SMEA Alumni: Where are they now?

By Spencer Showalter

NGO Sector

Sascha Peterson, Class of 2007
Founder and Director of Adaptation International

What has your career path looked like since SMEA?

I did my thesis work at SMA with Ed Miles and Tom Leschine focused on bridging the gap between science and policy in climate change. After graduation, I worked briefly for the Climate Impacts Group at UW helping to develop the first state wide sea level rise projections. I then worked with the City of Austin’s climate protection program before founding Adaptation International in 2010.  Adaptation International helps communities look to the future and build resilience to the challenges of a changing climate.
    We believe that now is the time to take action to build resilience.
    We believe that working collaboratively and including all voices gets the most meaningful results.
    We believe that this engagement process is critical to developing effective adaptation strategies and equitable solutions.
By working together, we empower communities to thrive in the 21st century and beyond.

What aspect of SMEA have you used most in your career?

Definitely the ability to understand how local governments work and the nuances of what goes into making policies and programs really work.  My entire career has been focused on being a translator between the science world and on-the-ground action and helping to bridge the gap between those two areas. SMEA helped me strengthen my understanding of and ability to analyze science and make it useful for decision-makers.

Do you have any advice for those of us getting our MMAs right now?
   
Continue to be the heroine or hero of your own story. You get to write this chapter and the next one, so follow your passion and interests. Use your time at UW to strengthen both the hard and soft skills you will need to succeed, and then go for it.

Rachel M. Gregg, Class of 2007
Senior Scientist at EcoAdapt, a nonprofit organization based in Seattle that helps organizations and communities prepare for and respond to climate change.

What has your career path looked like since SMEA?

I worked at Washington Sea Grant as a Research Associate on several projects, including supporting the evaluation of proposals for competitive research programs and annual reporting requirements to the National Sea Grant Office, and co-writing a guidance document to assist coastal counties in implementing shoreline management policies. I also worked with Terrie Klinger at SMEA, examining the status of coastal water resources and watershed conditions in Olympic National Park and Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. I also worked for the San Juan County Marine Resources Committee on their effort to designate an aquatic reserve, which included research and technical synthesis, and coordinating outreach events with tribal, state, industry, and community representatives.

What aspect of SMEA have you used most in your career?

I’ve really relied on the connections I made and the broader network of alumni. Several of my work opportunities have come about because of recommendations from peers and professors.

Do you have any advice for those of us getting our MMAs right now?

Say yes to every opportunity you’re given and seek out ways to create opportunities where there may not be any obvious need. Go to the alumni events and other schools’ events in the college.

Chris Woodley, Class of 2000
Executive Director, Groundfish Forum

What has your career path looked like since SMEA?

I continued to serve in the US Coast Guard for 14 years after graduating SMEA. I retired from the USCG in 2014 and went to work for Groundfish Forum – a trade association that promotes the Amendment 80 Groundfish sector.

What aspect of SMEA have you used most in your career?

I don’t mean to be flippant, but reading, writing, and critical thinking. Especially in the realm of policy analysis.

Do you have any advice for those of us getting our MMAs right now?

Most of the people I went to SMEA with all found work in their fields, so I think the connections you make and skills you develop at SMA are extremely useful.

Katrina Hoffman, Class of 2007
President and CEO, Prince William Sound Science Center, and Executive Director, Oil Spill Recovery Institute

What has your career path looked like since SMEA?

I have stayed in the marine conservation/marine resource management/marine research and education realm. I worked as a Marine Advisory Services agent (Coastal Resources Specialist) for Washington Sea Grant for several years before accepting the roles of President and CEO for the Prince William Sound Science Center, and Executive Director of the Oil Spill Recovery Institute, both of which I have now held for about seven years.

What aspect of SMEA have you used most in your career?

Connections and relationships: to colleagues at different agencies as well as former SMEA classmates and advisors. Keep in touch and maintain good relationships. It will benefit future collaborations, help job opportunities evolve, and keep you surrounded by folks who are a good network of advice, mentorship, friendship, and the like.

Do you have any advice for those of us getting our MMAs right now?


The job market is tough. Keep your chin up and hold the faith that you’ll find career positions that are a good fit for you. At the same time, know that shorter term engagements, such as contracts, volunteering, or seasonal work, are sometimes the foot in the door or relationship building opportunity you need for others to be willing to make a longer commitment. Develop marketable skills. Be aware of and develop your communication skills. Be willing to pursue more responsibility than you think you are qualified for if you have the grit and persistence to commit and expand—this is one kind of risk taking that can pay off. If things feel stagnant, find ways to keep your environment and opportunities positive and challenging.

Michael Schmidt, Class of 2004
Deputy Director, Long Live the Kings

What has your career path looked like since SMEA?

Project assistant, project coordinator, program director, deputy director, all at Long Live the Kings.

What aspect of SMEA have you used most in your career?

Base understanding of government, and how to assess publications.

Do you have any advice for those of us getting our MMAs?

Take advantage of the connections you make through the program. Spend time in DC if you have the opportunity. I didn’t but know it was really helpful for setting career course for those who did.


Private Sector/Industry

Gregg Casad, Class of 2007
Owner/Managing Director of Exulans LLC, a consulting company focused on providing enforcement and compliance solutions to support marine conservation.

What has your career path looked like since SMEA?

As one of the Coast Guard students, after graduation I was assigned to a Headquarters job in Washington DC. I spent four years serving as the Deputy Chief for Fisheries Enforcement and two years as the Coast Guard Liaison to NOAA Fisheries and Department of State Office of Marine Conservation. In 2013, I returned to Seattle to fill a position as the Coast Guard’s Deputy Chief of Enforcement in Oregon and Washington and the agency’s designated representative to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council. I retired from the Coast Guard early in 2018 and started my work with Exulans.

What aspect of SMEA have you used most in your career?

The networking, period. I’ve reached out to classmates and other SMA/SMEA graduates over the years to gain assistance and support on marine conservation projects.

Do you have any advice for those of us getting our MMAs right now?

Congratulations on your decision to join the long line of UW SMA/SMEA students.

Sarah Nayani, Class of 2015
Director of Compliance, Arctic Storm Management Group, LLC

What has your career path looked like since SMEA?

I worked at NMFS (West Coast Region) while attending SMEA and continued there for another year after graduation, and then received a job offer and moved to Arctic Storm in fall 2016. We’re pollock catcher processors; it has been incredible (and incredibly challenging) working for industry. Loving this side of the fisheries field.

What aspect of SMEA have you used most in your career?

Dave Fluharty’s classes and networking connections, as well as much of the coursework from Ryan Kelly’s classes – particularly his marine law class, have been extraordinarily helpful in my careers at NOAA and Arctic Storm. Also, the policy class I took at the Evan’s School was outstanding and formed the basis of my thesis, which I recently submitted to a journal with a colleague at NOAA, and the continued access (through SMEA) to SAFS classes, professors, and events.

Do you have any advice for those of us getting our MMAs right now?

Congratulations, and go into fisheries!! We need you! Huge “year class” retiring from top
positions in industry.


Government

Yvonne deReynier, Class of 1995
Senior Resource Management Specialist, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, West Coast Region

What has your career path looked like since SMEA?

Presidential Management Fellow, 1995-1997.  
National Marine Fisheries Service: Resource Management Specialist, 1997-2001;
Groundfish Branch Chief, 2002-2007;
Senior Resource Management Specialist, 2008-present.

What aspect of SMEA have you used most in your career?

Like SMEA, my career has been multi-disciplinary.  SMEA’s training across disciplines gave me the facility to listen to and translate between practitioners in a variety of fields.

Do you have any advice for those of us getting our MMAs right now?

Political cycles are brief and measured in years or months.  Natural resource management requires thinking about the consequences of human actions over time scales of long-lived organisms and ecosystems – decades and centuries.  As you consider your work ahead, ask yourself how you can solve problems now and lay paths for others to solve problems in the future.

Seema Balwani, Class of 2001
Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator, NOAA

What has your career path looked like since SMEA?

I am the Regional Coordinator for the Pacific Islands at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I provide support for the NOAA Pacific Region Executive Board, and conduct strategic planning, lead cross-NOAA projects, and study climate change in the Pacific Islands.  I have previously served as Branch Chief for Policy in the Sustainable Fisheries Division of NOAA Fisheries, and as Senior Conservation Manager for the Environmental Defense Fund leading fisheries policy development in the Southeast US.  Previously, I worked for NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, and spent a year as a Sea Grant Fellow in the office of Senator Akaka (D-HI). I graduated from Columbia University, and received my Masters of Marine Policy Degree from the University of Washington.

What aspect of SMEA have you used most in your career?

SMEA provided a solid foundation in oceans policy, so it has helped me in every part of my career.

Do you have any advice for those of us getting our MMAs right now?

I wish I had done a combined science and policy degree, instead of a straight policy degree.  That combination is extremely useful in the workplace, and for getting through the USAJobs hiring process.

Mikaela Freeman, Class of 2015
Marine Science and Policy Analyst, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Coastal Sciences Division

What has your career path looked like since SMEA?

