Sea Grant Knauss Fellow brings science to arctic legislation

August 21, 2017

What can a scientist bring to Congress, and what can she take from the experience?

A lot, according to Charlotte Regula-Whitefield, a 2017 Sea Grant Knauss Fellow in Washington, DC, sponsored by Alaska Sea Grant. She is spending a year on the staff of Senator Lisa Murkowski, making use of her newly minted PhD based on mariculture research and community outreach.

Regula-Whitefield was in Alaska during the August recess. We caught her on video when she visited Fairbanks, and asked her to describe what she’s working on. “Basically everything to do with the sea and water systems,” she said. Arctic legislation and mariculture are the key projects.

Her favorite part of the job is meeting with constituents. “The ability to actually sit down and talk with people and find out what their concerns are, and figure out how we can help them is huge. I love the ability to have a one-on-one connection with people that we are trying to help in the state.”

As one of about 25 staff in the DC office, Regula-Whitefield is in contact with Sen. Murkowski every day. “Senator Murkowski is dedicated to her staff and to the state. She feels it is important to interact with her staff in every aspect. She is hand-on in a good way,” said Regula-Whitefield.

Her key mentor is legislative assistant Ephraim Froehlich, who brings legal expertise to the office. Froehlich is helping her learn how laws are passed, how to read and write law, and all about legislative committees.

Regula-Whitfield feels like her work is making an impact. She is able to add a scientist’s perspective to legal discussions, and has even made key language changes to bills.

Being in Washington DC is quite a change for Regula-Whitefield. She is originally from upstate New York, and she was in grad school in Fairbanks, so the city is busy and fast paced to her. “It is a wonderful experience,” she said. “But it is definitely a culture shock on many levels.”

Regula-Whitefield sees high value to her experience as a Knauss Fellow. “It is a privilege to be able to apply some of the things I have learned,” she said. Sen. Murkowski and the staff value Regula-Whitefield’s point of view and input, partly based on her research experience in Alaska communities.

Regula-Whitefield meets former Knauss Fellows wherever she goes in DC, and observes that their network has a positive strength. She enjoys meeting up with 12 other legislative fellows in the current class, although she does not have a lot of free time to do so.

When asked how her fellowship will help her in her career she said there is a huge need for interaction between scientists and policy-makers. A scientist can benefit greatly from knowing the law process. Scientists and community members need to know how to reach those who are in a political bubble. And knowing how to bring the national issues to the community is important. “That skill set will carry through almost anywhere that I go.” She said.

— By Sue Keller

Alaska Sea Grant is a statewide marine research, education, and outreach program, and is a partnership between the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agents provide assistance that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy marine and coastal resources.