Virginia Environmental Endowment supports new fellowship program

Recent grads gain experience, share expertise with VA natural resource agencies

The Virginia Environmental Endowment will support a new partnership between the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Virginia Sea Grant that benefits the Commonwealth’s environment by placing recent post-graduate students within state natural resources agencies.

The grant of $10,000 per year for two years was among VEE awards of $277,500 to 14 organizations statewide. The Virginia Coastal Policy Center at William & Mary Law School also received support during this latest round of VEE funding.

“As VEE celebrates its 40th anniversary, we are again honored to support partners whose work will make a difference in the quality of life, community health, and natural-resource protection across Virginia,” says VEE Executive Director Joseph H. Maroon. “Many of these grant projects will produce both local and statewide benefits for clean water and conservation of open spaces and natural resources.”

VEE support to the VIMS-Sea Grant partnership will help fund the Commonwealth Coastal and Marine Policy Fellowship, which provides opportunities for recent post-graduate students to serve within the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), and other state natural resource agencies.

Dr. John Wells, VIMS Dean and Director, says “We’re very thankful to VEE for their generous support of this regional program, as are the students and state agencies. VEE funding for this fellowship and many other VIMS programs over the years has had a measurable impact on improving the health of our waters and the sustainability of our marine resources. ”

Dr. Troy Hartley, Virginia Sea Grant Director, initiated the idea for the Commonwealth program, modeling it after NOAA’s highly successful John A Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, which matches graduate students from across the nation with "hosts" in the legislative and executive branch of government in Washington, D.C.

VIMS has placed 44 graduate students as Knauss Fellows since the program began in 1979, first in Virginia and tied for fourth in nation among marine science graduate schools. Many of these fellows have gone on to leadership roles in marine science and conservation.

Sara Blachman is an inaugural recipient of a Commonwealth Coastal & Marine Policy Fellowship.

The inaugural Commonwealth Fellows are Sara Blachman and Bruce Pfirrmann, who earned master’s degrees in W&M’s School of Marine Science at VIMS earlier this year; and recent VCU graduate student Andrew Kirk. Kirk will serve at DEQ, with Blachman at VMRC and Pfirrmann at DCR.

Blachman says “I’m thrilled to be joining the Fisheries Management team at VMRC, where I‘ll put knowledge about Chesapeake Bay and scientific modeling that I learned at VIMS to good use working on blue crab stock assessments and regulations.” She begins her fellowship in July.

Pfirrmann echoes the enthusiasm, saying, “I’m really excited about the opportunity and grateful to have the chance to delve into the policy side of marine affairs with DCR.” Bruce Pfirrmann is an inaugural Commonwealth Fellow.He will be working with DCR scientists and staff to quantify how shoreline management practices are being implemented across the Commonwealth, in order to better incorporate this information into the computer models used to help manage Chesapeake Bay. He begins his fellowship in August.

Hartley says “We were very excited about the quality of the candidate pool, and are confident that this is going to be a great experience for both the Fellows and the hosts.”

VEE funds Virginia Coastal Policy Center

VEE funding to the Virginia Coastal Policy Center will support legal and policy research by staff to help local communities increase their resiliency through better planning for sea-level rise, groundwater depletion, and recurrent flooding. Included is work with the Southeast Community in Newport News.

VEE will also support VCPC’s annual conference. This year’s event, to be held at William & Mary on October 27, is titled “Defending Our Coasts: Ensuring Military Readiness and Economic Viability as Waters Rise.” VEE’s total funding to VCPC is $35,000.

The Virginia Coastal Policy Center has benefited from VEE support since the Center’s founding at William & Mary Law School in 2012, according to Elizabeth Andrews, the Center’s Director and a Professor of the Practice of Law.

“VEE is a key partner in our efforts to provide policy support for coastal localities and state agencies to help them address challenges such as recurrent flooding and Chesapeake Bay restoration,” says Andrews. “VEE’s steadfast support has been crucial to the increasing importance of our annual conference on coastal issues. We appreciate their vision, their leadership and their generosity.”