The First Five: Reflections from the TCS Margaret A. Davidson Coastal Career Development Program

CHOW workshop

By: Tom Bigford, Tricia Hooper, Kim Grubert, Steve MacLeod 

Connecting the Next Generation of Coastal Professionals

Entering or advancing in the field of coastal science and management can be overwhelming. To go to grad school, or not? Should you pursue a research-based or policy-oriented career path? Where are the best places to network? How do you know your resumé is really putting your best foot forward? With all of these questions, The Coastal Society (TCS) recognized a need to provide a forum for up-and-coming students and early-career professionals to get the answers. Enter: the Margaret A. Davidson (MAD) Coastal Career Development Program. 

The foundation of the MAD Program is a series of regional workshops designed to help participants build the specialized tools and skills for securing and excelling in a coastal career. 

While all MAD workshops are built off the same foundational goal of sharing information, tools, and resources to assist the next generation of coastal professionals in growing their careers, each workshop is slightly different and tailored to the needs of the participants.

Since late 2018, TCS and partners have hosted five workshops across the country, and several more are in the planning process. Since we have received very positive feedback from attendees, we wanted to share some insights into what makes these workshops so great and what participants can expect from attending future events. 

December 2018: Long Beach, CA

We were naturally anxious about this first event but all agreed it was a nice debut! We hosted the workshop in coordination with the Restore America’s Estuaries/Coastal States Organization conference. After a week of technical sessions, participants were primed for a career development workshop aimed at helping them to apply new-found connections and information into their own career plans. 

The workshop began with a morning of talks about employment trends, regional opportunities, and success stories followed by an afternoon with smaller group discussions focusing on job skills such as interview strategies, communication skills, networking, and publishing your work. Our audience of 19 students and early professionals and 21 speakers and mentors was just right for the setting. It was very refreshing to see the side conversations extending into breaks and through lunch.

Feedback from students and early professionals confirmed that our blend of experts from across the coastal professions provided much-needed guidance and optimism. Some attendees benefited most from insights on coastal jobs. Others preferred small group conversations about career skills. And everyone appreciated the handouts.

For The Coastal Society, the Long Beach workshop provided proof of our concept. We were on our way to identifying topics and skills of most interest to potential attendees. We confirmed that these workshops need to be regional, near prospective registrants. We learned the value of solid sponsors to offset the costs of a full-day event. And, perhaps most importantly, we were reminded of how valuable it is to have a solid planning team to handle the details. Long Beach was a very nice first step.

January 2019: Washington, D.C.

We built off the momentum of a successful first event and kicked off January 2019 with the next MAD workshop in Washington DC. Held in conjunction with the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE), we had over 40 participants in attendance. We were pleasantly surprised to have a wide range of participants in the room, including many from organizations not typically associated with the coastal field, such as the local Washington DC government. Despite the unforeseen difficulty of a federal government shutdown, the entire team stepped up to the challenge and we had a fantastic, robust agenda of speakers from the Coastal States Organization, Alice Ferguson Foundation, National Aquarium, American Geophysical Union, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Rare, US Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Ocean Conservancy, Chesapeake Conservancy, and Restore America’s Estuaries.

After listening to feedback from the December event, we honed the agenda to provide even more opportunities for early career professionals and students to make critical connections and expand the tools in their career toolbox. Afternoon skill building sessions focused on a range of topics, including resume writing, practicing interview skills, crafting your elevator speech, establishing a mentor relationship, and making the most of professional networks in DC. 

A continued theme across the MAD professional development program is the importance of partnerships in convening successful workshops. This event would not have been possible without the outstanding in-kind support from the Women’s Aquatic Network, and generous financial support from Ocean Conservancy. 

Photo courtesy of Kim Grubert

April 2019: Woodbridge, VA 

The Coastal Society traveled to George Mason University’s Potomac Science Center in Woodbridge, Virginia, for its third MAD Coastal Career Program workshop on April 4, 2019. This event mirrored earlier workshops with a morning of career talks from sector leaders, an afternoon focused on the personal skills needed to launch a successful coastal career, and stories of personal success throughout. TCS partnered with the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation’s Atlantic Estuarine Research Society to design a program relevant to the natural sciences, resource management, and other interdisciplinary fields. The blend worked well, with spirited conversation across an audience of about 45. TCS will be looking for opportunities to partner with CERF regional affiliates on future workshops, and to reach out to other organizations and societies.

Based on feedback from our survey, attendees most appreciated the personal stories about different pathways to a coastal career. Those talks and informal conversations were inspirational and optimistic, two reactions TCS had hoped to generate. Perspectives from the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Dewberry Consultants, Inc., and several government agencies revealed the diversity of career directions in public and private sectors, and made for one of the “best career events” several registrants had ever attended. Attendees also rated a talk on navigating USAJobs for federal positions as a highlight. TCS definitely learned from those comments and other feedback as it plans for 2020 and beyond.

June 2019: Washington, D.C.

With so many TCS members in the Washington DC area, we capitalized on the opportunity to host a second MAD workshop in our nation’s capital, this time in association with Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW). We partnered with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation to advertise the workshop as part of the CHOW programming. We also partnered with the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment, who allowed us to host the workshop at the Duke In DC office building just across the street from the CHOW facility. The Ocean Conservancy and the Ocean Foundation sponsored the workshop, enabling us to offer a reduced registration rate for students and young professionals.

Thanks to our partners and sponsors, we were able to bring in a record-breaking 57 people in the room throughout the day, including 36 students and young professionals, 15 speakers, 2 sponsors, and 4 members of the planning team. It was a tremendously successful event!

In order to improve and make these workshops as meaningful to participants as possible, we administer surveys at the end so that participants can provide anonymous feedback on their experience. We received and overwhelming expression of gratitude for the event, as well as a few thoughtful recommendations for how to improve, which we will incorporate into future workshops.

Photo courtesy of Kim Grubert

June 2019: Brockport, NY 

Recognizing that the Great Lakes are nationally recognized freshwater coastal systems with challenges and opportunities for those pursuing a coastal career path, we coordinated with International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) conference to host a workshop at SUNY Brockport, just south of Lake Ontario, New York. The format was again a full-day event with morning presentations from representatives in the government, academic, consultant, and NGO sectors, followed by afternoon break-out sessions to focus on career skills. 

We had approximately 25 participants and support from multiple sponsors, including the International Joint Commission, the Great Lakes Research Commission, New York Sea Grant, Ecology & Environment, and the Ocean Conservancy. Several attendees reported being encouraged to attend by professors who recognized early-on the value of the event; the attendees were glad to have followed that advice. 

Similar to previous workshops, participants said it was most helpful to hear professionals discuss their journeys to their current position; to have one-on-one conversations with professionals in the different sectors about mentoring; and to learn job search strategies and demystify the job hiring process. 100% of the participants who responded rated the workshop as either “excellent” or “good;” it was clear that participants found value in all aspects of the workshop.

Suggestions to improve the workshop included more discussion on day-to-day job activities and moving some of the break-out skill sessions to the morning to help maintain participant energy. We will consider these suggestions to fine-tune future workshops so they continue to provide the ideal platform for diving into a new coastal career!

Photo courtesy of Sarah Quintal

Looking to the Future

Overall, feedback for the workshops has been overwhelmingly positive. One recent graduate even told the event planners that attending the workshop was “life-changing” for her! We also received the following praise from post-workshop surveys: 

  • “Thank you so much for hosting this event, this has been really helpful for me especially in gaining some more confidence in my career search.
  • “I wanted to thank you for helping make the Coastal Careers Workshop happen, and for your inspiring words on Margaret A. Davidson. I felt the event was both helpful and energizing and, after talking with the other participants, I gathered that they felt similarly.
  • “I wanted to reach out to you to let you know how much I loved this workshop. It was so helpful in terms of all of the information provided, but also in the invaluable connections and relationships made.
  • “Overall, well done- I have recommended to friends and colleagues in the areas you are visiting next and value my experience!

TCS is currently planning 2020 workshops in Wilmington, NC, and Charleston, SC. We are actively seeking sponsors, partners, and volunteers to help us continue these enriching professional development opportunities. These workshops are entirely volunteer-run, and continued engagement from the TCS community is critical for their continued success. Please contact Tom Bigford if you are interested in getting involved.

TCS VISITS WITH A LEGEND: AN INTERVIEW WITH BARBARA FEGAN

Editor’s Note: This article is a reprint from the TCS Bulletin in 2000 (Volume 22(2)) in celebration of the 33rd anniversary of Coastweeks. 


by Thomas E. Bigford, Policy co-Director, American Fisheries Society

The BULLETIN thanks Ms. Fegan for sharing her memories and her inspiration.

As I contemplated the meaning of Coastweeks 2000 this past summer, I found myself thinking often of how one person’s idea coalesced into an event, then a national and international celebration, and now a tradition. Thoughts of those formative days of Coastweeks invariably reminded me of the enthusiastic leadership provided by a single visionary — Barbara Fegan.  I caught up with her this past September as she was enjoying retirement in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, the Cape Cod community where she perfected her coastal advocacy roots. Although she is approaching her 80th birthday (“not till next year! “) and she “officially” retired by choice from public life in 1994, we can rest assured that Ms. Fegan remains a visionary. To me, she’s also a treasured friend. This interview offers glimpses of how Coastweeks evolved and where we might be headed in the coming decades, all foretold by a true coastal hero.

How did the concept of Coastweeks begin?

My idea can be traced back to 1980. That year had been designated as Year of the Coast, and there was great enthusiasm for coastal issues, I had great hope that the designation would inspire action, but the energy level wasn’t there yet. The next year brought another round of success when the Coastal Zone Management Act was reauthorized, but there was still no structure for real coastal activism. The Coastal Society’s 1982 conference in Baltimore on “Communicating Coastal Information” rejuvenated my creative juices. The Year of the Coast was fresh in our minds, the CZMA had been strengthened, and we received great news that President Reagan had just signed a law to protect coastal barriers. I was thinking about how to increase public participation along the lines of Earth Day rather than some corporate model. I wanted to be outside organiza~ tional structures, not constrained by them. With society racing faster and faster to get to the coast, I was convinced we should capture some of that energy in protecting our beaches and shores. The idea of a coastal festival intrigued me. Friends in more than 250 chapters of the League of Women Voters and Shirley Taylor with the Sierra Club in Florida offered the support network needed to launch the idea. I shared my concept as a comment from the floor at TCS8 and hoped the idea would grow.

Can you share some memories about that first Coastweek Celebration?

I remember the date – October 12, 1982. I was flying home from TCS8 with Rich Delaney, the new director of the Massachusetts coastal zone program. We talked about the Coastweek idea and what to do next. He was planning a fall conference and invited me so Coastweek could be part of the discussion. Rich also got Governor King to proclaim the first Coastweek that fall in Massachusetts. We were off and running! I operated Coastweek simply, with only volunteers. Those of us involved in the early years met all sorts of folks, some outright crooks who thought I was a coastal heiress and wanted some of my millions but many more who shared my hopes for a better coast. Those first few months confirmed that we had an idea that could work!

What were your early ideas for Coastweeks?

Mostly, I saw a volunteer organization. If we had a paid staff we would have been beholden to some organization. I wanted no dues, no reports, and very little structure. I organized things for the first few years but kept it very simple. I only communicated by mail, and never sent second mailings or reminders. No phone calls either-that would have taken too much time. That approach, coupled with new and old friends in the League of Women Voters, Sierra Club, and The Coastal Society started a national movement. I also wanted to work with other related efforts. Judy Nielsen with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife had attended a marine debris conference in Hawaii and adopted the idea of a citizen-based, coastal beach clean-up to collect information on marine litter. There were other events around the country in late September and early October. That’s when the seven day Coastweek evolved into the longer event spanning two months that came to be known as Coastweeks with an “s”.

Do you have any fondest memories from those early years? 

Certainly! There were plenty of characters, and lots of crazy ideas. But I loved it since every idea generated interest in the coast. I remember ideological people in Toledo who were driven to clean up the Ohio coast, they wanted to reverse the pollution that led to the Cuyahoga River fire and other environmental disasters. There were the ever-hopeful teachers who organized camping excursions for Texas schoolchildren. And there was the University of Colorado Glee Club that hosted a Sea Chanty party. It was landlocked events like that one in Colorado that inspired a tongue-in-cheek campaign to “Save our Kansas Coast.” Everyone was getting involved.

