Q&A with 2023 Minnesota Sea Grant Knauss Fellow Brandon Barlow

Our March 2023 communications column is by Minnesota Sea Grant (MNSG) Communications Associate Hannah Cullen.

Our Knauss Q&As are about our 2023 Knauss Fellows’ experiences as they take on year-long fellowship appointments in the legislative and executive branches of government in Washington, D.C., to address ocean, coastal and Great Lakes policy decisions at the national level.

Our Knauss Fellows began their fellowships in February and are getting acclimated to their new positions with their host offices.

Image credit: Brandon Barlow.

Meet Brandon Barlow.

Brandon is a classically trained double bass player with a master’s in natural resource sciences, who is now a 2023 Sea Grant Knauss Fellow learning to navigate in his new role as a regional ocean and coast fellow for the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System office of the NOAA National Ocean Service.

Brandon is one of five Minnesota Sea Grant Knauss Fellows, and one of 86 Knauss Fellows from across the country to participate in the 2023 Knauss Fellowship.

2023 Minnesota Sea Grant Knauss Fellow Brandon Barlow.

After double majoring in marine affairs and music performance at the University of Miami, Brandon left the East Coast for the Northern Pacific Ocean to work as a groundfish observer for the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Brandon spent two seasons (June-August 2019 and February-March 2020) on the Bering Sea helping to collect data on cod and flatfish, specifically how much of each species was being caught and ensuring that bycatch, including salmon and crab were being accounted for and treated appropriately.

Brandon’s second season as a groundfish observer was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant he had to leave his position with the NMFS earlier than he anticipated. By that point Brandon already knew that he had been accepted into the natural resource sciences master’s program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

During his master’s program, Brandon completed a fisheries-related thesis. “We were trying to see if demographics could tell us more about how people recreationally behave, focusing on people that were fishing,” said Brandon.

The Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship is a prestigious opportunity for fellows to apply their educational experiences, skills and perspectives to real-world problems affecting coastal, marine and Great Lakes resources, and contribute to real-world change by addressing the national policy decisions affecting those resources.

Image credit: Brandon Barlow.

Tell us about your interest in marine policy.

“Going all the way back to undergrad I knew that I wanted to be in the ocean sciences in some capacity. I was originally planning to focus more on marine biology, but at the University of Miami, marine biology was two majors and I couldn’t add that on top of the major that I had to have, which was music performance,” said Brandon. “The other option was to try marine affairs which had a lot of ocean policy in it and I found that it was really interesting.”

How did you learn about the Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship?

“I got an email from my adviser. I don’t know where he got the email from, but he thought it would be of interest to me because he knew that we were in a landlocked state [Nebraska] but I still had a lot of interest and background experience in the ocean side of things,” said Brandon.

What about the Knauss Fellowship orientation surprised you?

“It was surprising to be in a room filled with people again. It’s been pretty rare to have that number of people willing to sit down and have conversations in a room where you don’t know anyone else,” said Brandon.

Brandon said it also seemed like there was a wide array of disciplines represented at the Knauss Fellowship orientation. “We had people who are in the hard sciences, hard STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math], biological sciences, mostly ocean sciences, but I know we do have a couple of geologists, and things like that. There’s also people that are not related to STEM at all. I believe I met a couple of attorneys. One of the attorneys also happened to be a historian,” he said.

“It’s not just a whole bunch of young people, it’s people that are newlyweds, people that have kids, and people that had a stable job for a while and just wanted to try something new,” said Brandon. “I was not expecting that. I was just expecting a whole bunch of young kids straight out of college, and I think everybody was, it's just that they were doing it at different times in their lives.”

What do you think your typical day as a Knauss Fellow in your host office will be like?

“My focus is to help transfer information between their 11 regional offices and make sure everybody is on the same page,” said Brandon. The Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) gets a lot of requests to gather information for other agencies. One of Brandon’s main tasks right now is to help redirect some of those requests for information to people within the office.

Brandon will also be helping to develop a system for how IOOS communicates with the regional managers of the 11 regional offices and figure out what kinds of support they might need. “It’s probably hard to keep tabs among everybody, so I think we’re trying to establish that baseline of making sure that everybody knows what everybody’s doing,” said Brandon.

“Another thing that I know I’m probably going to be involved in a little bit is the New Blue Economy,” said Brandon. “We are a part of that because the New Blue Economy has a request to seek sustainable advances in technology. One of the core aspects of my office is that we are trying to find new ways to gather ocean information and with that comes a focus on new technology.”

What about the Knauss Fellowship experience are you most excited about?

“I’ve been really excited about meeting new people. This is an entirely new environment and there’s a lot of people that are doing a lot of cool things behind the scenes,” said Brandon. “I’m really excited to interact with some of these people that may or may not even be in the office. I feel like half of the people that I’ve met don’t necessarily have affiliations with IOOS but are still doing really cool things.”

What’s your one most important piece of advice to students considering applying for the Knauss Fellowship?

“I would say, be creative, be a little vulnerable, and also if you’re in school and you have the opportunity, utilize the resources at a writing center,” said Brandon.

More information about the Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship

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