Evan Ridley, Marine Affairs M.A. Candidate & URI Chapter Liaison to TCS National Board

While the prospects of employment are a constant focus for recent graduates and young professionals in areas of coastal and marine studies, very few opportunities exist for potential employers to interact with students and individuals entering those fields. To address this, TCS’ University of Rhode Island student chapter held their first-ever Coastal Career Day at the Narragansett Bay Campus. The event provided both employers and hopeful graduates a unique opportunity to build bridges and network together. Employers present for the day’s events found benefit in gaining perspective into the skills and experience presented by students currently graduating from coastal and marine fields at URI and other schools around New England.


After hearing the career development stories of panel speakers, students received personal hands-on advice and reflection through resume building activities and breakout group discussions with field-specific interest.  In addition to the opportunities provided by such networking, the insightful philosophy of the event activities allowed for a collective reflection on the state of ‘coastal’ employment moving forward in uncertain times.

The employment landscape is dynamic and ever-evolving in coastal and marine sectors, yet Rhode Island Sea Grant Director Dennis Nixon reflected confidence in the future. “We aren’t going to slide back on (environmental) efforts because we’ve already done too much good.” This sentiment was echoed by many throughout the day, a reminder that room for progress will always remain.

Uncertainty of the economy and political agenda is ever-present, but those in attendance felt reassured by the encouragement of the speakers. “There was almost this collective sigh of relief from listening to the leaders in our fields telling us, basically, ‘it’s going to be ok…and it’s probably going to be great.’” said Sea Grant Knauss Fellow and event organizer Emily Patrolia.


While other TCS coastal career days have been hosted in North Carolina and Virginia, this was the first to be established in the New England region, and the largest of any TCS coastal career day to date. The varied representation of government, private enterprise and advocacy entities not only drew a great number of interested students but also provided a unique and enlightening event. The planning committee took care to organize speaker panels by focus, which included Betsy Nicholson of NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management, Sarah Smith of the Environmental Defense Fund, Stacy Pala of the Battelle Environmental Research, Peter Moore of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Observing System, Jennifer McCann from the URI Coastal Resources Center, and many others.

Even if things like unpaid internships, year-long fellowships and entry-level positions don’t always appeal to the traditional career path narrative, the employers stressed the significance of seizing every available opportunity. “If you have to take a job as an Uber driver to pay the bills, and volunteer within the community to gain experience, that’s ok” said Jon Torgan, Director of Ocean and Coastal Conservation for The Nature Conservancy. It’s estimated that only 10% of jobs in environmental sectors are advertised. Increasing one’s ability to find these opportunities depends on the connections that can be made during the stops along the way. The overarching message of support reminded students to be flexible and prove your capability to adapt to a variety of roles that may be required from you. In short, employers advised students to trust your journey and reach for your goals. Progress may not always appear as the linear or logical steps you imagined. It will remain a product of hard work, regardless of what that work is.


Moving forward, the TCS student chapter at URI hopes to use their event model to help other affiliated student chapters host similar events. “We’ve been able to build on the continual improvement of these events, and hopefully URI will also be able to continue to host our own Coastal Career Days in the years to come.” said URI TCS Career Day Director Sara Benson. “This has been a wonderful success and something that be replicated across The Coastal Society network.”

The URI Coastal Career Day took place on November 18th, 2016 with a total of 58 registered student participants from five colleges and universities across the New England region. Overall, 19 different speakers compromised the five focus panels that spanned topics on advocacy, consulting, NOAA, regional science and state agencies. Approximately 17 speakers and employers participated in the “speed dating” and resume critiquing activities aimed at helping students develop self-promotional capabilities. The true success of the event could not have been achieved without the significant financial support of the following sponsors: Rhode Island Sea Grant, TRC Environmental Engineering, Deepwater Wind, Ocean State Aquatics and VHB Consulting.

