Following CSUMB grad Caroline Rodriguez to Washington, DC

Caroline Rodriguez at Marina State Beach

Caroline will earn an MS degree in marine science | Photo by Brent Dundore-Arias

December 8, 2021

By Walter Ryce

“I nearly drowned twice when I was four.”

That’s how Caroline Rodriguez, a graduate student in CSU Monterey Bay’s Department of Marine Science, begins her career statement.

She goes on to chronicle how she overcame her fear of the water to become an expert in it by literally diving into aquatics, from swimming to coaching to lifeguarding. And now, aquatic research and marine conservation.

Rodriguez has earned a spot in the 2022 Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship Program and is on her way to Washington, D.C., for a year-long paid fellowship with the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.

(Follow Caroline’s one-year journey in DC, navigating high-level marine and ocean policy at #CSUMB2DC on Twitter.)

Cheryl Logan, PhD, is Rodriguez’s advisor and says it is a “prestigious” award for students finishing Masters, PhD and JD programs in marine science, policy or management. 

Applicants are first reviewed in one of NOAA’s National Sea Grant College programs in 34 states; in California, it’s the California Sea Grant, a partnership between the state, the federal government, and universities.

If the applicant is accepted, they get reviewed again at the national level by a panel of experts. Those chosen as NOAA Knauss (pronounced kuh-NAWS) award finalists are matched with different government agencies where they may do a year-long paid fellowship. That matching process is called Placement Week.

That’s a week of meetings with agency officials, interviews, presentations, and networking events, all designed for everyone to get to know each other before their stated preferences are aligned by an algorithm. This year that all happened virtually.

“Placement Week was exhausting, but very exciting!” Rodriguez said.

Once a match is made, the student is sent to their fellowship in Washington DC.

“These placements can serve as a bridge to permanent positions with NOAA, the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geologic Survey, and similar agencies,” said Corey Garza, CSUMB Marine Science professor and director of the Coastal and Marine Ecosystems Program.

On Oct. 27 Rodriguez got her assignment. After a few webinars and a federal background check, she is heading off to DC in February to work with NOAA Headquarters Office in the Office of International Affairs.

“I will be coordinating and participating in NOAA's international policies and working across NOAA Line Offices to develop NOAA positions on international initiatives as well as drafting policy briefings for international multilateral meetings,” Rodriguez said.

She wants to provide accurate scientific information to decision-makers and augment NOAA’s mission to protect and increase knowledge of the ocean, atmosphere and environment.

“I am super excited about my placement and can't wait to begin!” she said.

Of the 73 fellows selected for the 2022 program, Rodriguez is one of four students from California and the only student from the CSU system.

Her previous research experience includes stints at NOAA Center for Coastal Marine Ecosystems in Seaside, California; NOAA Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu, Hawaii; Accion Ecologica in Quito, Ecuador; and elsewhere. 

She’s also logged plenty of grants, awards, outreach and leadership experience in her productive career track, and is honed in on disparities that keep underrepresented young people out of the sciences.

“She is highly dedicated to mentoring and cares deeply about the success of undergraduates she works with” says Logan.

And now she adds this high-level federal experience to her formidable background.

Rodriguez leaves for Washington, DC, in February and those interested can accompany her journey by following #CSUMB2DC on Twitter.

CSUMB will post social media messages and photos from Rodriguez every month, updating followers as she navigates job, the culture, and the day-to-day experiences of living and working in the nation’s capital.

To learn more about the Knauss Fellowship, go to the NOAA Sea Grant website.