After graduating from SMEA I was a Hershman Marine Policy Fellow and worked for the WA State Parks and Recreation Commission’s Recreational Boating Program as the Paddlesport Safety Coordinator. In that position I focused on working towards creating a paddlesport program for Washington state that would include new policy to aid the paddlesport community and fund paddlesport education, safety, public access, etc. After the Hershman I moved to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and began working as a Post Masters Research Associate. I mostly work on an international initiative for the International Energy Agency – Ocean Energy Systems called Annex IV that focuses on understanding and sharing knowledge on environmental effects of marine renewable energy (wave and tidal). This past May I transitioned from a Post Masters RA position to a permanent position as a Marine Science and Policy Analyst at PNNL.

What aspect of SMEA have you used most in your career?

The connections that SMEA provides, especially since people in the marine field (at least in Washington) are very aware of the SMEA degree and what that implies as far as your training and education.

Do you have any advice for those of us getting our MMAs right now?

Start making connections while pursuing your degree. Building connections is really beneficial, whether that is though working on a capstone project or finding an internship that can provide you opportunities to start networking.

Katrina Lassiter, Class of 2007
Acting Policy Unit Supervisor, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Aquatic Resources Division

What has your career path looked like since SMEA?

2008 Knauss Fellowship with US Senator Patty Murray
2009 – 2012 Policy Advisor in US House of Representatives
2012 – present Aquatic Policy at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources

What aspect of SMEA have you used most in your career?

For about a year, I took a course with Marc Hershman through which students were the research and writing team for the Governor’s Ocean Policy Working Group (OPWG). We attended meetings at the Capitol, participated in outreach in coastal communities, and worked closely with state agency and Governor’s staff to prepare the chapters of the Washington State Ocean Action Plan. The applied nature of that course provided me with long lasting skills and relationships. For example, when I worked for Congress, state agency staff from the OPWG came to brief the Senator or Congressman on the Coastal Zone Management Program.

Do you have any advice for those of us getting our MMAs right now?

Build lasting relationships with your peers – there is a good chance you will lean on each other throughout your careers.

Libby Gier, Class of 2012
Habitat Strategic Initiative Technical Lead, Environmental Planner 4, Washington State Department of Natural Resources

What has your career path looked like since SMEA?

Hershman Fellowship – Washington DNR
Environmental Planner 2 – Washington DNR
Environmental Planner 4 – Washington DNR

What aspect of SMEA have you used most in your career?

Getting into the fellowship was the most impactful event for my career path. I’ve used the network of professors and fellow students quite a bit for career advancement and career support. I’ve utilized skills from interview analysis, GIS analysis, and policy analysis most.

Do you have any advice for those of us getting our MMAs right now?

Figure out where you want to be or what type of work you want to do, then find a group that is doing similar work (or is in the place you want to ultimately work) and scope out a project that is useful to them. My objective in school was to gather information and create impactful recommendations for people that need more capacity in the field I was interested in. I felt valued while collecting the work, learned a lot, and provided useful information for a topic I cared about. Partnering with a real-world entity gives you real-world experience and provides a foot in the door while you do good, useful work.

Laura Johnson, Class of 2012
Policy and Technology Director, Washington State Department of Health, Division of Disease Control and Health Statistics

What has your career path looked like since SMEA?

Marc Hershman Marie Policy Fellowship at the Department of Health (DOH)
Illness Coordinator for Shellfish Licensing and Certification Section at DOH
Section Manager for Shellfish Licensing and Certification Section at DOH
Policy and Technology Director for Disease Control and Health Statistics at DOH

What aspect of SMEA have you used most in your career?

Research skills, policy analysis, general marine policy and science knowledge

Do you have any advice for those of us getting our MMAs right now?

Balance—make sure you leave with a good basis in policy and science.  If you came in with a lot of science, focus on policy, if you came in more from the social sciences/humanities, focus on the natural sciences/statistics/etc. Spend time building relationships while getting your degree and learning about potential career opportunities and options.  

Ruth Howell, Class of 2007
Branch Chief for Communications and External Affairs, NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region

What has your career path looked like since SMEA?
Presidential Management Fellowship, Budget & Program Analyst, NOAA’s Office of Budget (DC)
Communications Program Manager, NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center (Seattle)
Branch Chief for Communications and External Affairs, NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region (Seattle/Portland OR)

What aspects of SMEA have you used most in your career?

Exposure to the wide array of issues in marine policy and how they intersect
The emphasis on the human dimensions side of the story
The people/network

Do you have any advice for those of us getting our MMAs right now?

Take advantage of opportunities and don’t underestimate making opportunities.
Don’t burn bridges – this is a small field and you continue to run into colleagues throughout the years.
Success in a job and advancing is as much about how you work and your attitude (willing to take on the projects the office needs? Develop good working relationships? Contribute a positive outlook to the workplace?) as much as your knowledge and skills.