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Five Louisiana Knauss Fellowship Finalists Announced

Two graduate students at Louisiana State University (LSU), two from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL) and one from Loyola University have been named 2023 Knauss Fellowship finalists. All were nominated for the fellowship by the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program.

Photo: Ashley BoothAshley Booth
LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources

Booth is a doctoral student concentrating in wetland ecology. She anticipates graduating in December 2022. She earned a master’s degree in marine and environmental biology from Nicholls State University and a bachelor’s degree in animal and veterinary science from Clemson University in South Carolina. “My research, extension, and education experiences are products of my appreciation for coastal wetlands and how they shape communities and culture,” said Booth. “While living in Louisiana, I have delved into environmental and cultural experiences in the region, including countless hours spent fishing, hunting, foraging and exploring in the coastal landscape. My interest in the fellowship is driven by awareness of the gap in communication between scientists, policymakers and the public,” said Booth. “The discrepancy between research and application negatively impacts ecosystem management, particularly in fields like coastal ecology where science outpaces policy. Policy formation is also negatively impacted by poor public understanding of coastal issues. This disconnect was evident during my research and consulting work in deteriorating coastal environments. Driven by these experiences, my career goal is to work in a position that combines generating actionable science with disseminating knowledge to ecosystem managers, policymakers and the public,” she added.

Photo: C. Nicole HammondNicole Hammond
LSU Department of Oceanography and Coastal Science

Hammond is completing her master’s degree and anticipates graduating in December 2022. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Salisbury University in Maryland.  “The Chesapeake Bay is part of my identity growing up near Baltimore. It has taught me, fed me and been my place for recreation,” said Hammond. “There, I directly experienced how human actions, and inaction, force surrounding communities to live with deteriorating water quality. I distinctly remember being told ‘don’t eat anything’ that comes from the water and smelling a constant, foul odor. The poor water quality impacted the social and economic well-being of my family and friends, showing me that environmental health and public health go hand-in-hand. My love for my community and the health of our environment drives my pursuit of research that directly supports management decisions for environmental restoration. My current research provides a greater understanding of the physical drivers behind harmful algal blooms and how major environmental disturbances, such as hurricanes, may induce toxic cyanobacteria blooms. To maintain healthy coastal ecosystems in Lake Pontchartrain, we must understand the factors that trigger blooms,” she added. “Seeing firsthand the interplay between coastal issues and community inspires me to connect coastal science and policy. My goal remains to connect research with the community, and I will take the experience I gain through the fellowship back home to my native Chesapeake region or adopted Gulf Coast home.”

Photo: Juita MartinezJuita Martinez
ULL Department of Biology

Martinez is a doctoral candidate with a focus in environmental and evolutionary biology and expects to graduate in Spring 2023. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology from Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA. “Growing up in California, I was immersed in a melting pot of human experiences, diverse landscapes and came to value protecting our natural resources,” said Martinez. “Those formative years inspired me to pursue a career in biology. My doctoral research focuses on the consequences of restoration across Louisiana’s barrier islands – an ideal seabird breeding ground. Restoration decisions have wide-reaching effects on both wildlife and humans as intact barrier islands help buffer storm impacts for coastal communities. Witnessing the restoration process from policy to planning and evaluating the results of multiple projects has reinforced my career path in environmental policy,” she said. “During my doctoral journey, I’ve pursued leadership and policy opportunities that affirmed the value of working at the intersection of solving coastal issues, building resilient communities and increasing environmental literacy,” she added. “I am eager to use my first-hand experience and perspective on coastal issues to be a liaison between scientific research and communities who rely on the coast, in part by informing and influencing coastal management and policy decisions.”

Photo: Sarah MorganSarah Morgan
Loyola University New Orleans College of Law

Morgan earned her Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola in May 2022, and she anticipates completing her Master of Law (LL.M) degree in December. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in ocean and coastal resource management from Texas A&M University-Galveston. “I have always been interested in science. Growing up, my favorite Christmas presents were always the science kits from Toy-R-Us. Family trips to Galveston later made me realize my absolute love for the ocean. These loves eventually led me to the marine biology program at Texas A&M,” said Morgan. “But after taking an environmental law class, I realized I truly wanted to work in environmental policy,” she added. “After graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I regrettably learned that science alone cannot fix the problems our communities face. So, I pushed myself further and gained knowledge and experience in law to accomplish my goals. After studying the scientific aspects of resource management and the legal regulations that allow for the protections of those resources, I want to put my skillset and knowledge to use and gain experience in completing assignments that cannot be taught in a classroom. I truly believe that I can one day help create policies that aid coastal communities, especially in the coming years, where the very existence of these communities is at risk due to changing climate.”

Photo: Zachary ToporZachary Topor
ULL Department of Biology

Topor successfully defended his dissertation and will graduate with a Ph.D in environmental and evolutional biology in August 2022. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Maine in Orono, ME. “I love the interdisciplinary nature of marine science. Throughout my program, I’ve seen how organisms interact with their environment and how those interactions impact the ecosystem. Everything is connected, and that is endlessly fascinating,” Topor said. “Those connections extend to us, people who interact and depend on the coast. I’ve grown a great passion for communicating science in a way that is accessible. I like to relate research to good food; best shared with others.” Topor added, “I believe that bringing scientists and policy makers to the same table is the most effective way to make a difference for our coast and for the people who live there. This fellowship will introduce me to the world of federal policy and open a network for collaboration, pushing me towards my goal of becoming a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist.” Topor’s doctoral research focused on the impacts of hurricanes on coastal zooplankton communities in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

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, 86 finalists from across the country will travel to Washington, D.C., to determine in which offices they will work. Fellowships will begin Feb. 1, 2023.