URI grad student selected first intern to first science advisor to National Park Service

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KINGSTON, R.I. – November 3, 2010 – University of Rhode Island doctoral student Erika Lentz is spending the next six weeks as the first intern to serve under the science advisor at the National Park Service.

A native of Northfield, Mass., who now lives in Plymouth, Lentz says it’s the perfect opportunity to “look at science through a policy lens at some of the highest levels of government.”

Lentz will be based in Washington, D.C., where she will work with the National Park Service science advisor Gary Machlis in his efforts to make decision-making in the parks more science-based. The science advisor was the first position created by National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis upon his confirmation in September 2009, and serves to advance science throughout the Park Service, as well as advise the director on science policy and programs.

Lentz will help Machlis establish a scientific advisory board for the Park Service, prepare presentations, write articles, and conduct an independent research project looking at the role protected areas, such as parks, play in climate change research.

The internship opportunity arose following discussions between Machlis and Charles Roman, director of the National Park Service’s Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit, who is based at URI.

“Erika has acquired a strong research background in coastal geology, and she also has an interest in applying her science knowledge toward effective coastal policy decisions,” said Roman. “This internship will provide a phenomenal experience for Erika, working at the highest levels of government with those that are charged with delivering and applying the best available science toward the establishment of policy to provide for protection of natural and cultural resources of our national park system.”

Lentz came to URI after earning a bachelor’s degree in geology and sociology from George Mason University and working for the U.S. Geological Survey’s energy resources team in Reston, Va.

“I approached graduate school with an interest in the junction of science and policy, so it was an easy decision to come to URI,” Lentz said, noting that the University’s IGERT program prepares students for multi-disciplinary problem solving related to the management of coastal ecosystems. “I wanted to get a thorough grounding in science as well as learn how to effectively put it in practice and make it relevant to people.”

Her doctoral dissertation studies changes to the dune/beach system at Fire Island National Seashore on Long Island that have occurred as a result of natural processes and human modifications to the coastline. While finishing her dissertation under URI advisor Cheryl Hapke, a research geologist at USGS, Lentz has begun work with the Coastal and Marine Sciences Center in Woods Hole, Mass. After her internship and completion of her Ph.D. next spring, she will continue her research as a postdoctoral fellow at the USGS Woods Hole offices.

In the long term, she hopes to continue in a career at a government agency merging her interests in science and policy.

“I want to use my background to inform future policies by making a comprehensive understanding of science both accessible and translatable to laypeople and decision makers,” Lentz said.