“I will remember it for the rest of my life“– CC&E alumni recall their Knauss Fellowships

January 12, 2024

BATON ROUGE - Since 2007, seventeen Masters and PhD students from the LSU College of the Coast & Environment, or CC&E, have been awarded a prestigious John A. Knauss Fellowship. In fact, in 16 of the last 17 years, at least one student from CC&E has received the award.

CC&E’s excellent record of success with the fellowship program, which is offered by NOAA through its Sea Grant offices, demonstrates how well our students engage in the important business of coastal environmental policymaking and regulation, said John White, CC&E’s associate dean of research.

The fellowship allows its recipients a policy and management perspective on many of the coastal and marine issues they've studied in their time at CC&E - they are placed in a federal "host" agency, where they work on anything from climate adaptation to coastal restoration to fisheries management.

“Knauss Fellowships offer direct experience working in the executive and legislative branches of the federal government on the latest issues in ocean and coastal management, fisheries and research,” said Matthew Bethel, the associate director of research at Louisiana Sea Grant office.

“These fellowships allow our graduates to share critical, scientifically-based knowledge with governmental policymakers in Washington D.C., helping to enhance the safety and security of all people in coastal regions. This program provides a springboard for additional leadership opportunities in the future, ”said White, who also holds the John and Catherine Day Professorship in CC&E’s Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences. 

In fact, the position is used as a career jumping-off point. “Many Knauss Fellows get hired by their host offices following their Fellowship and have very rewarding careers in the federal government and beyond,” Bethel said.

Having Louisiana graduates as Knauss Fellows can also help advance issues important to Louisiana, Bethel continued. “Fellows may work on very specific topics as experts or serve in a high-level coordination role on coastal and marine science policy issues that are of particular importance to Louisiana. “

We caught up with a few CC&E alumni to find out how their experiences as Knauss Fellows has affected their careers, and what advice they would offer to current students seeking the position.


Emily Smith

Emily A Smith

Emily Smith
DOCS, 2014

Knauss Placement: NOAA Global Ocean Monitoring & Observing Program

What is your best memory from your Knauss Fellowship? I had not had many opportunities to travel when I was younger due to limited finances. I was given the chance to travel to Palau to help organize a meeting that would bring ocean observers together in the region to discuss needs and gaps for observing. Going to Jellyfish Lake and swimming with this unique species was amazing and I will remember it for the rest of my life. 

How did being a student in CC&E prepare you for your Knauss fellowship? I was a very active graduate student. I served on the seminar committee, was social committee co-chair for CEGO, and spent a year as CEGO president. The technical skills I learned [during my degree] were also useful as they showed me I could learn a new skill set. 

Being a PhD student also taught me how much I do not know... Coming into the Knauss fellowship, knowing that I could learn new technical skills, I chose to take a position away from Biological Oceanography. The main skills I did use were… communication, organization, and taking initiative on things that did not have an obvious lead person.

What advice do you have for other students who are interested in the fellowship? I was also a Graduate Representative on the Student Council for LSU, which gave me exposure beyond CC&E. Make sure to expand your circles beyond pure science. If you have an interest, go try it. 

Also, make sure to also talk to your fellow graduate students. Learn about their research, especially if it is different from your own. The more diverse experiences you have, the better you will be able to adapt to new places and situations.



Kenneth Erickson

Kenneth Erickson

Kenneth Erickson
DOCS, 2020

Knauss Placement: NOAA Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs

What did you do during your Knauss Fellowship? My job was to represent the agency to Congress and to help communicate between Congress and the Executive Branch. During my time there I covered a couple of different programs--our National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, and also a portion of the National Marine Fishery Service, which actually included a little bit of the Gulf region. It was cool to get to see some of those things I've worked on at LSU tie back into federal policy.

Whenever Congress had a question about a program, they would come to me and I would help find the right information or organize a briefing. I had the opportunity to travel with a couple of NOAA leadership out to NOAA sites and take both Hill staff and NOAA leadership out to see what they're funding and what they're authorizing. I really felt like a full member of the team from the beginning, which was an awesome way to gain experience and really get hands on mentorship.

Did you have any interest in policy or communications before your Knauss Fellowship? I studied fisheries in North Carolina before I came down to LSU, and during that time I had a chance to attend some of the North Carolina Marine Fisheries commission meetings. I realized that, you know, even if you're doing science or you're going to be a biologist, a lot of those decisions that ultimately impact you are policy decisions.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in being Knauss Fellows? Each host office is looking for a different skill set, a different type of person. Some of them are really open to hiring people that don't have [the exact] background because they recognize it as an opportunity to learn... If you want to apply, think about ways that you can build some of those communication skills, leadership skills, extra research skills.

How can Knauss Fellows make the most of their time in the program? You have an opportunity to talk to anybody, you have an opportunity to tap into a huge alumni network. You have an opportunity to really kind of build your fellowship here and your travel to the way you want it, and to get you to whatever you see as your next step.



Courtney Hammond

C. Nicole Hammond

C. Nicole Hammond
DOCS, 2023

Knauss Placement: NOAA Center of Satellite Applications and Research (STAR) which is a part of NOAA Satellites (NESDIS)

You’ve spent the last year as  Knauss Fellow. Can you tell us a little about what you’ve been doing? In my Knauss role, I am working on outreach, education and engagement for my office. My portfolio includes serving as program support staff for the William M. Lapenta - NOAA Student internship Program, supporting communications initiatives within the office and boosting user engagement and supporting strategic partnerships with tribal communities in the Arctic. 

What experiences at CC&E best prepared you for your Fellowship? CC&E provided me with a community that allowed me to grow and learn. 

It helped me develop important research skills that allow me to think critically and develop problem-solving skills. During my time as a graduate student, I also had a lot of opportunities outside of research to develop upon my leadership and communication skills which serves me well in my current role focused on outreach, education, and engagement. 

What advice do you have for students looking to apply to the Knauss Fellowship? Take advantage of the opportunities and resources available to you. You never know where a connection or opportunity may lead you. Don't be afraid to take a chance because you never know unless you try.