Additional thanks are due to the Student Planning Committee, led by project manager Sara Benson, who spent many months preparing and organizing. It is the hope of the committee and all members of the URI TCS chapter to continue the support and development of Coastal Career Days in New England and around the TCS network.


By: Rebecca Cope, TCS Duke University Chapter President

On March 5th, the Duke University Chapter of The Coastal Society hosted the first North Carolina Coastal Career Day at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort. The event attracted undergraduate, graduate, and professional students from many North Carolina universities, including Duke, University of North Carolina Wilmington, and East Carolina University (ECU), as well as new professionals in coastal environmental fields. The day started with casual networking over morning coffee. Attendees were able to chat with representatives from each of the event’s sponsors, which spanned a diverse range of sectors, such as non-profits, consulting firms, engineering companies, and both state and federal government agencies.

Photo Credit: Michelle Covi
Photo Credit: Michelle Covi

Master of ceremonies, Siddartha Mitra of ECU, kicked off the day with welcoming remarks and then a rapid-fire session of presentations and Q&A about how each coastal professional began their careers. These conversations allowed attendees to ask their most burning questions about job searching, the hiring process and possible career paths in an informal and relaxed setting. We got to know each other a bit better during the speed-networking session, which allowed attendees to visit each prospective employer at their table and chat for a few minutes. This really helped break the ice and got the conversations flowing, just in time to enjoy lunch with some new members of our professional network. After lunch, we heard from more coastal professionals who gave us excellent advice on everything from resume writing to negotiating salaries. We finished the day by practicing interview skills with questions picked from a hat. Attendees were able to get instant feedback from professionals experienced in the hiring process.

Master of ceremonies, Siddartha Mitra of ECU oversees conversations between students and coastal professionals. Photo Credit: Michelle Covi
Master of ceremonies, Siddartha Mitra of ECU oversees conversations between students and coastal professionals. Photo Credit: Michelle Covi

The Coastal Society’s Coastal Career Days provide an opportunity for students to connect with potential employers and learn about the diverse range of paths that can lead to a successful career, including some paths that aren’t so obvious. At the same time, it provides an avenue for Coastal Career Day sponsors to reach out to talented new or soon-to-be professionals with valuable skills and knowledge. Marianne Ferguson of the Duke Marine Lab said, “I appreciated learning about the federal contracting process from Jill Meyer [representative from CSS-Dynamac]. As someone who is interested in working for NOAA in fisheries management, her advice on when and where to look for contracting jobs and what the hiring process is like was really helpful.”  Marianne recently followed up on a lead she heard about at Coastal Career Day and applied for a contract job with NOAA.

Practicing interviewing skills. Photo Credit: Michelle Covi
Practicing interviewing skills. Photo Credit: Michelle Covi

The first North Carolina Coastal Career Day was a huge success thanks to our planning committee members, sponsors, and attendees. We hope to continue this tradition and provide young professionals and employers the opportunity to connect. After all, we need to work together to solve the problems facing North Carolina’s coast!


Editors’ Note: Read about TCS’s pilot Coastal Career Day in Virginia in November 2015. TCS Blog Article “9 Tips for a Successful Start to Your Coastal Career”.


More photos of the action


By Judy Tucker, TCS Executive Director

As all nonprofit organizations do, The Coastal Society is always looking for new ways to accomplish its mission and to try to generate some modest revenue. Long-time champion for students, Tom Bigford, host of six TCS interns (all successfully placed in coastal/aquatic jobs or academia), speaker at student events during TCS Conferences, and mentor to many, had dreamed of a stand-alone event for students to help them prepare for successful careers.  Ideas pop and events happen when two board members (Mo Lynch and Lewie Lawrence), a very active TCS member (Michelle Covi), and the TCS executive director (Judy Tucker and blog author), all live in the same region. The TCS Board approved our proposal to run a pilot day-long program to help students and new professionals explore the diversity of coastal careers and find jobs. Thus was born Coastal Career Days.

