Alaska Sea Grant State Fellowship alumnae move forward in their careers and education

Alaska Sea Grant’s State Fellowships are a career-building program modeled after the highly successful Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. The fellowships provide an opportunity to acquire on-the-job experience in marine resource policies and programs in Alaska and they are geared toward soon-to-graduate or recently finished graduate students interested in marine policy and science. 

Since 2015, 11 men and women have completed the fellowship so far, with three still finishing up from the 2018 cohort and three beginning their fellowships in the 2019 cohort. From time to time we check in recent fellows to see what they’re up to professionally.

The 2017 class of the Alaska Sea Grant State Fellowship program consisted of four women who worked with a variety of organizations in the state. After completing the fellowship, Danielle Meeker and Sara Cleaver landed jobs in Alaska. Genevieve Johnson and Kim Ovitz are furthering their education by pursuing doctoral degrees. 

Sara Cleaver

A young woman with a red cap on a boat

Cleaver currently works for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council as a fishery analyst. She started her fellowship at NPFMC in 2017 and was offered a position upon completion in 2018.

Cleaver’s fellowship work helped her gain valuable experience that has been useful in her current employment; she first had involvement with the Council processes during her fellowship, including working on projects involving fisheries science and policy.  

Now, as a fishery analyst, Cleaver recently contributed to several parts of the Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan (BS FEP), including putting together the majority of the maps. 

“My hopes for the future of the plan is to continue helping to clarify the value the FEP has for our current process, helping people understand how the FEP is going to increase application of ecosystem-based management plans in the North Pacific. That includes successfully implementing the [specific goals in the document], starting with climate change and local and traditional knowledge,” Cleaver said.

Diana Evans, Deputy Director at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, explained that Cleaver has been a huge help since joining.

“Sara is responsible for writing and presenting impact analyses for the various management actions that the Council is considering, setting out the likely environmental and economic impacts of alternative management options,” Evans said. “She communicates effectively with stakeholders in the Council process, and works well with our staff and our partners at the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. We are glad to have her on board!”

Genevieve Johnson 

A young woman smiling

Johnson is currently furthering her education, having just completed the first year of her Ph.D. program in integrative biology. She is attending the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, where she is using transcriptomics—the study of the RNA molecules within cells—to study how organisms respond to factors in their environment.

“I want to continue to build my skills in molecular ecology and lead innovative projects to further our knowledge about aquatic organisms and ecosystems,” Johnson said. “Although I am currently working in freshwater systems, I would like to shift back to working in marine systems at some point.”

Johnson spent her fellowship at the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center studying chum salmon genetics and Arctic ecosystem research. However, despite her switch to freshwater system research, she said that her fellowship research is what got her interested in her current project and exploring broader topics in molecular ecology.

“My fellowship had a large impact on my current and future plans. During the fellowship, I decided that I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. so that I could explore more topics in molecular ecology, and my fellowship experience is part of what helped me secure my current position at the University of Guelph,” Johnson said.

Ed Farley oversaw the majority of work done by Johnson during her fellowship. Farley is the program manager for Ecosystem Monitoring and Assessment (EMA) Program at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Auke Bay Laboratories in Juneau.

“I can honestly say that Genevieve was one of the best new scientists on any survey I have conducted. She was extremely positive, learned tasks quickly, and I received many great comments from PIs on the survey regarding her work ethic and personality,” Farley said. “She gave two presentations on Arctic research that were of high quality and helped us with other tasks such as data QA/QC (quality assurance and quality control) and supply inventory.  She spent the other half of the time working with the genetics program.”

Kim Ovitz

Young woman smiling

Ovitz spent the year following her fellowship traveling and completing the manuscript for her graduate research. She spent time in areas around Europe and South America before returning to Anchorage this summer.

During her time abroad, Ovitz was able to complete and publish a manuscript in the International Journal of the Commons (Ovitz and Johnson 2019) with her advisor, Teresa Johnson, associate professor at the University of Maine.

“Kim was an outstanding graduate student at the University of Maine and brought to our program a very positive work ethic, strong leadership and communication skills, and an interdisciplinary and applied academic background.”

“Her marine policy research involved working closely with Maine sea urchin fishery harvesters, managers and scientists. Her applied research involved participant observation at management meetings, in-depth interviews with harvesters and other stakeholders, and a structured mail survey of all urchin harvesters,” Johnson said.

Now back in Alaska, she is contracted by the National Marine Fisheries Service via the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. There, she is continuing the work studying beluga whales that she started as a fellow. 

Ovitz will also continue her studies of beluga whales in the academic arena while pursuing her doctorate.

“Pursuing a Ph.D. has been a long-term goal of mine. I’m excited to say that I was just accepted into a funded Ph.D. program through the University of Manitoba’s Department of Environment and Geography,” Ovitz said.

Ovitz considers her fellowship a pivotal experience. She explained she had no marine mammal background going in and without the fellowship, she wouldn’t have been able to pursue the opportunities she has had since, and will aim for in the future.

Danielle Meeker

Woman with ocean in the background

Meeker is currently engaged in research and private consulting. At the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Meeker is pursuing several research interests that are critical to the future of Alaska.

Tina Buxbaum, Program Manager at ACCAP, emphasized that Meeker’s research has made a significant contribution to their program.

“Danielle has an incredible work ethic and excels in grabbing ahold of a task and running with it.  She is, with her always positive can-do attitude, great to work with collaboratively, as part of a team, but she also never disappoints when given a task to accomplish independently,” Buxbaum said.

Meeker explained that her current research, focusing on the economic impacts of climate change in various sectors of the state, could not be done without her experience from the fellowship. Specifically, Meeker has focused on fisheries, mixed economies, and wildfire management.

“I think that the fellowship was the best possible way for me to get my foot in the door in Alaska. I felt incredibly fortunate to have a front row seat to political decision-making and to be supported by people who are not just experts, but who are deeply invested in the future of the state,” Meeker said.