The official website of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council

Gulf Research Program Science Policy Fellows

The Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine was formed as part of legal settlements of companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It has a 30-year duration and aims to “enhance oil system safety, human health, and environmental resources in the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer continental shelf regions that support oil and gas production”. 

Since 2015, the Gulf Research Program science policy fellowship program has helped early-career scientists "hone their skills by putting them to practice for the benefit of Gulf Coast communities and ecosystems." Fellows spend one year working on the staff of federal, state, or non-governmental environmental, natural resource, oil and gas, or public health agencies in the Gulf of Mexico region.  As a host office for this program, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (RESTORE Council) contributes to the professional development of each fellow while benefiting from the fellow’s technical expertise. This mutually beneficial relationship highlights the Council’s commitment to engaging in activities that facilitate the use of Best Available Science in decision-making. The RESTORE Council has hosted six Gulf Research Program Science Policy Fellows since 2015.

Current Fellow

Jennifer Summers serves as the Council's 2020-21 Science Policy Fellow. Summers is a PhD candidate at the University of Tennessee Knoxville in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She has a background in education and working with domestic and international organizations on issues related to preserving regional culture, conserving natural resources, and sustainability. Her work with the Council will include monitoring plan and grant application reviews, and assisting Council staff in coordinating with other governmental agencies on Council best available science activities.

Past Fellows

Dustin Reuther serves as the Council’s 2019-20 Science Policy Fellow. Dustin is a PhD candidate at Tulane University in the department of Anthropology and has a professional background working on archaeological compliance projects. His work with the Council includes facilitating the Council’s staff in their effort to identify and promote Best Available Science for Council projects, in coordinating with other governmental agencies to establish data management plans, and in establishing structures to support monitoring of ecosystem restoration projects.

Kathryn Keating, LMSW served as the Council’s 2018-19 Science Policy Fellow. Kathryn is a PhD candidate at Louisiana State University (LSU) and an interdisciplinary scholar with a background in Sociology and Social Work.  As a Science Policy Fellow, she engaged in a variety of tasks to support the Council’s work around science coordination and facilitation, long-term data management, Best Available Science review processes, and science communication. Kathryn now serves as a Federal Pathways Intern for the Council. 

Dr. Brittany “Brie” Bernik served as the Council’s 2017-18 Science Policy Fellow. Brie holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Tulane University, and earned her B.S. in environmental biology as a Newcomb Scholar.  As a fellow at the RESTORE Council, Dr. Bernik’s responsibilities spanned grant review, program coordination, and meeting facilitation. She also developed several science products and participated in Council working groups. Brie now serves as a Restoration Ecologist for the Council.

Dr. Kirsten S. Dorans served as the Council’s 2016-17 Science Policy Fellow. With a background in public health, she focused on the connections between ecosystem restoration and the Council's goal to enhance community resilience. As a fellow, she became involved with the Council’s public engagement work, and helped to facilitate the Council’s collaborations with government, non-governmental, and academic groups that are interested in issues related to Gulf Coast ecosystem restoration and community resilience.

Dr. Jessica R. Henkel served as the Council’s 2015-16 Science Policy Fellow. In this position, Jessica worked with the Gulf Research Program and the Council to advance coastal restoration and science coordination across several state and federal agencies. Jessica now serves as the Science Advisor and Coordinator for the RESTORE Council and as a mentor for current and future Science Policy Fellows. 

Working as a Science Policy Fellow at the RESTORE Council 

Science Policy Fellows work with Dr. Jessica R. Henkel, Science Advisor and Coordinator, and other staff to support the Council as it implements the use of best available science for Council funded projects and programs. 

Previous fellows have helped coordinate workshops among Gulf of Mexico scientists, assisted with coordination of data management and monitoring across agencies/projects, collaborated with academic groups on research proposals, and presented on Council activities at National conferences. In addition, the fellows help coordinate with other funding entities and fellows, such as the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program (who also has a Gulf Research Program Science Policy Fellow). These coordination activities ensure that projects and programs being pursued for funding are leveraged, not duplicated.

Fellows may also: assist Council staff in developing and implementing an adaptive management policy; reviewing grant applications for consistency with proposals and Council goals and objectives; reviewing monitoring and data management plans; and aiding in setting up restoration project-specific data monitoring protocols. There will also be opportunities to facilitate coordination among other Gulf agencies and nonprofit organizations, and attend RESTORE Council meetings across the Gulf. The fellows may also have the opportunity to become involved in public engagement activities.

A small Council staff means no task is too big or small for anyone, so the opportunities for a Gulf Research Program fellow to dive head first into a world where science meets policy abound!