Preparing For Launch: Knauss Fellows Ready to Step Into the Future
Alison Stevens, or Ali as she is known in the Sea Grant office, is a newly placed Knauss Fellow, a recent University of Michigan-School of Natural Resources and Environment graduate, a post-grad research associate with Michigan Sea Grant — and a self-confessed “weather nerd.”
Earlier this year, Ali applied for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, a unique educational experience for graduate students and recent graduates who have an interest in ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources and in the national policy decisions affecting those resources.
The program matches finalists with host agencies in Washington, D.C., such as congressional offices, the National Marine Fisheries Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For one year, fellows work on a range of policy and management projects related to ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources.
Ali and three other candidates from Michigan universities were selected by the national fellowship panel as finalists and were recently assigned their positions during Placement Week. The assignments will begin in February 2015.
Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Fellowship Placements
Knauss Marine Policy Fellows 2015-2016
- Rachel Jacobson
Social Science Fellow
Office of Program Planning and Integration, NOAA
- Ayman Mabrouk
Sea Grant Fellow
National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, NOAA
- Linda Novitski
Great Lakes Research Fellow
Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, NOAA
- Ali Stevens
Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections (MAPP) Program Fellow
Climate Program Office, NOAA
And So Can You
Do you want to join the ranks of MSG fellows? You’re in luck – we’re recruiting now for the 2016 fellowships! Applications are now being accepted for the Knauss Fellowship as well as the Great Lakes Commission-Sea Grant Fellowship, the NOAA Coastal Management Fellowship and others! Deadlines vary, but are typically in January and February.
We asked Ali about her career path, how she decided on a career in science and what she’s looking forward to in her fellowship with the NOAA Climate Program Office.
Seven Questions with Ali Stevens: Self-confessed “Weather Nerd,” Sea Grant Research Associate and Now, Knauss Fellow
Name: Alison Stevens, aka Burrito, aka Ali
Hometown: Oakton, Virginia
Current Town: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Education: University of Virginia-B.S. Environmental Sciences, Astronomy; U of M-SNRE-M.S. Conservation Ecology, Environmental Informatics
MSG: What initially got you interested in science?
Ali: I have been a weather nerd since elementary school. I have no idea what sparked that interest, but my mom would print out forecasts and weather maps for me to look at every week. I dreamt of being a weather woman or storm chaser — or working for the National Weather Service or NOAA! I even created videos of mock hurricane forecasts.
I have also always excelled in math and knew I wanted to be able to apply those skills toward learning about our world and atmosphere through science. This led me to major in environmental sciences at the University of Virginia after taking an introductory weather and climate course my first year, which solidified my interest.
MSG: Where did the conservation ecology part come in?
Ali: After deciding to major in environmental sciences, I initially began to concentrate in atmospheric sciences. However, other opportunities led me in a different direction. I was looking to get involved in research outside of my coursework and got connected to an environmental engineering graduate student. She was looking for an undergraduate research assistant to work with her on a side project that came out of her Ph.D. So, I worked with her on a project that looked at using beaver dams as a natural means of stream restoration to alleviate the geomorphological effects of a manmade dam break. This experience along with my marine biology/coral reef ecology study abroad course in San Salvador, Bahamas, made me passionate about aquatic and coastal issues.
MSG: What brought you to Michigan? How did you choose the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE)?
Ali: When looking for a graduate degree program, I knew I wanted a professional degree program (rather than a research degree program where I would complete a thesis) where I could gain/strengthen real-world skills that I could then apply in a professional setting after finishing. I was drawn to the real-world interdisciplinary master’s project that SNRE promotes, the flexibility of the program, as well as the strong sense of community I felt when visiting the school (not to mention the huge U-M alumni network). I also wanted a change from the East Coast and, with my newfound passion for aquatic sciences, where else was a better location to study than right next to the Great Lakes?
MSG: How did you first become involved with Michigan Sea Grant?
Ali: I was looking for a work-study position my first semester at SNRE, and I came across a posting on the U-M job site for a Michigan Sea Grant work-study research assistant. After reading the brief position description and learning a little bit about MSG, it seemed like the perfect position to apply for given my interest in aquatics. I interviewed and was ecstatic to hear that MSG wanted to hire me!
MSG: What have you liked most about working with Michigan Sea Grant?
Ali: I have really loved the variety of work and diversity of projects. Over the past 2.5 years, I have been able to work on a little bit of everything. As a student, I was involved with: the RFP process; a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) for the Fort Wayne reef restoration project; Integrated Assessment research reports; fact sheets and web content development; Saginaw Bay Multiple Stressors and Beyond Workshop needs assessment; and a survey of Grand Haven State Park beach goers for a Beach Information Communication System project. After finishing my master’s degree, I worked in a different capacity and have been able to contribute to a number of different projects including dangerous currents outreach and awareness, the Michigan Clean Marina Program and Great Lakes FieldScope. I have even had the opportunity to do some grant writing, facilitate focus groups, help compose the Michigan Clean Marina Program Strategic Plan, and present at a few conferences during my time with MSG.
It’s been truly an amazing group of people to work with, and MSG has provided me with so many new experiences and great professional and educational opportunities. MSG helped launch me into my first job after grad school and into my next career move as a Knauss Fellow! I will be sad to leave, but forever grateful.
MSG: As mentioned, you’ve done great work on multiple Michigan Sea Grant projects, many of which have a GIS component (GIS = geographic information system). Great Lakes FieldScope and water safety outreach are two examples. Do you remember your initial introduction to GIS? What was it, and what did you like about it?
