The new Keystone Fellowship and Undergraduate Science Communications Fellowships aim to reach a broader and more diverse group of students and recent graduates
By Bobbie Buzzell, WSG Science Communications Fellow
“For over 40 years, Washington Sea Grant has played an important role in cultivating the next generation of marine science and policy professionals,” says Deborah Purce, fellowship and research specialist for Washington Sea Grant (WSG). WSG fellowships provide students and recent graduates with opportunities to gain real-world experience in marine research and policy at state, national and international levels. In a competitive job market, this real-time experience gives many fellows a jumpstart to their careers.
While the fellowship program is robust, WSG is seeking ways to expand and
diversify what it has to offer. As part of a 10-year road map to increase diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) across all of its programs, WSG recently took a closer look at its current fellowship opportunities and who has benefited from them. It quickly became clear that opportunities for undergraduates and more diverse groups were needed. For example, if you go to the WSG current and recent fellow webpage, a homogenous pattern emerges, with photos of primarily white female graduate students.
WSG is asking hard questions about how to expand its fellowship programs, such as: What are the barriers potential applicants may face? “Over the past two years, WSG has begun to think comprehensively about equity and inclusion and has made it a priority to broaden participation in our valuable and highly regarded fellowship programs,” Purce says.
“Keystone” is a term originally coined for the slab of stone at the top of an arch, locking the supporting stones in place. Without that stone, everything falls apart. Later, the term was used by Robert T. Paine to describe a species that has a disproportionately large influence relative to its abundance within a biological community. These definitions are a perfect way to describe the importance of DEI in the marine science and policy field. Similar to the Knauss and WSG Hershman fellowships, the new WSG Keystone Fellowship Program matches fellows with host organizations. However, the new fellowship has a greater focus on recruiting, retaining and engaging students and recent graduates who represent the social diversity of coastal communities that WSG works within.
Enter Adrienne Hampton, the inaugural Keystone Fellow. Hampton, who identifies as a woman of color, says “the opportunity is creating access into the marine science and policy landscape where significant disparities in the representation, content, and processes for implementing DEI exist.” The fellowship paired Hampton with the Seattle Aquarium, where she uses an environmental justice lens to inform local and national policy. Hampton advocates for “expanding the array of ocean health advocates” to increase the diversity of voices represented in the field. Erin Meyer, director of conservation programs and partnerships for the aquarium, supervises Hampton. She says, “The aquarium has been on its own journey of DEI, internally and programmatically. Hosting this fellowship is putting intention behind our work and has provided the opportunity to begin building a network of Washington ocean advocates that represent the diversity of people in our state.”
WSG is expanding its fellowships in other areas as well. In an effort to extend marine science opportunities to undergraduates, WSG introduced the new Undergraduate Science Communications Fellowship last year. This fellowship allows undergraduates from around the state to build a writing portfolio and apply their science writing skills beyond academia—to platforms such as videography, blogging and social media. Communicating science well is a foundational skill for any budding scientist because it is critical to educate the public so that they can make informed decisions on issues such as sea level rise, harmful algae blooms and climate change.
The original Science Communication Fellowship was designed for both graduate and undergraduate students. MaryAnn Wagner, WSG assistant director for communications said, “We noticed that undergraduates were competing against graduate students for the same fellowship slots, creating an uneven playing field. I realized that we were in a position to correct that scenario by creating a distinct fellowship open only to undergraduates.” She also noted that paid internships or fellowship opportunities for undergraduates are very limited. Many recent college graduates leave school with a degree and a steep debt, but few real-world skills—which even entry-level positions often require. Through the WSG Undergraduate Science Communication Fellowship, students can get experience that will give them a head start when applying for jobs once they graduate.
Andrew Chin, a UW undergraduate in marine biology, was the first student selected for the undergraduate fellowship. Chin went on to become editor-in-chief of Field Notes, a campus online communications publication, where he says he “applies a lot of the skills learned through the WSG fellowship.”
To further expand the science writing opportunities for graduates, the UW College of the Environment recently partnered with WSG to create their own Science Communications Fellowship program, modeled after WSG’s program. In the first round, they accepted four fellows.
The creation of these three fellowships — the Undergraduate Science Communication Fellowship, the UW College of the Environment Science Writing Fellowship and the WSG Keystone Fellowship — is a great start for providing professional opportunities to a more diverse set of students. For many students, this is their first chance to apply their knowledge in a realistic setting, and attaining the fellowship can give them a greater competitive edge. “The internal work is what influences the external outputs,” Hampton says. “Sea Grant is utilizing its power to take action.”