Lewie Lawrence, Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission
Lewie Lawrence, Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission

It took conference calls every two weeks and a survey of students in marine science and oceanography programs at six Virginia universities and in the six TCS chapters to shape the idea and identify the best date on the calendar. A concept paper was floated to colleagues working on coastal issues to gauge their interest in sending students and supporting the event through speakers and sponsorships.  Their reaction was swift and strong: this event must happen!  A 30-year veteran of the state marine resources agency was worried about finding qualified students to fill the impending vacancies from a wave of retirees who’d been at the forefront of environmental issues in the late ‘70’s.

Dorissa Pitts-Whitney, Hampton Roads Sanitation District
Dorissa Pitts-Whitney, Hampton Roads Sanitation District

A consulting firm with offices in many Virginia locations and one in NC saw the benefit of spending time with a pre-qualified group of potential employees in one place without taking time away from clients’ projects. One newly hired employee at a nonprofit organization wanted to share the inside tips on how employers look at resumes and cover letters. Without hesitation, nine employers agreed to spend a Saturday in November to set up a display table, make a 20 minute presentation, and spend the day seated among the students for additional discussion and round table activities. Talk about access to employers! The student attendees were thrilled.

The pilot Coastal Career Day speakers were:

Ross Weaver, Wetlands Watch
  • Kenneth Bannister, Draper Aden Associates
  • Lewie Lawrence, Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission
  • Mo Lynch, Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
  • Jill Meyer, CSS-Dynamac
  • Dorissa Pitts-Whitney, Hampton Roads Sanitation District
  • Linda Schaffner, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
  • Ray Toll, Old Dominion University Office of Research
  • Tony Watkinson, Virginia Marine Resources Commission
  • Ross Weaver, Wetlands Watch
  • Michelle Covi, Old Dominion University Climate Adaptation and Resilience Program

Here are a few of the tips shared by the speakers:

  • The less urban the area, the more valuable a generalist is.  Be able to learn quickly, and willing to take on a variety of tasks. In return, your resume will show a diversity of skills and lots of experience in solving problems. Consider local and regional employment, not just state and national levels.
  • Consider smaller organizations.  When they expand through a new program, they may need to hire expertise not available on their current staff. Learn why they are hiring.
  • Don’t short-cut your resume.  Employers can easily spot a template resume and can tell when a cover letter is generic. Don’t use them!
  • Show off your skill-sets.  A resume should show you have the core skill sets to get the job done. eyond that basic qualifier, you’ll need to prove you can communicate clearly, have people skills, “command a room” or make an impact on them.  Indicate leadership by showing where you influenced getting a project done.
    Linda Schaffner, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
    Linda Schaffner, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
  • Express yourself.  A cover letter should show that you are excited about their position and how you can hit the ground running. Back it up with experience, and explain why you are the best person for the position.
  • Feds or contractors?  The basic difference between a direct hire by the Federal government and a contractor to the agency is that the contractor cannot do administrative things like signing a contract or representing the agency publically. That means you get to focus on science or writing. It is also easier to make a lateral move to another agency.
  • Agency hiring process.  Different government agencies have different hiring practices; some can’t recruit unless there is an opening. If you want to work in a particular agency, contact them to find out what their hiring process is. Then watch where grants have been awarded as an indication of possible openings.
  • Be entrepreneurial. If your research or idea could benefit a company or its project, tell them you’d like to do some research and write a white paper (state of the knowledge or research) for them. They don’t have the time to do that, and your white paper can be used to promote the company. Maybe they can pay you, or maybe you’ll have to consider it a type of internship on your resume. Or, show them how what you are working on right now in school could benefit their company, as a way to start a relationship and attract their interest in you.
  • Network and be open-minded. Contact alumni to learn about
    different employment. If they refer you to talk to someone else, keep an open mind, and learn about a job you might not have thought of. This network will get you responses to your resume.
Mixing and mingling in the exhibit hall


A hearty thanks to our sponsors for making the pilot Coastal Career Day available to Virginia students: