WSG News Blog

The Washington Sea Grant Hershman Fellowship has a track record of launching recent graduates into marine policy careers

Many Hershman alums find themselves coming back full circle as they mentor the next generation of fellows

From the Winter 2023/2024 Sea Star

By Samantha Larson, WSG Science Writer

Since 2008, Washington Sea Grant (WSG) has placed recent graduate students in offices across the state to spend a year working on ocean and coastal science and policy issues. Over that time, the WSG Hershman Fellowship has grown into a highly respected, sought-after opportunity for students and host offices alike. 

The 2023–2024 iteration of the WSG Hershman Fellowship has established yet another bar of the program’s success: six of the seven host mentors are themselves fellowship alums. “I think this speaks to the value that those former fellows found through the program, it speaks in how many of those former fellows have now ended up in leadership roles, and it speaks in those former fellows being able to build the argument to invest more of their organization’s resources in hosting a current fellow,” says Deborah Purce, WSG fellowship and research specialist.

Fellows kayak at their orientation with fellowship and research specialist Deborah Purce (far right).

The WSG Hershman Fellowship was the brainchild of former WSG director Penny Dalton. As an alum of the Knauss Fellowship — a Sea Grant program that places recent graduate students in host offices in Washington, D.C. — she deeply understood the value of these types of early career opportunities and the potential of a marine policy program in Washington state. “Because the state of Washington has always been a national leader in ocean and coastal policies, it seemed like a logical place to have a state policy fellowship program,” Dalton says. “Soon after I came to Washington Sea Grant I started working with Marc Hershman — former director of the University of Washington School of Marine and Environmental Affairs — to develop the program. It quickly became our most competitive fellowship because we have many students who are really interested in policy, but want to stay in the state of Washington.” When Hershman passed away in early 2008, Dalton decided to name the fellowship program in his honor.

Over the past 15 years, WSG Hershman alums have grown careers that have demonstrated the power of the fellowship program in building pathways into high-impact marine fields. Part of this is thanks to the high-level work fellows are thrown into. “The fellowship is a unique opportunity for a recent master’s or doctoral student in marine science and policy to have the chance to jump into an agency in a way that otherwise wouldn’t be open to them through a typical entry-level position,” says Purce. “Fellows often reflect on what a big deal that is — the people and rooms they have access to, and the partners they engage with. The fellowship gives them this unparalleled networking opportunity.” 

The trend of former WSG Hershman fellows becoming host mentors began years ago. Nathalie Hamel, one of the two fellows in the very first year of the program, was placed at the Washington Department of Ecology in 2008. She now works at the Puget Sound Partnership as the vital signs reporting lead and has mentored many fellows in the time since.

When Henry Bell was a Hershman fellow placed at Ecology in 2020, he was mentored by Bobback Talebi. “From day one, the mentorship and friendship that I got from Bobback was really amazing,” Bell says. “He respected and sought out my opinion and recommendations on some pretty big publications and other work he was doing.” Down the road, Bell tried to mirror this approach in his mentorship of 2022–2023 fellow Olivia Zimmerman — which he found to benefit his own work as well. “I’ve grown a lot and learned more about my work and position from mentoring her. When you teach a subject, you learn it much better,” he says. 

Bell’s mentorship propelled Zimmerman’s career forward. “The fellowship created an opportunity to work on projects entailing a lot of nuance and complexity that I wouldn’t otherwise have been comfortable leading,” Zimmerman says. “It’s so valuable to have that mentor and space for learning and being able to ask a ton of questions.” When her fellowship ended, Zimmerman was able to successfully apply for a permanent position at Ecology as a coastal resilience project coordinator. 

WSG Hershman fellows also get networking and community-building opportunities through being part of a remarkable group of alums. “Something I’ve really enjoyed as a Hershman alum is that almost anywhere I go in the marine world of Washington I run into other Hershman fellows,” says Molly Bogeberg, who was placed at The Nature Conservancy as a fellow in 2014 . “It’s always a nice connection point, having that shared experience of being a fellow. It’s been a really neat thing to take with me through my career.”  

The development of relationships also extends to the environment that fellows work in. “There’s a feeling of genuine connection through the fellowship,” says 2022–2023 fellow Monea Kerr, who was mentored by Bogeberg at The Nature Conservancy. “It gave me the opportunity to get to know Washington in a different way. Being from the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, my ancestors are traditionally from here; I love Washington and have lived here my entire life. But there are plenty of places I hadn’t been to or knew much about. Learning through the fellowship deepened my sense of place and belonging here in Washington.” When their fellowship came to a close, Kerr accepted a communications position at the organization. 

“Professional development is baked into the spirit and philosophy of the fellowship,” says Purce of WSG. Hershman mentors ensure that fellows can participate in engaging, impactful work while also having the freedom to learn more about the things that capture their interest. This includes fellows making use of the program’s generous professional development funds — whether that be to travel to the other side of the world for a conference or to earn a new certificate. 

“Mentors come in with the approach of ‘you’re going to do great work for us while you’re here — and in exchange, we’re going to prepare and launch you into your next great thing,’” says Purce. If history continues to repeat itself, the chances are good that the next great thing just might bring the fellows back full circle.

Who was Marc Hershman?


Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

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