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

Dr. Christen Steele serves as the Council's 2022-23 Science Policy Fellow. Prior to her time with the Council, Christen completed her PHD in Ecology and Evoluntionary Biology at Tulane University in May 2022. Her research focused on investigation protozoan parasite infection patterns of monarch butterflies in southeastern United States. Christen also holds a MX in Biology, from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL, where she completed an EPA STAR Fellowship investigating the role of native dung beetle assemblages on pasture ecosystem services.  

Past Fellows

Dr. Allison "Allie" Snider served as the Councils 2021-22 Science Policy Fellow. Snider completed her PhD in Wildlife Biology at Louisiana State University in August 2020. Her reserach focused on the response of Seaside Sparrows to large-scale disturbances, including Hurricane Isaac and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Snider also holds a BS in Natural Resource Biology, with a minor in Museum Studies, from Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, MI.

Dr. Jennifer Summers served as the Council’s 2020-21 Science Policy Fellow. In December 2020, Summers completed her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Summers' research focused on the evolutionary responses of coastal marsh plants to sea level rise. Summers holds degrees in French and Biology from Furman University in Greenville, SC.

Dustin Reuther served 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 included 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.

Dr. Kathryn Keating served as the Council’s 2018-19 Science Policy Fellow. 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 Social Science Analyst 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 served as the Science Advisor and Coordinator for the RESTORE Council from 2020 to 2022. 

Working as a Science Policy Fellow at the RESTORE Council 

Science Policy Fellows work with Amy Newbold, Science Advisor for Ecosystem Restoration Programs 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!