Reflections on a Knauss Fellowship

Many Knauss alumni go on to successful careers in marine conservation, policy, and research. In fact, Alaska Sea Grant currently has several Knauss alumni among its ranks.

Caleb Taylor was a 2021 Knauss Fellow and is now working at Alaska Sea Grant as the Seafood Workforce Development Coordinator at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center. Below, he shares reflections and insights on his Knauss experience. 

man in suit reaching out to statue of Abraham Lincoln. U.S. flag in background
Caleb Taylor in the U.S. Capitol Building with statue of Abraham Lincoln. Photo courtesy of Caleb Taylor.

I remember that first day in February, walking into the U.S. Department of Transportation building in Washington, DC, to begin my year as a Knauss Fellow. Just two months earlier I was working in Kodiak as a landing craft deckhand, and nine months prior I was in Louisiana studying estuarine ecology and conducting field research in the Mississippi River Delta. My fellowship year was far different than anything I had previously undertaken, and, as it turns out, the best career move I’ve made. 

I applied to serve as a Knauss Fellow in the executive branch, vying to join one of over 70 host offices in federal agencies and departments, such as NOAA, the Executive Office of the President, National Science Foundation, Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, and many more. After 23 interviews over the course of five days (yes, “placement week” is as stressful as it sounds), I matched with the U.S. Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS). Never heard of them? I hadn’t either, but the breadth and scope of their work and the passion of the group drew me in.

CMTS is a partnership of Federal agencies designed to address and recommend policy improvements for our national marine transportation system. The marine transportation system is defined by the Army Corps of Engineers as, “waterways, ports, and intermodal landside connections that allow the various modes of transportation to move goods to, from, and on the water.” As vast and diverse as the marine transportation system is, so too was my work portfolio throughout the year.

I had the chance to work with interagency action teams focused on U.S. Arctic marine transportation, environmental justice, and offshore energy facilitation. With the Arctic team, I worked alongside the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD), NOAA, and the U.S. Coast Guard to inventory maritime transportation infrastructure in the U.S. Arctic, develop a resource compendium to inform and improve federal decisions in Alaska, and host a research vessel roundtable to improve communication efforts in the region. 

Alongside co-leads from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), MARAD, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Academies’ Marine Board, I supported a conference on autonomous technology in marine transportation, including producing a conference summary and recommendations report to guide maritime autonomous research and development efforts nationwide. 

For the environmental justice portion of my portfolio, I supported EPA-led initiatives to inform federal agencies on best practices and lessons learned on environmental justice in the maritime domain. 

I also worked with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement as part of the offshore energy facilitation team developing policy recommendations to mitigate unexploded ordinances found during offshore wind construction.

The end of my fellowship was a collaborative webinar that CMTS hosted in partnership with the Danish Consulate and Embassy of Norway on applied research and international efforts decarbonizing the marine transportation system in support of the United Nations’ Decade of Ocean Science.

I was able to travel during my fellowship. I attended the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland, and gained perspective on international cooperation on Arctic policy. I visited stakeholders throughout Alaska (Kotzebue, Nome, Anchorage, Juneau), learning about efforts to improve marine safety. I co-chaired a poster session at the American Geophysical Union conference in New Orleans on the changing Arctic marine transportation system.  

In 2021, most government offices were still in pandemic remote-work arrangements, and only about half of the 71 Knauss fellows moved to Washington, D.C. Those of us that did gathered for in-person networking, professional development,  and social events. I worked online from my tiny 800 sq. ft. Capitol Hill apartment for much of the time. Fortunately the Smithsonian museums were a short walk away, and running along the National Mall and around the Capitol Building was inspiring.

group of Knauss fellows and two dogs dressed in winter gear standing on sandy beach on Chesapeake Bay in front of long suspension bridge.
Knauss group celebrating fellowship completion with a polar plunge in the Chesapeake. Photo courtesy of Caleb Taylor.

Looking back on my fellowship year, I was exposed to the work cultures, personalities, and expertise of over 25 federal agencies involved with carrying out ocean and marine policies. I contributed to resolving some real-world problems facing our marine transportation system. I traveled to new places. I learned that people are just people, regardless of their important titles, legislation they have sponsored, or time spent on television. I received invaluable guidance and mentorship from former Knauss Fellow and Executive Director of CMTS Helen Brohl. While the 2021 Knauss cohort worked from near and far due to pandemic complications, we made the time to support each other. I gained a close community of friends and a network of accomplished, diverse, and highly passionate marine science and policy wonks to support me—and I them—throughout our careers. I will remember my time in Washington fondly.If you are a graduate student with an interest in ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources and the national policy decisions affecting them, I encourage you to apply. Want to learn more? I recommend you watch this recent Knauss Fellowship video. Reach out to any previous fellows you may know (if you don’t know any, I’m happy to talk to you or connect you with other alumni) and to your state Sea Grant office. Applications will open later this year and be announced on Alaska Sea Grant’s fellowship website.