University of Rhode Island sends three grads to D.C. for Sea Grant Knauss Fellowships

Recent grad students will work for a year on ocean and coastal policy in Congress and the Executive branch

Media Contact: Monica Allard Cox, 401-874-6937 |
Kimberly Ohnemus, M.A. Marine Affairs
Kimberly Ohnemus, M.A. Marine Affairs

KINGSTON, R.I.—February 10, 2021 – Three graduate students from the University of Rhode Island have been named John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellows. They will join 74 other finalists to spend a year in Washington, D.C., working on ocean and coastal policy issues beginning this month.

Kimberly Ohnemus of Bourne, Massachusetts; Clea Harrelson of Centerville, Tennessee; and Elle Wibisono of Bali, Indonesia, were each selected to receive the $74,000 fellowship. They applied through Rhode Island Sea Grant, which administers the opportunity and nominated candidates to be considered by the National Sea Grant College Program.

Ohnemus earned an M.A. in Marine Affairs in May 2020 and will be working in the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs.

“My aspirations for my Knauss year are varied, but mostly I aim to learn as much as I can about how environmental policy is formed, enacted, and implemented! I’m very interested in how environmental management decisions are made, and who is included in decision-making processes,” Ohnemus says.

Ohnemus, a Cape Cod native, grew up on the water and her appreciation for the ocean and the resources it provides only progressed over time. As a child, being out on fishing boats and reading books on New England fishing history were two huge influences, leading her to strive for a career in sustainable fisheries.

Clea Harrelson, M.A. Marine Affairs
Clea Harrelson, M.A. Marine Affairs

Harrelson earned her M.A. in Marine Affairs in May 2020 and has been placed in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences.

“I hope to use my experiences at NSF as a way to dive deep into marine policy processes and interagency relationships on a national and international scale,” Harrelson explains, “The Knauss Fellowship is a unique opportunity to reflect on how to best align my own passions with career opportunities in marine science and policy, and I’m excited to get started.”

Growing up in Tennessee, a landlocked state, Harrelson turned to marine biologists in magazines like National Geographic to explore a field she didn’t directly have access to. She has always been interested in the intersection of social and ecological systems, with her curiosity driving her to keep exploring new fields and environments.

Elle Wibisono, Ph.D. sustainable fisheries
Elle Wibisono, Ph.D. sustainable fisheries

Wibisono received her Ph.D. in sustainable fisheries from URI this past fall. Wibisono has been placed in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather Subcommittee.

“I’m looking forward to having the first-hand experience in translating science into policy. I can’t wait to have a glimpse into what goes into the reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). Having studied fisheries at URI,” Wibisono says, “I never thought that I would have the chance to be able to partake in the discussion of the MSA—the holy grail of fishery management.”

Wibisono says that her first scuba experience prompted her to wonder about the interactions between fish and their surroundings. When a blast from dynamite fishing was followed by a deafening silence, she recognized her passion for helping but did not have the tools to do so at the time. This compelled Wibisono to pursue a career in ocean conservation, and she eventually began working for The Nature Conservancy in Indonesia on fisheries projects. Early on she discovered that simply presenting members of local fishing communities with scientific data resulted in “blank stares and eye rolls,” and quickly learned that engaging in conversations with communities led to more acceptance—and solutions. This marriage of science and communication is something she plans to bring to her fellowship and eventually back to Indonesia, where she hopes to help rejuvenate ocean conservation.

The John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, established in 1979, is a program of the National Sea Grant College Program. It matches qualified graduate students interested in ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources and the national policy decisions affecting those resources with hosts in the federal legislative or executive branches of government. The fellowship is named for the former dean of the URI Graduate School of Oceanography who also served as NOAA administrator.