A reflection on my intentions for this fellowship

Fellowship Update

As I’ve talked about in past blog posts, I’m working on an erosion control guidebook that will give planners and other interested parties an overview of erosion control policy and implementation on the Oregon coast. This month, I completed a first draft of the guidebook. It was exciting to see the research I’ve been doing come together into a real document with good structure and flow. I’m also looking forward to the chance to promote my project in a series of presentations in late October and November. I’ll save the outcomes of my project for my next blog post, but I wanted to talk in this one about my goals coming into this fellowship and some of the things I’ve learned from it.

Intentions for this fellowship

I was initially excited about this fellowship because it would allow me to apply my coastal engineering masters degree in a completely new context. At the end of my masters, I had begun to realize that creative and clever engineering couldn’t provide a ‘silver bullet’ solution for the challenges posed by sea level rise and that policy, economic, and that other kinds of solutions were also needed. I was interested to see how my specific area of focus (coastal engineering) could fit into a larger view of coastal solutions, and this fellowship seemed like the perfect opportunity.

There are three main sectors I have in mind when talking about the multidisciplinary teams working to solve coastal issues. Obviously, there are many more areas of expertise that could be included, but these are the three that I feel are the most closely related to my continuing career:

  • Scientific: Scientists are instrumental in studying and understanding the challenges that impact coastal communities. Academic institutions or scientific agencies like DOGAMI have the ability to study problems and their potential solutions and contribute to a greater understanding of the coastal environment. They can also study the effectiveness of potential solutions. However, scientists have to be careful that their work is useful outside the scientific world and can be used by other practitioners
  • Policy: Policy-makers are able to use federal, state, and local laws to guide the development and conservation of the coast. Policy-makers have the important role of taking scientific knowledge and working with governing bodies and the community to come up with the best possible outcomes for coastal environments and people. Policy-makers can help coordinate between coastal issues and a huge range of other interests in a community, from economic to transportation to safety and much more. However, sometimes policy-makers don’t have the specific subject expertise for policies they are considering or are forced to rely on scientific information not suited for direct application in policy. Policy changes can also occur over a much longer time scale than scientific research and engineering.
  • Engineering: Engineers have the role of applying scientific information, policy restrictions, and individual site conditions to design creative and safe solutions to solve the solutions coastal communities are facing. Engineers bring valuable experience and practical knowledge of construction. However, they can be limited by funding (needing to use a less ideal, but cheaper solution). Engineering also sometimes acts as a “band-aid” solution without fixing the cause of the problem.

The coast is important to me, and I want to protect it in the best way I can from the threats of sea level rise and overdevelopment. I feel that communication and collaboration between these three disciplines is crucial to managing current and future coastal challenges, and I want to contribute to this by working at the intersections of them. I’ve interned for coastal engineering consulting firms (engineering sector), gotten my Master’s in coastal engineering from Oregon State University (science sector), and am now working on this erosion control guidebook with DLCD (policy sector).

Golden hour in Waldport, August 2021. (Pictures included here not because they’re directly related to the post, but because what would a blog post about working on the coast be without some beautiful pictures of the beach?)

Experience in the policy sector

After 9 months of my fellowship, I can identify a few things I’ve learned about the intersections between engineering, policy, and science:

  • As part of my project, I’ve been writing about different kinds of erosion control for an audience of policy-makers and planners. I’ve enjoyed getting to use my expertise with reading coastal engineering academic papers to make the information more easily accessible for people in the policy realm who aren’t as familiar with engineering literature.
  • During my internships at coastal engineering firms, I often had to quickly learn all about the history of an area of the coast. Searching for relevant project reports in the area took time and resources for me as an intern, so I am trying to use my guidebook to collect as many resources in one place as I can for anyone involved with the Oregon coast to use.
  • I’ve learned a lot about the process of coastal policy-making in Oregon, especially around the subject of erosion control. After observing the Goal 18 exception processes and using recommendations from a public focus group to guide my project, I feel much more confident in participating in public processes like these, both from a professional and personal perspective.
  • Through observing public processes, I better understand how scientific and engineering information is leveraged in a policy context. The most useful information was presented with conclusions that were clear and understandable to people without any experience on the science/engineering of the issue. For example, rating systems like DOGAMI’s erosion hazard zones were useful for policy-makers because they were simple, created by scientists, and enabled policy responses to vary based on clearly delineated hazard zones.
  • By learning about the history of development on the Oregon coast, I understand why policy today is restrictive about coastal development and erosion control. While I sometimes personally wish that policies were more restrictive in some cases and less restrictive in others, understanding the history behind their development helps me appreciate their value in protecting different aspects of the coast.
  • Funding for projects is difficult to come by for state agencies, especially when they are often responsible for the upkeep and updating of basic tools rather than the flashier projects preferred by funding organizations. Collaboration between state agencies and scientists could be beneficial in securing grants.

I am confident that, whatever my next job, this fellowship will have prepared me to better connect the worlds of science, engineering, and policy. The coastal issues facing us in the near future will be complicated and will affect all aspects of coastal society, and I hope that this experience will position me to be a valuable member of multidisciplinary teams.

Newport Jetty, September 2020
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