Elle Wibisono is currently serving as a Sea Grant Knauss Legislative Fellow working with the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; Oceans, Fisheries, Climate Change, and Manufacturing Subcommittee.
She has been using her love of comics and other forms to storytelling to document her journey, which began while scuba diving off the Komodo Islands in Indonesia at the age of 13. Seeing first-hand the impacts of blast fishing drew her to marine conservation, which ultimately led her to leaving her home in Indonesia to pursue her Ph.D. in sustainable fisheries from the University of Rhode Island.
After an exhilarating 5-day placement week in January 2021, I was matched with the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; Oceans, Fisheries, Climate Change, and Manufacturing Subcommittee for my legislative branch Knauss fellowship.
The subcommittee name is a mouthful, but we affectionately call ourselves either TeamOcean or Ocean Pod, or Fish People. As part of the subcommittee, we have jurisdiction over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), every issue that NOAA touches, and the Maritime Administration, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Thus, the subcommittee portfolio spans from shipping containers to fire weather, salmon fisheries, and ocean acidification.
As an Indonesian fishery scientist, I had no previous knowledge of or experience with the inner workings of the U.S. Congress. This fact, however, did not stop me from being included in the Budget Reconciliation process, also known as vote-a-rama, the day I joined TeamOcean. The Senate was on the verge of passing the COVID-19 stimulus bill in early February, and it was an all-hands-on-deck situation. We had to write vote recommendations on amendments that were in our jurisdiction, and I got to write a couple of vote recommendations! Then came vote-a-rama, where everyone pulled an all-nighter in anticipation of defending or opposing amendments as they were being debated on the Senate floor.
While vote-a-ramas are not a regular occurrence, the day-to-day in TeamOcean is quite dynamic. There is no such thing as an ordinary day, but as a fellow, I tend to sit in a lot of meetings and flex a lot of my reading and writing skills. See the gallery below for a glimpse of a calm day in the life of a legislative fellow.
As a “leg” fellow, we need to be prepared to respond to virtually anything. The life of a leg fellow can be very busy and chaotic (late nights and weekends), however, these past six months have also been both exhilarating and humbling. Despite the long hours, I’m continually grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in ocean and fisheries policy.
IN THE MEDIA
The Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship provides a unique educational experience to graduate students who have an interest in ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources and in the national policy decisions affecting those resources.
The Fellowship, named after one of Sea Grant’s founders, former NOAA Administrator and Dean of URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, John A. Knauss, matches highly qualified graduate students with “hosts” in the legislative and executive branch of government located in the Washington, D.C., area, for a one-year paid fellowship.