Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Running Up That Hill: A View from the Capitol

By: Spring Gaines
2022 Knauss Legislative Fellow
House of Representatives-Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis


Recently, I had the unique opportunity to take a winding tour of one of the most symbolic sites in Washington, D.C.—The Capitol Dome.  At this point in my Knauss fellowship, I had a familiarity with the Capitol that I would not have anticipated when I started at the beginning of the year. I walked the empty halls as COVID-19 restrictions were still in place, and I witnessed the return of families and school groups who began filling these historic rooms under strict staged openings, based on our growing knowledge of living alongside this virus. As I looked on from the ground floor, the presence of the statutes representing the fifty states and the stories of our founding fathers and the first justices felt more familiar. It is a privilege I do not take for granted. 


While climbing the almost 300 steps leading up to an eye-level view of Brumidi and Cox’s work with the Rotunda frieze, the Apotheosis of George Washington and beyond, I was reminded of something I told my best friend when she asked what it is like as a Gulf Coast girl walking around this city, “It’s not the distance; it’s the incline.” 


I had already traveled some distance in my career before coming into this amazing Hill experience. Obtaining my Juris Doctor (J.D.) and Masters of Laws (LL.M.) in Environmental Law later in life gave me the perspective that there is more than one way to use a graduate education. We J.D.s are seen as the unicorns of this fellowship program. Part of that is that throughout those three years of law school, students are set on a path toward litigating with a firm and advocating for a person or corporation in a courtroom. That path was never and still is not for me. 


My view of advocacy comes from creating policy and making grassroots change within communities. That grew into wanting to effect change on the federal level through bills and resolutions. I found that my legal training gave me an edge on the incline presented to me when I entered my office as an acting legislative assistant. My supervisor said that with my focus areas of marine, environmental, animal and agricultural policy, I may be the smartest person in the room. However, when it comes to Congress and how things work on the Hill, “You know nothing.” He continues to be completely right. Every day brings a realization about how much I do not yet know and still need to figure out. Of course, this is also the same man who took my legal background to heart and asked me to draft a bill within my first week of the fellowship (Thanks, Mike!). 


As the November winds whistled through the open door, I took those final steps out to the top of the cupola of the Capitol. In looking out over our nation’s capital, I reflected on just how far I have come within my fellowship year. I drafted and introduced the first offshore wind revenue-sharing legislation for the Northeastern Atlantic to be presented in the House of Representatives. I wrote legislative memos for Congressional members, staffed my boss at committee mark-ups, and led letters of support for marine sanctuaries and appropriations asks for anti‐poaching and wildlife trafficking programs. Taking in the view over 200 feet up in the air, I would not swap places with anyone. 


I continue to make my way up this incline, but with the confidence I gained in my knowledge base and abilities as a changemaker, I am no longer moving at a slow, steady pace. I am running and ready to take those next steps in my career pathway. 



Related Posts

Virginia Sea Grant Launches the USDA and NOAA-Supported Aquaculture Information Exchange Online Community Platform

The Aquaculture Information Exchange (AIE) online community platform website is now live and open for new user registrations. The AIE represents a joint effort between NOAA’s National Sea Grant Office, NOAA’s Fisheries Office of Aquaculture, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), and Virginia Sea Grant.

Read More >
Image of Capitol Hill with a bright blue cloudless sky and blooming cherry blossom tree in the right corner
Academia to Government

Sea Grant Announces the 2024 Class of the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Sea Grant College Program (Sea Grant) is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2024 class of the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship program. The 85 early-career professionals selected will be placed in federal government offices throughout Washington, D.C., and join the over 1,600 individuals who have participated in the program since its inception in 1979.

Read More >
Image of plastic debris on Oregon’s Clatsop Beach by Tiffany Woods | Oregon Sea Grant.

Sea Grant announces funding opportunities to support community-engaged marine debris removal and prevention

Sea Grant announces $19 million in federal funding opportunities to address the prevention and removal of marine debris. These opportunities are a component of nearly $3 billion in targeted investments for NOAA in the areas of habitat restoration, coastal resilience and weather forecasting infrastructure through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Read More >
Scroll to Top