Growing up in Key Biscayne, a barrier-island town east of Miami, Florida, Maya Becker was aware of the dynamic qualities of marine environments from a young age.
“I always recognized the ocean as this obviously very profound, very important part of our planet, but also as a threat to the community that I grew up in,” Becker says.
This perspective instilled Becker with a deep interest in marine policy, and a passion for understanding how coastal communities could become more resilient to the challenges that come with living near the ocean.
Earlier this year, Becker completed the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship Program — a one-year fellowship for graduate students interested in policy and marine resources. The program is sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Sea Grant College Program. Selected students are placed in federal government offices in Washington, D.C. In 2021, California Sea Grant had three students who were selected to be Knauss fellows: Becker, Rachael DeWitt and Sean Mullin.
For Becker, that meant spending the duration of her fellowship in Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office where she helped develop and shepherd legislation and brief the Senator on ocean-, fisheries-, and climate-related issues. Becker was assigned work on blue economy and coastal and ocean stewardship bills, including the Ocean Regional Opportunity and Innovation Act; the Blue Carbon for Our Planet Act; and the BLUE GLOBE Act. She led the office’s efforts on initiatives like the proposed National Climate Adaptation and Resilience Strategy Act, which would establish a chief resilience officer in the White House who would oversee the development of a whole-of-government strategy for climate adaptation and resilience. Becker also collaborated with staff in Senator Murkowski's and other Senate offices to advance Alaska priorities in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which the Senator helped craft.
“I got into a good rhythm both within my immediate team and as an individual in the office,” Becker says. “My supervisor trusted me to lead on certain pieces of legislation and speech, memo, and other writing, which I was very grateful for and felt more than prepared to do.”
Becker’s time on Capitol Hill along with the three weeks she spent in Alaska as part of Senator Murkowski’s “Team Ocean” provided valuable hands-on experience that this Knauss Fellow will take with her.
“It was really important for me to actually interact with Alaskans directly and see their innovative efforts and hear about the very real challenges that they are relying on their elected officials to address in Congress,” Becker says.
Becker will next defend her doctoral work with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which focuses on small-scale iceberg calving on Antarctica’s large ice shelves. Ice-shelf mass loss is expected to be a leading driver of sea-level rise in the 21st century.
After completing her degree, Becker plans to pursue a private sector climate risk analysis career to round out her understanding of how communities assess and adapt to climate-related changes.
“My placement in Senator Murkowski’s office exposed me to a diversity of issues and in the marine, environmental and climate policy spaces — and opportunities to participate in the crafting and passage of durable, bipartisan legislation,” Becker says.
About California Sea Grant
NOAA’s California Sea Grant College Program funds marine research, education and outreach throughout California. Headquartered at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, California Sea Grant is one of 34 Sea Grant programs in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce.