My Coast Guard

Prestigious marine policy Sea Grant Knauss fellowships join the Coast Guard   

By Janki Patel, MyCG Writer

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Scientists with extensive academic credentials in marine science and earth sciences have selected to partner with the Coast Guard as the 2021 Knauss Sea Grant Fellows.  

The Assistant Commandant for Response Policy office announced the 2021 placement of two National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Knauss Sea Grant Fellows. Sarah Zaunbrecher and James Price will be working on some of the most challenging marine policy issues confronting the nation.  

The one-year immersive program for graduate students who are interested in national policy issues impacting ocean, coastal and Great Lakes’ resources and the policy decisions that affect those resources.  

Sarah Zaunbrecher joins the Office of Maritime Law Enforcement, Fisheries Division, and James Price supports the response branch of the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States (RESTORE) Council. Sponsored by the National Sea Grant College Program and NOAA, the Knauss Fellowship connects Zaunbrecher and Price with a unique role in the development of environmental policy. 

For more than 40 years, the John Knauss Sea Grant Marine Policy Fellowship has afforded exceptional students and recent graduates the opportunity to contribute to emerging marine policy through placements in federal government agencies.  

Meet the 2021 U.S. Coast Guard Sea Grant fellows:  

Sarah Zaunbrecher earned her Master of Science in Marine Science (2020) from the University of South Carolina, where she researched benthic microalgae ecology on the South Carolina coast. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Ecology from Louisiana State University. Zaunbrecher grew up near Lafayette, Louisiana. 

James Price received his Doctor of Philosophy in Earth Sciences (2020) from Ohio State University. He studied the microbial communities and trophic strategies of Hawaiian corals in the context of a changing climate. He also earned a Master of Science in Biology from Purdue University – Fort Wayne and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Georgia Southern University. Price grew up in Suwanee, Georgia. 

The 2021 Sea Grant Fellows talked about their experiences with MyCG: 

Why did you select the Coast Guard as your fellowship agency? 

Zaunbrecher: Coming into the fellowship, I knew I wanted to work in fisheries policy, so the Coast Guard appealed to me because it presented a unique opportunity to see a side of fisheries management that I had never before considered--fisheries enforcement. The Coast Guard has also been one of the agencies at the forefront of a very hot topic--illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. So, I knew the work I would be doing would be not only be interesting, but also important and relevant in the wider U.S. government. 

Price: I was particularly excited about the position with the Coast Guard RESTORE office because it provides the opportunity to work directly with agencies and stakeholders that are restoring coastal habitats and ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard also does incredible work across a variety of fields, so I wanted to jump on the opportunity to work here while I had the chance. 

How does the Sea Grant Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship fit into your educational and career goals? 

Zaunbrecher: I actually knew I wanted to do the Knauss Fellowship before I even began looking at graduate schools. I had been interested in marine policy for a while, so when I learned about the fellowship, it seemed to be the perfect way to get experience in policy, build my network, and start my career. The fellowship has already helped me to explore my career options, and I plan to use the rest of my time to learn as much as I can and begin to build my career in fisheries policy. 

Price: While my career goals are not set in stone, the Knauss fellowship is increasing my exposure to a variety of projects, agencies, and collaborative efforts. I hope to use this fellowship to build a career that emphasizes practicable conservation and sustainable interactions with the marine environment. 

Talk about the importance of fellowships in the field of ocean policy. 

Zaunbrecher: Fellowships are set up with long-term career development in mind. In addition to getting experience working in the federal government and marine policy, the Knauss Fellowship particularly emphasizes networking and professional development. Fellows leave with a strong policy skillset and professional network that will benefit them in their future careers, and agencies hiring them know that they are getting excellent employees. 

Price: Graduate and post-graduate opportunities like the Knauss Fellowship provide early-career professionals with experience at the intersection of marine policy, science, and societal values, among other important dimensions. It also provides federal agencies with a new influx of expertise each year to help move valuable initiatives forward, and it is exciting to see the policy and products that fellows are able to help produce. 

What challenging environmental question are you addressing? 

Zaunbrecher: One of the most prominent and pressing issues in our office is combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. IUU fishing is a global issue that affects national security, food security, and ecosystem stability. The Coast Guard has been doing a lot of impactful counter-IUU operations, and my office is frequently party to interagency and international conversations on tackling the IUU fishing problem. 

Price: One challenging topic we are addressing is coastal resilience. Coastal resilience is broad and can encompass everything from animals in a seagrass bed to human communities and infrastructure. Finding solutions that can reduce vulnerabilities and improve resilience in one habitat or community without adversely affecting another is a delicate balance. 

Why are you so passionate about your work? 

Zaunbrecher: I just think that marine science is really interesting! I never tire of learning about the intricacy and complexity of marine ecosystems. I also have a lot of other interests--from economics to international relations to science communication, and I find that marine policy sits right at the nexus of them and requires a multidisciplinary skillset. Marine issues are nuanced and complicated, affecting people all over the world and requiring creative solutions. 

Price: I am passionate about science and the oceans because there is no place I would rather be than on the coast. The oceans are incredibly important for so many people, but unless we use marine resources responsibly and protect those habitats and ecosystems that have been damaged, future generations may not have that same experience. 

What spurred your interest in the environmental and coastal field? 

Zaunbrecher: Mine is the classic tale of a small town, southern Louisiana girl who held an alligator and realized that there could be no cooler job than working in nature. Over the years, I’ve had a few different environmental jobs that have taken me all over the country, but eventually I realized I was most interested in oceanic ecosystems, and in particular the role of policy in managing these ecosystems. It took me a while to get to where I am in marine policy, but I am really excited to think about my past and future career path, and I am glad that part of my journey is at the Coast Guard. 

Price: I always wanted to be a marine biologist as a kid, but I did not really understand what that meant. I was fortunate to have a chance to volunteer with a sea turtle conservation group throughout high school and I ended up just following that thread of marine biology all the way through graduate school, eventually leading to the Knauss Fellowship. I hope to stay on this path and use my research and field experience to continue doing interesting work on the coast and in the oceans. 

“Jamie will be a great help as we work to explore new approaches that bridge environmental restoration and oil spill response planning, and that hold the promise of better outcomes should a spill or release threaten large scale restoration projects in the Gulf of Mexico” Steven M. Tucker, technical program advisor for the Coast Guard’s RESTORE Initiative said. “His advanced education, analytical skills and the breadth of his past experience with Gulf communities will all be brought to bear to support our work with the RESTORE Council, and to better protect the significant investment of public funds being made to restore the Gulf.” 

Previous Sea Grant Fellows at the Coast Guard: 

Christine Durham, an alumnus of the Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship and currently a strategic planner in the Office of the Vice Commandant, says “I owe a great deal to the Knauss Fellowship program. It opened the door to an amazing opportunity for me to work in federal Congressional Affairs for close to 10 years. The program also provides an extraordinary network of current and past fellows—one of whom works at the U.S. Coast Guard and encouraged me to apply to a position here two years ago. I am tremendously thankful for my Knuass experience and would not be here today if not for this program.” 

Two other previous fellows are: 

  • Christina Hoefsmit, 2011 Fellow in the Coast Guard’s Marine Transportation System office.  
  • Zachary Schulman, 2013 Fellow, placed as executive assistant to the Director of the Marine Transportation System. 

Prospective Fellows: 

The next opportunity to apply for placement as a Knauss fellow is scheduled for February 2022. The NOAA’s Sea Grant website is a great resource for future related announcements. Learn about future eligibility, submission information, a list of elements for application, deadlines, and timeline here. Check back Fall 2021 for information on 2023 fellowships. 

Please contact your state Sea Grant program or the National Sea Grant Office for further details. 

You may also email the National Sea Grant Office or call (301) 734-1085. 

Resource: 

  • Printable overview of the Knauss fellowship