Two LSU Students Named Knauss Fellowship Finalists
Two Louisiana State University students have been named 2020 Knauss Fellowship finalists. Lauren Bonatakis is a Master of Science student in the School of Renewable Natural Resources who will graduate in December. Connor Fagan graduated from the LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center in May.
“My non-linear path uniquely provided me many opportunities for growth and experience,” said Bonatakis, who originally had planned to pursue a career in medical science and had worked as a research assistant at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The catalyst for her shift to fisheries was an 11-month stint with AmeriCorps.
“AmeriCorps was a turning point in my life,” she said. “Most of our work was physically taxing. For example, I spent several days cleaning out herring runs in Bourne, Massachusetts. I would trek for a mile or more through narrow streams wearing waders, using loppers to cut down low-lying branches and rakes to scoop out dead organic material clogging the passageway.
“However, learning why the projects were important to the community renewed my spirit,” she added. “Though clearing a small waterway seemed monotonous, the greater benefit was to increase access for anadromous fish to complete their life cycle, which aided the larger coastal habitats and food webs, and indirectly, Cape Cod’s commercial fisheries.”
As a graduate student, Bonatakis is collecting baseline data on the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities within the state’s freshwater commercial fisheries as part of a Louisiana Sea Grant-funded project. She hopes for a Knauss placement within the executive branch, and plans on a career in fisheries policy – focused on sustainability of fish stocks while preserving the livelihood of fishermen.
“In 2005, the muddy 17th Street Canal poured into my home,” said Fagan. “At that time, the causes of Hurricane Katrina were foreign to me, but the societal costs to the City of New Orleans were clear even then. It was not until five years later that I learned about climate change, sea level rise and warming induced tropical depressions. As a New Orleanian, environmental policy is personal to me.”
During his junior year at Rhodes College in Tennessee, Fagan worked for Memphis Area Legal Services where he learned firsthand how federal housing and environmental laws impact communities. While completing his Bachelor of Arts degree at Rhodes, Fagan earned an environmental minor.
“In my final year at Rhodes College, I worked as a teaching intern with the Teton Science Schools in Jackson Hole, Wyoming,” he said. “There, I infused environmental science into camping trips in Yellowstone National Park where I led Baltimore high-schoolers, many of whom had never been outside of Baltimore before. After being blown away by the Tetons and their weeks of place-based learning, many students wrote in their journals that they wanted to be scientists.
“My path to applying for the Knauss Fellowship has been filled with these and many other lessons. Through learning from these moments, I have become a multifaceted researcher, policy advocate and teacher in my own right. I aim to continue to do so in Washington,” he added.
This summer, Fagan is taking the Colorado Bar Exam, which is accepted in the District of Columbia. He will then work as a law clerk with Van Ness Feldman, an environment/energy firm in Washington, D.C. before becoming a Knauss Fellow.
Sponsored by the National Sea Grant College Program, the John A. Knauss Fellowship matches graduate students with an interest in ocean and coastal resources and national policy affecting those resources with hosts in federal legislative or executive branch offices for one year. In November, finalists from across the country will travel to Washington, D.C., to determine in which offices they will work. Fellowships will begin Feb. 1, 2020.
Fellowship applications are submitted through local state Sea Grant programs – such as Louisiana Sea Grant.