Ali: Yes! My first real introduction to GIS — I had heard of it in undergrad and knew of its utility as a highly marketable skill — was not until SNRE when I took Principles of GIS my second semester. I was attracted to GIS, I think, because it is kind of an intersection of a few of my interests and skillsets. I am a very visual person and learner, and GIS is a visual tool. The geospatial analytics and modeling aspects incorporate my math and technical skills. With GIS, you can input data and equations, and output a visual result. I also love art and love to sketch in my free time (I almost minored in fine arts after taking a drawing class my first year of undergrad), and making maps using GIS is kind of a creative process and takes a bit of an artistic eye to make an aesthetically pleasing product.
Additionally, GIS is a tool that I can easily apply to real-world environmental issues and use to connect those issues to specific locations around the world. It’s a great communication tool, as well; colorful maps can be much more compelling and easier to digest than environmental information conveyed through text or data tables.
MSG: When thinking about your fellowship position, what are you most looking forward to?
Ali: A lot of things! I am looking forward to joining other weather/climate/math nerds on the MAPP team in the NOAA Climate Program Office and working with all of the top researchers and scientists creating the climate models that are so important to decision making now and in the future.
Our changing climate affects everything, so I am excited to explore that intersection of climate and related human and environmental impacts more. I am excited for all the connections I know I will make throughout the year and for professional development opportunities. I also can’t wait to hang out and work with all of the other Knauss fellows!
May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor: Placement Week
In November, Ali Stevens and Rachel Jacobson, both from the University of Michigan, and Ayman Mabrouk and Linda Novitski, both from Michigan State University, traveled to Washington, D.C. for a rigorous-but-rewarding process known as Knauss Fellows Placement Week. Placement Week is where fellow finalists interview with different government agencies to see where they will spend their fellowship year. The fellowships begin in February 2015.
Ali wrote about her experiences, likening it to a civil version of The Hunger Games.
“I made it back alive from that crazy adventure in DC known as Knauss Placement Week. We had all been warned about what a whirlwind it is, but you really don’t feel the sorority rush/hunger games (kidding, it’s not that brutal) nature of it all until you are surviving placement week. Placement week brings out a bag of emotions. It’s exciting, stressful, fun, exhausting, educational, challenging and very rewarding…”
Read more about Ali’s experience, as well as other MSG fellows in their own words on the MSG Fellowship blog
Great Lakes = Great Gifts
Still fishing around for holiday gifts? Or dreaming of warmer days? Bundle up and save at the Michigan Sea Grant bookstore! Check out the following holiday deals, and be sure to get your order in by December 21.
Ice Fishing Safety: Stay Off Thin Ice
While ice fishers may be eager to get out on the ice to drop a line — be sure to use good judgment and follow the general guidelines. What are the guidelines? What should you do if you fall through the ice? Does alcohol help keep you warm?
When going out on the ice for the first time, only do so after a hard freeze that forms clear, solid ice.
- It generally takes at least 4 inches of solid ice to support a person on foot.
- It will take approximately 6 inches of ice to support someone on a snowmobile or ATV.
- As the winter progresses, small cars and pickup trucks may be driven out on the ice when the ice thickness reaches 8 to 12 inches.
- For larger vehicles on the ice, it is best to wait until the ice cover is well over 12 inches thick.
- Look for other conditions, like rivers flowing into larger bodies of water and springs that feed lakes, which can affect the safety of the ice.
Uninvited Guests: Wels Catfish and Other Potential Invaders
Here’s an activity for you: Type “catfish eats pigeons” into a search engine, and what comes up? The wels catfish, sometimes just referred to as the European catfish, is featured in many videos, lurking along the banks in search of an unsuspecting, tasty squab (aka pigeon). The wels catfish is known for its healthy appetite, giant size and eel-like tail — and it’s potential as an invasive species.
Many other Eurasian invaders arrived in the Great Lakes in ballast water, but the wels is more likely to arrive by another route. Federal regulations do nothing to prevent shipping wels into the country, meaning there is no legal means of preventing wels catfish from arriving in the U.S. for use in the pet trade, fish farms or live food markets. This is why Michigan recently took the precaution of listing the catfish as a Prohibited Species.
Any species considered for listing must be non-native to Michigan. Prohibited species are generally not present or are in very limited areas; restricted species are generally widespread and naturalized within the state.
The decision to add wels and six other species to the prohibited list came during a meeting of the Natural Resources Commission, where Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh signed the order. Before this, there were 33 aquatic species listed as prohibited or restricted.
The following were added to the prohibited list:
- Stone moroko – Part of the minnow family, this species is a known carrier of a parasite that can negatively impact other fishes.
- Zander – A close relative of the walleye, this species could compete with the native fish or reproduce with it and create a hybrid.
- Wels catfish – This fish is considered a serious danger to native fish populations.
- Killer shrimp – This species is an aggressive predator and could severely threaten the trophic levels of the Great Lakes by preying on a range of invertebrates.
- Yabby – This large crayfish would negatively impact other crayfish species.
- Golden mussel – Similar to zebra and quagga mussels, this species has destructive qualities that would threaten native biodiversity.
- Red swamp crayfish – This species can quickly dominate water bodies and is virtually impossible to eradicate.
Splendor of the Great Lakes in Winter
The usual pictures of the Great Lakes show welcoming sandy beaches and endless vistas of our inland seas. However, with the crystalized cold of winter, the beauty of the Great Lakes is highlighted in a different way. Check out these beauty shots of the Lakes covered in ice and snow — or explore our myriad other photo sets on all things Great Lakes.