Wright State's Alison Agather named NOAA Sea Grant Finalist

Environmental Sciences Ph.D. candidate Alison Agather is among the 66 successful finalists of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sea Grant's John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship program (Knauss) class of 2019.

Knauss fellows receive hands-on experiences transferring science to policy and management through one-year appointments with Federal government offices in Washington, D.C. This year's national finalists represent 30 of the 33 Sea Grant programs, and include 5 finalists from Ohio. Agather will be a member of the 40th anniversary class and the first finalist to represent Wright State University. 

Agather is a native of Minnesota and attended Gustavus Adolphus College. As an undergraduate student she majored in chemistry and environmental studies. Agather received her first research opportunity along with her first laboratory job with Jeff Jeremiason, associate professor of chemistry and the director of the Environmental Studies program. As an undergraduate, she became increasingly more interested in how chemicals move through the physical environment based on their properties. The lab work allowed her to gain experience in mercury chemistry and instrumentation. 

During her junior year, Agather presented at the 2012 Regional Geological Society Conference, co-hosted by Wright State University's Department of Earth & Environmental Science in Dayton, Ohio. Her presentation examined the biogeochemistry of mercury and other metals in an ombrotrophic peatland watershed from 2010 and 2011. Agather met Chad R. Hammerschmidt, professor of earth and environmental sciences (EES), director of the EES graduate program at Wright State University, and mercury biogeochemistry expert. From a chance conference meeting she discovered another research mentor. After earning her undergraduate degree Agather decided to continue her graduate education at Wright State with Hammerschmidt as her academic advisor. 

Her undergraduate research focus was mercury in wetlands and lakes. Hammerschmidt's research interests are concerned with mercury and other trace metals in watersheds, coastal and open ocean systems, along with the atmosphere, which is a much larger scope. Her first big project as a graduate student was a GEOTRACES Arctic Ocean expedition. GEOTRACES is a collaborative International study to understand biogeochemical cycles and distributions of trace elements and their isotopes in all major ocean basins. Agather was part of an international polar expedition designed to measure mercury, lead, aluminum, and all trace elements, including some of that are vital for life in the Arctic Ocean. Data collected during the expedition is part of Agather’s Ph.D. research on mercury levels in sediment and seawater in the Arctic. Her work with GEOTRACES led to a French connection with Aix-Marseille University collaborator Lars-Eric Heimbürger, Ph.D., resulting in a trip to Marseille France during the summer of 2017 where she collected samples from the Mediterranean Sea. 

Agather created a rich educational experience for herself and still made time to volunteer with the American Chemistry Society. She enjoys volunteering for events during National Chemistry Week and sharing her passion for marine science and the environment with students. And she has started organizing monthly social gatherings for students in the Environmental Sciences PhD program to network. "We meet for coffee and share our research", she said. "We all work in different labs and it is nice to talk with others in the program whose experiences can often add new insights to your own work".

 When asked what she would tell students about research she said, "do it, get involved in labs, talk to professors and volunteer to help wash dishes, collect sample, show an interest". She goes on to encourage students to get to know the faculty and their research areas. "Try different things to discover what you want".

This fall Agather, along with the other 2019 Knauss finalists, will travel to Washington, D.C. to interview with several executive or legislative offices. Following placement, they will each begin their fellowships in February 2019. Until then she is busy preparing to defend her dissertation this December. 

Knauss finalists are chosen through a competitive process that includes several rounds of reviews with both the state Sea Grant and national levels. Students finishing Masters (M.S.), Juris Doctor (J.D.), and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs with a focus and/or interest in marine science, policy or management may apply to one of the 33 Sea Grant programs. Successful applicants at the state program level are then forwarded to be reviewed by a national panel of experts.

Sea Grant has several opportunities for undergraduates. Students who are interested in marine science research may want to check out the undergraduate fellowship opportunities with Sea Grant.

Post Note: Agather received notice that her Knauss placement is as a Marine Policy Assistant with the Ocean Prediction Center (OPC), which is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service. She will be providing forecasts and warnings for maritime weather hazards over much of the north Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Fun fact, OPC was created after the sinking of the Titanic. OPC transmits forecasts and hazardous weather warnings via the World Meteorological Organization’s Marine Broadcast System. OPC is part of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP).  NCEP oversees the 9 national centers that deliver national and global weather, water, climate, and space weather guidance, forecasts, warnings and analysis to a broad range of users and partners. NCEP plays an essential role in building a “Weather Ready Nation”— building community resilience in the face of increasing vulnerability to extreme weather and water events. Congratulations to Alison Agather on this prestigious appointment.