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Spotlight on Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s Extension Agent: Caitie McCoy

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Environmental Social Scientist

Caitie McCoy  is Illinois Indiana  Sea Grant’s environmental social scientist. Caitie is focused on communities interested or involved with the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which provides resources to clean up U.S. EPA Areas of Concern. Caitie works on outreach related to contaminant remediation and restoration (including economic and societal benefits), user needs assessments, communications plans, case studies, and much more. She is located in the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office in Chicago.
Caitie recently finished her M.S. in the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources at Colorado State University. Her graduate work combined communication, collaborative conservation, and education to build the adaptive capacity and resilience of local communities. She has participated in a number of research projects focused on the connection of people and nature. She has some teaching experience and has worked for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

You worked on the Impact Based Warning Assessment, what is your impression of Impact Based Warning?

It’s definitely a step in the right direction. I appreciate the use of simpler, plainer language to communicate something important like severe weather, which affects our entire nation.

What is something cool you learned while working on the Impact Based Warning Assessment?

I learned about the variety of people working in the field of emergency response. I thought that emergency response was limited to paramedics, police, and firefighters, but there are so many more! I never thought about the people who make the decision to run the tornado siren, decide how much salt to buy for a city’s season of icy roads, choose to call off school, etc.

Why do you think it is important to have social scientists at Sea Grant?

If we understand how people relate to their natural environment, we can serve them better while helping to conserve our natural resources.

What drove you to be a social scientist?

In high school, I had the naive idea that scientists don’t deal with people — they sit isolated in a lab or go on solo trips to study the forest. In my undergraduate classes, I noticed a common theme: people. If you want to help conserve our natural resources, you have to understand the people that use and value those resources. That’s why I chose a MS and career in human dimensions of natural resources.

How did you get involved with Sea Grant? When did you join Sea Grant?

I happened upon my Sea Grant position opening in a career newsletter through our university. I joined in January 2011.

What is your favorite part about being a Sea Grant Extension agent?

I have a regional job. I love learning about and visiting so many different coastal communities around the Great Lakes. I like that my work helps to revitalize a region of communities environmentally, socially and economically. It’s amazing to be a part of such a big effort.

What is the biggest challenge you face at your job?

My favorite part of my job is also the biggest challenge – serving communities all over the Great Lakes. I wish I could live in all of the communities at once. It would be much easier to understand the needs of my constituents if I saw them regularly around town.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?

In high school. I have always loved learning, especially about nature. When it came time to choose a major, I chose one that would allow me to continue learning about the natural environment.

What part of your job did you least expect to be doing?

My day-to-day work entails cleaning up contaminated sediment. As a child, I never imagined my grown-up life would revolve around mud, yet here I am. Cleaning up contaminated sediment is a highly effective way to improve habitat for fish and wildlife and make waterways more usable by people, so I can’t complain.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?

Collapse, by Jared Diamond.

And how about a personal favorite book?

Gone with the Wind. Scarlett O’Hara is so sassy.

Do you have an outside hobby?

Besides nature, singing is my other true love.

What surprised you most about working at Sea Grant?

I had no idea how many role models I’d meet in one organization. Sea Grant employees are the coolest!
Read about the other social scientists who completed the study:
Jane Harrison, P.h.D, Environmental Social Scientist at University of Wisconsin Sea Grant
Catie McCoy, Environmental Social Scientist at Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant
Kathy Bunting-Howarth, J.D. Ph.D., Associate Director of New York Sea Grant

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