After a year or two, Coastweeks was here to stay! It really helped over the years to have some great individuals deeply involved. Linda Maraniss was one gem! She and her colleagues at the Center for Marine Conservation helped with Coastweeks administration, Coastsweep beach clean .. up data collection, and so much more.

How has the concept evolved?

I’ve seen some major changes, but the basic celebration continues with the same volunteer spirit we envisioned. Annual Coastweeks calendars are still dominated by small events built around education and sharing. However, the overall Coastweeks structure has changed. During the past four years or so, agencies and organizations have tried to capture the spirit. Many volunteer citizens have been replaced by people driven by their professions to exploit or protect the coast. It isn’t the same. It’s a different language, built around the need to produce results rather than simply participate. Coastweeks shouldn’t be measured in jobs and political favors, but it’s happening. I hope the new Coastweeks doesn’t become another government program or corporate marketing campaign.

What about the coasts themselves? Do you think Coastweeks has changed society, or that the issues have changed since the early 1980s?

There’s definitely a change underway. I see a shift from massive programs to local efforts. People are getting involved at the neighborhood level through local groups. I’m delighted by the trend. Whenever you can get a group of like-minded people, supported by a skeletal organization and deep convictions, you can make progress. But you need people who are fulltime participants, People can’t buy a voice; they need to enroll and engage. That’s a real issue in coastal communities where many taxpayers are seasonal residents with their own agendas. I’m hopeful that self-conceived, self-directed efforts are increasing.

Where do you think we’re headed in the next decade or so?

Coastal issues are like the tides. Issues come and go, sometimes leaving debris behind that prompts action but usually leaving nothing noticeable. There are also tides in public and political leanings. I don’t know where we’re heading because much of what I see is the same as a few years ago, but years of small changes add up over the decades to make a real difference. Sometimes it takes even longer to recognize those changes. I think that’s happening along our coasts, There are changes in social structures that will affect the mix of people and expectations for coastal management. There are also changes on the science side. The more we know, the more we realize we don’t know. We continue to make errors, only now we live longer and must face our errors personally. Some impacts are translated inland, such as storm-related damages that now affect landlocked counties and peoples. I trust the hidden genius in each of us will sense changes and prepare accordingly. I recognized a wave back in 1982 and jumped on. There are other waves now that are waiting for us. Good people will respond. If we praise their efforts they will remain engaged as citizens, small groups, and local networks. That’s how Coastweeks began and how future ideas will succeed. We just need to keep the energy level focused in the neighborhoods, supported by corporations and large groups rather than replaced by them. These changes are organic. They won’t kill us. They’ll be more successful if we focus on sources rather than fixes. Along the coast, let’s search for the reasons why something doesn’t work rather than heap solutions on a broken system. Nonpoint source pollution is one opportunity awaiting citizen action.

Thanks for sharing your philosophy on coastal activism. Do you have any closing comments?

Just one comment, one that is embedded in much of what I read and how I have shaped my actions. We need to read more history. We need to learn what has happened in the world and why. Those insights will help us to recognize behaviors, cultures, and differences. It will also help us understand where we are headed. I’m reading R.W. Davies’ enlightening book on European history. Sit down with a history book, a dictionary, and a map so you can understand our world. Then apply your new wisdom to the coast and we’ll be headed in the right direction.

 

 

BarbaraFeganInterview_2000_OriginalScan

Read this interview in its original form in the TCS Bulletin 2000 Volume 2(2).

 

 

9 TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL START TO YOUR COASTAL CAREER

By Judy Tucker, TCS Executive Director

As all nonprofit organizations do, The Coastal Society is always looking for new ways to accomplish its mission and to try to generate some modest revenue. Long-time champion for students, Tom Bigford, host of six TCS interns (all successfully placed in coastal/aquatic jobs or academia), speaker at student events during TCS Conferences, and mentor to many, had dreamed of a stand-alone event for students to help them prepare for successful careers.  Ideas pop and events happen when two board members (Mo Lynch and Lewie Lawrence), a very active TCS member (Michelle Covi), and the TCS executive director (Judy Tucker and blog author), all live in the same region. The TCS Board approved our proposal to run a pilot day-long program to help students and new professionals explore the diversity of coastal careers and find jobs. Thus was born Coastal Career Days.

Lewie Lawrence, Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission
Lewie Lawrence, Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission

It took conference calls every two weeks and a survey of students in marine science and oceanography programs at six Virginia universities and in the six TCS chapters to shape the idea and identify the best date on the calendar. A concept paper was floated to colleagues working on coastal issues to gauge their interest in sending students and supporting the event through speakers and sponsorships.  Their reaction was swift and strong: this event must happen!  A 30-year veteran of the state marine resources agency was worried about finding qualified students to fill the impending vacancies from a wave of retirees who’d been at the forefront of environmental issues in the late ‘70’s.

Dorissa Pitts-Whitney, Hampton Roads Sanitation District
Dorissa Pitts-Whitney, Hampton Roads Sanitation District

A consulting firm with offices in many Virginia locations and one in NC saw the benefit of spending time with a pre-qualified group of potential employees in one place without taking time away from clients’ projects. One newly hired employee at a nonprofit organization wanted to share the inside tips on how employers look at resumes and cover letters. Without hesitation, nine employers agreed to spend a Saturday in November to set up a display table, make a 20 minute presentation, and spend the day seated among the students for additional discussion and round table activities. Talk about access to employers! The student attendees were thrilled.

The pilot Coastal Career Day speakers were:

Ross Weaver, Wetlands Watch
  • Kenneth Bannister, Draper Aden Associates
  • Lewie Lawrence, Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission
  • Mo Lynch, Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
  • Jill Meyer, CSS-Dynamac
  • Dorissa Pitts-Whitney, Hampton Roads Sanitation District
  • Linda Schaffner, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
  • Ray Toll, Old Dominion University Office of Research
  • Tony Watkinson, Virginia Marine Resources Commission
  • Ross Weaver, Wetlands Watch
  • Michelle Covi, Old Dominion University Climate Adaptation and Resilience Program

Here are a few of the tips shared by the speakers:

  • The less urban the area, the more valuable a generalist is.  Be able to learn quickly, and willing to take on a variety of tasks. In return, your resume will show a diversity of skills and lots of experience in solving problems. Consider local and regional employment, not just state and national levels.
  • Consider smaller organizations.  When they expand through a new program, they may need to hire expertise not available on their current staff. Learn why they are hiring.
  • Don’t short-cut your resume.  Employers can easily spot a template resume and can tell when a cover letter is generic. Don’t use them!
  • Show off your skill-sets.  A resume should show you have the core skill sets to get the job done. eyond that basic qualifier, you’ll need to prove you can communicate clearly, have people skills, “command a room” or make an impact on them.  Indicate leadership by showing where you influenced getting a project done.
    Linda Schaffner, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
    Linda Schaffner, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
  • Express yourself.  A cover letter should show that you are excited about their position and how you can hit the ground running. Back it up with experience, and explain why you are the best person for the position.
  • Feds or contractors?  The basic difference between a direct hire by the Federal government and a contractor to the agency is that the contractor cannot do administrative things like signing a contract or representing the agency publically. That means you get to focus on science or writing. It is also easier to make a lateral move to another agency.
  • Agency hiring process.  Different government agencies have different hiring practices; some can’t recruit unless there is an opening. If you want to work in a particular agency, contact them to find out what their hiring process is. Then watch where grants have been awarded as an indication of possible openings.
  • Be entrepreneurial. If your research or idea could benefit a company or its project, tell them you’d like to do some research and write a white paper (state of the knowledge or research) for them. They don’t have the time to do that, and your white paper can be used to promote the company. Maybe they can pay you, or maybe you’ll have to consider it a type of internship on your resume. Or, show them how what you are working on right now in school could benefit their company, as a way to start a relationship and attract their interest in you.
  • Network and be open-minded. Contact alumni to learn about
    different employment. If they refer you to talk to someone else, keep an open mind, and learn about a job you might not have thought of. This network will get you responses to your resume.
Mixing and mingling in the exhibit hall

Sponsors

A hearty thanks to our sponsors for making the pilot Coastal Career Day available to Virginia students:

sponsors