I would say just being open to new experiences and responsibilities and tasks and also just like networking, and I feel like that’s an answer for a lot of people for a lot of things. But honestly, the Knauss fellowship, just like, you have to step up your networking game, and like, it’s a whole nother level of network and one that I never expected, like you constantly have to be on.


Amara Davis  10:30

The Knauss fellowship can be a way to solidify your career path, or get a change of pace and gain some experience you may not have otherwise been able to. For many fellows, the Knauss fellowship influences their future choices, and the skills and connections made have helped them to get to where they are now.


Jordan Rutland  10:46

As I was ending my fellowship, a contracting position opened up in my office. And so essentially, I’m doing the same thing, with more responsibility, that I was doing during my fellowship. The responsibility is still on you to find the jobs, right? Knauss has a listserv, it’s great, it helps out. But if you’re looking for something a little bit different, it does help. But there’s still a lot of responsibility on you. But again, with the networks that you create, during your Knauss fellowship, that can be a whole nother, like its own tangible listerv, per se.


Maddie Kennedy  11:20

I think it would be hard to do my job if I didn’t fully believe in the fellowship. So my job now as student opportunities manager for the National Sea Grant program is I oversee many fellowships. So we have the Knauss fellowship, we have the NMFS Sea Grant fellowship, we have the Community Engaged Internship Program, and then all of our state Sea Grant programs have many, many fellowships. And so I help connect the dots. I sort of see myself as the connective tissue between those fellowships and try and make them inclusive, welcoming, engaging, and also, you know, sharing resources between those too. The fellowship not only set me up in a really good way, for my current job, I wouldn’t be doing my job, except for the fellowship, because I believe in what it’s doing.


Jim LaChance  12:08

You know, I found out about my current position through networking that I did with Knaus. And another thing that I’ve noticed is just when having coffee with someone or you know, just just doing some networking, if someone’s looking over your CV, they always remark, oh, Knauss, xyz, and have positive things to say about it. It’s really seen in a very positive light, and I’m very happy to have been able to participate in the fellowship. I work at Sea Grant now, and I think it’s an exciting combination of my personal interests and research, education, outreach. Before going back to graduate school, I worked in agricultural extension, actually, and did community outreach with farming communities and farmers. So I knew I liked interacting with people. And so I get to do a lot of that through Sea Grant.


Amara Davis  12:58

If there’s one piece of advice I could give to you, it would be to apply. And don’t just take my word for it.


Jim LaChance  13:04

I would say Apply.


Maddie Kennedy  13:05

Don’t be afraid to apply.


Jim LaChance  13:08

Don’t be dissuaded if it doesn’t work out in your first year, like and if you’re still eligible. I know several people who have done that, with success.


Jordan Rutland  13:16

The first time I applied, I actually did not get it, a little discouraged. But I had a year to collect myself and I ended up applying again and I got it my second time around.


Maddie Kennedy  13:26

Even if you don’t see yourself, necessarily, or think of yourself as a marine scientist or a policy wonk, you should apply because you never know what people are looking for. And the worst thing you can do is not take a chance. All you’re going to hear is maybe no, but maybe you’re going to get a yes and it’s a life-changing experience.


Amara Davis  13:46

The Knauss fellowship is one of many pathways to creating the future you would like to see for yourself and your environment. Sea Grant is committed to workforce development through this and other programs geared toward passionate diverse groups of people who are dedicated to caring for our planet, whether through research, education, outreach, or policy.


Amara Davis  14:05

So if you’re considering Sea Grant’s, Knauss fellowship, or any other fellowship, apply. You never know what doors will open if you just ring the bell.


Amara Davis  14:14

Thank you at home for listening to this episode of the On My Coast podcast. We look forward to having you with us again as we continue to tell the stories of Sea Grant and the communities it serves. If you’d like to hear more from us, please like share and subscribe to our podcast and follow us on Instagram (@seagrant_noaa), Twitter (@SeaGrant) and on our Facebook page, the (National Sea Grant College Program). And if you’re interested in the Knauss fellowship or other fellowships and internships Sea Grant offers, visit


Amara Davis  14:47

I’m your host, Amara Davis, and On My Coast, even the waves dance to the beat of the Junkanoo.



Music: OUR PLANET, FineTune Music, Adobe Stock License ASLC-12A2C55E-6B2E494BBB
Graphic created using Canva


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