URI marks 50th anniversary of Marine Affairs graduate program, first in the world

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Emily Patrolia
Emily Patrolia, MAF ‘16, steers a boat through Quonochontaug coastal salt pond while conducting field work. Photo courtesy of Emily Patrolia.

KINGSTON, R.I. — Jan. 23, 2020 — In 1970, the University of Rhode Island became the first academic institution in the world to create a graduate program in ocean and coastal policy, management, and law. Since then, the Marine Affairs program has educated thousands of students, providing its graduates with the skills necessary to become leaders in marine policy worldwide.

“Our students go on to work for government agencies and other organizations related to oceans and coasts, both nationally and internationally,” said Tracey Dalton, professor and chair of the Department of Marine Affairs.

Many graduates work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,  and other state-level environmental agencies, Dalton said. Alumni have also worked for non-governmental organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, Ocean Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund.  “We also have many international students who go back to their home countries after graduation and work for local environmental agencies.”

Tracey Dalton
Tracey Dalton, professor and chair of the department of Marine Affairs, lends a hand on board an aquaculture vessel in Narragansett Bay. Photo courtesy of Tracey Dalton.

Since the program’s inception, the Department of Marine Affairs has educated students from across the United States and from more than 40 countries.

Among some of the program’s prominent alumni are:

  • Tundi Agardy founder and executive director of Sound Seas, an organization based in Washington, D.C., focused on the conservation of marine life through marine science and policy
  • Catalina Martinez, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, regional program manager, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
  • Former Rear Adm. Mary Landry, who served as commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District headquartered in New Orleans, where she oversaw 1,200 miles of coastline and 10,300 miles of inland waterways, covering 26 states. She was subsequently appointed the inaugural director of incident management preparedness at Coast Guard headquarters, and held senior White House roles from 2013 to 2014.
  • Megan Higgins, Tetra Tech director of Offshore Energy-West. Tetra Tech supports government and commercial clients by providing innovative solutions focused on water, environment, infrastructure, resource management and energy.
  • Joshua Cinner a professor and chief investigator at the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland Australia.
Emily Patrolia
Emily Patrolia

Marine Affairs’ mission is to provide leadership in the management of marine and coastal environments through teaching, research, and outreach programs. The emphasis is multidisciplinary and the program follows ecosystem-based approaches to ocean and coastal governance.

“There are three or four great marine policy graduate programs in the country, but in my opinion, URI Marine Affairs is the best,” said Emily Patrolia, an oceans and environment policy specialist at Invariant Government Relations in Washington, D.C. Patrolia earned her master’s in Marine Affairs from URI in 2016. “Students are exposed to a mixture of law, economics, social science, GIS mapping, natural science, anthropology, and even environmental social justice, and have a wide range to shape their studies to suit their career goals.

“As a Marine Affairs student at URI, you have access to the resources of Rhode Island Sea Grant, the Coastal Resources Center, the Graduate School of Oceanography, and a front-row seat to the smallest state’s forward-thinking coastal regulations and policy-making,” said Patrolia. “While a student, I got to work on science supporting policy for aquaculture, coastal resilience, and offshore wind in the state.

“Getting my master’s in Marine Affairs at URI was one of the best decisions I have made in my professional career,” added Patrolia. “I learned how to properly conduct and analyze social science, how to read and interpret U.S. and international ocean, coastal, and fisheries laws, and how to use the conclusions of thousands of pages of scientific papers to succinctly make a point in my own writing.”

While many Marine Affairs alumni hold very hands-on positions on the front lines of environmental policy and protection, others find unique avenues of interest. “Our students come out with interdisciplinary training so they are skilled to work in a lot of different fields, from education, research, and planning, to policy and resource management,” said Dalton.

Jennifer McCann is a walking testimonial of the power and prestige of a URI Marine Affairs degree. Upon graduating from the University of New Hampshire with degrees in international relations and Spanish, as well as a minor in business, McCann immediately began working at the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C. But she realized that to further her career in coastal and marine issues, she needed to get her master’s degree.

“I was working with several URI Marine Affairs alums who showed me URI was the place to go if you wanted to continue to grow your career in coastal and ocean issues,” said McCann. She soon realized why.

“It was very interdisciplinary, and the only place I’d be able to learn about fisheries issues, ports and shipping, and coastal and ocean policy all at the same time. Not only was I learning about science and fact-based issues, I was also learning about policy and regulations in Rhode Island and all over the world. The interdisciplinary and expansive scope of learning allowed me to expand my work.

“While getting my master’s in marine affairs, I continued to work for the Ocean Conservancy as the program manager in the Dominican Republic, working to balance development with conservation and ecotourism. Many times I’d be in class with professors such as Dennis Nixon or Richard Burroughs learning about some aspect from the textbook and class curriculum. Then in the afternoon I would go to work and I was already applying what I had learned that day in class.”

McCann graduated with her master’s from URI in 1994. She now serves as the director of U.S. Coastal Programs at the Coastal Resource Center, which is part of the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, and is also the director of extension at RI Sea Grant.

“The program is still focusing on relevant issues, and the issues of our time,” said McCann. “There’s still a huge focus on the issue of resiliency and understanding the big issue of changing climate, but from an industry and conservation perspective.

“Since the program’s inception, we’ve been able to evolve with the changing needs of the environment and the world,” said Dalton. “Our course offerings and curriculum have adapted to address new demands and new topic areas.”

In celebration of its golden anniversary, the Department of Marine Affairs is hosting a Distinguished Alumni Speaker Series. In the fall, four notable alumni of the Marine Affairs program lectured on various issues. The series continues this spring.

The lineup is Catalina Martinez (Feb. 4); Lynne Carter (March 17); Peg Brandon (April 7); and Megan Higgins (April 23). Each lecture will take place in White Hall Room 202 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Descriptions of the lectures will become available as the dates near.

Lauren Poirier, an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at URI and public relations and English major, wrote this press release.