Sustainability Coordinator at Louisiana Sea Grant, Sea Grant Knauss Alum class of 2011
Lauren is an Extension Agent at Louisiana Sea Grant. She was a recipient of the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship in 2011 where she worked at the National Sea Grant Office. She has a masters in Oceanography and Coastal Sciences with a Minor in Applied Statistics from Louisiana State University.
How did you get involved with Sea Grant? When did you join Sea Grant?
I first got involved with Sea Grant through the Sea Grant Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship in 2011. As a Fellow, I worked in NOAA’s National Sea Grant Office in Silver Spring, Maryland, and fell in love with the Sea Grant model of extension and applied research — communicating with various audiences to identify their information needs and to share research results to provide information for making decisions for living, working, and playing in coastal environments. During the fellowship, I enjoyed learning about the ways that each Sea Grant program helps bridge the gap between coastal research and coastal people, and I wanted to work at the state level to get some field experience. I was fortunate to apply for a position at Louisiana Sea Grant, and I’ve been here since March 2012.
What drove you to work on outreach within the boating community?
As a new Louisiana Sea Grant member, I had the opportunity to partner with some of my colleagues on a “harbor of refuge” project related to ports and hurricane preparedness for commercial fishing vessel operators. As I’ve worked on this project and learned more about the process of pre- and post-storm procedures for boats, I’ve been introduced to various players in this process – federal and state agencies, local governments, commercial fishing communities, emergency preparedness, navigational interests, and small businesses. I want to understand the links between all these players in order to uncover ways to improve storm preparedness and increase the capacity of small seafood-dependent communities to minimize damages and be resilient.
What is something cool you learned while working with commercial/recreational boaters?
I’ve really enjoyed seeing firsthand the direct interaction of people and the environment. Louisiana is truly a working coast, and I enjoy learning about the challenge of balancing resource conservation with resource use to sustain these communities and the greater United States economy. Commercial and recreational boaters extract different values from the marine environment, but both audiences want to be safer to reduce the possibility of interruption to their businesses and families. Our work is grounded in reality because when we take boat rides on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, we see wetlands, shrimp boats, and transport barges all in the same frame.
It’s Safe Boating Week, what is the one thing everyone needs to know about being safe while out on the water?
Pay attention to weather forecasts and warnings. And make sure everyone on your boat has a life jacket!
What is your favorite part about being a Sea Grant Extension agent?
My favorite part about Sea Grant Extension is the opportunity to be a little entrepreneurial in looking for relevant information. I like to think of it as scientific journalism – listening to the question of your audience and learning different perspectives of various players as you find information. Answering one question always asks five more questions. With the harbor of refuge project, my favorite part is going to the project area to drill down and talk with port directors, fishermen, and agency representatives. I find it exciting to help facilitate conversations and build networks to find solutions, and those conversations always expose questions that we didn’t think of before.
What is the biggest challenge you face at your job?
The biggest challenge I face is always making sure that the right people are at the table when they need to be. It’s easy to get wrapped up in a project and, a couple months in, discover that there’s a state agency or a community group that needs to be present and should have been from the beginning. Also, there are no fast and easy quick fixes to a problem. Finding solutions takes time and persistence.
What part of your job did you least expect to be doing?
Cold-calling people! I never thought that I would spend a lot of time on the phone, but often, the most direct way to get an answer to a question is to call someone. And that often opens doors to other people who you may not have thought of or been aware of before. I’ve gotten used to explaining what I’m doing in less than 2 minutes, being direct in my questioning, and then going with the flow of the conversation!
What surprised you most about working at Sea Grant?
When I first started with Sea Grant in the National Office, I was surprised at the fact that all of the Sea Grant projects involved actual people and agencies and organizations. No Sea Grant research happens in a silo – it is all applied. My academic training was in wetlands biogeochemistry, so I was used to being in a lab and focusing on my samples. In my first week of the Knauss Fellowship at a Sea Grant meeting, Mike Orbach, a Duke University social scientist said, “You can know the ins and outs of an ecosystem, but at the end of the day, our work is about managing people’s behavior.” A light bulb definitely went off for me that day because I could see the importance of tying scientific research to reality.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?
Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to pursue a career in science. I have my parents to thank for indulging my curiosity with frequent trips to the Baltimore Zoo and Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center and for letting me do science experiments in the kitchen. I had my first trip to the ocean when I was 12, and if you can have a life-changing experience when you’re 12, that was it – I was amazed at the power of the ocean waves and knew from that moment that I wanted to learn more about the coast.
What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?
I like to read about historical science and exploration, so I recommend reading Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose. This book tells the story of the Lewis & Clark expedition through the newly acquired lands of the Louisiana Purchase in the early 19th century. As the title indicates, it’s a fantastic telling of scientific exploration and the quest for information about the unknown. Every scientist knows the importance of writing down observations and collecting data, so it’s inspiring to read about the explorers who ventured into the unknown in order to build knowledge about our country.
And how about a personal favorite book?
I enjoyed the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon – historical time travel! And it’s coming to Starz this summer!
Do you have an outside hobby?
I love to run, swim, and be outdoors. I also love music and sing in my church choir.
Meet other Sea Grant Extension Agents working to help people be safe and sustainable boaters:
Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program Agent Torie Baker
Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium Peter Nyugen
New York Extension Agent David White
Ohio Sea Grant Extension Agent Sarah Orlando