By Amanda Valentine
Two graduate students from the University of Rhode Island were recently awarded John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowships through the National Sea Grant College Program. They join 68 other fellows from across the country in Washington, D.C., to work on coastal and marine policy issues within the legislative and executive offices of the federal government for one year, beginning in February 2022.
Kayla Williams of Bear, Delaware, and Nyla Husain of Chicago were selected to receive up to $84,000 in funding for their year of work. They were chosen through a competitive process that includes a comprehensive review at both the state Sea Grant program and national levels.
Williams, who has wanted to work in marine science since she was 12 years old, received her M.A. in marine affairs in 2021 and now works in National Oceanic and Atomospheric’s (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries for her fellowship. An internship in 2018 at the NOAA Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office in Gloucester, Massachusetts, was a “turning point” that inspired her to shift gears from a focus on field research toward management and policy making, she says. She will engage in similar work in her position as a fellow.
“I’ve been interested in marine protected areas for a while—my thesis project was on sanctuaries and marine protected areas and I really enjoyed that,” she says, adding that her fellowship includes similar research: “I’m doing a lot of work on marine protected areas and how to make them more effective, how to measure their effectiveness, and incorporate that into management documents.”
Husain earned her Ph.D. in oceanography from URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) in 2020. Her research focused on the role waves play in air-sea interactions that can be altered as well as influence weather and climate patterns. As a Knauss Fellow, she will bring this expertise to her work in marine policy legislation for the U.S. House of Representatives under Congressman Steven Palazzo of Mississippi.
Her previous work includes research on ocean dynamics and coastal community disaster preparedness; serving as Communications Chair for the Executive Board of URI’s graduate assistant union; and co-leading a grassroots initiative for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion during her time at GSO. She hopes the Knauss Fellowship will help her learn how to apply scientific research and community needs to the creation of justice-oriented policies.
The John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship was established in 1979, and 1,500 fellows have completed the program since. It is named for a former dean of the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, who also served as a founder and administrator for NOAA.