Sea Grant Knauss Fellow brings science to Arctic legislation

What can a scientist bring to Congress, and what can she take from the experience?

A lot, according to Charlotte Regula-Whitefield, a 2017 Sea Grant Knauss Fellow in Washington, DC, sponsored by Alaska Sea Grant. She is spending a year on the staff of Senator Lisa Murkowski, making use of her newly minted PhD based on mariculture research and community outreach.

Regula-Whitefield was in Alaska during the August recess. We caught her on video when she visited Fairbanks, and asked her to describe what she’s working on. “Basically everything to do with the sea and water systems,” she said. Arctic legislation and mariculture are the key projects.

Her favorite part of the job is meeting with constituents. “The ability to actually sit down and talk with people and find out what their concerns are, and figure out how we can help them is huge. I love the ability to have a one-on-one connection with people that we are trying to help in the state.”

As one of about 25 staff in the DC office, Regula-Whitefield is in contact with Sen. Murkowski every day. “Senator Murkowski is dedicated to her staff and to the state. She feels it is important to interact with her staff in every aspect. She is hand-on in a good way,” said Regula-Whitefield.

Her key mentor is legislative assistant Ephraim Froehlich, who brings legal expertise to the office. Froehlich is helping her learn how laws are passed, how to read and write law, and all about legislative committees.

Regula-Whitfield feels like her work is making an impact. She is able to add a scientist’s perspective to legal discussions, and has even made key language changes to bills.

Being in Washington DC is quite a change for Regula-Whitefield. She is originally from upstate New York, and she was in grad school in Fairbanks, so the city is busy and fast paced to her. “It is a wonderful experience,” she said. “But it is definitely a culture shock on many levels.”