2014 State of the Fellowship Address: We have joined the Knauss Mafia

by Leslie Irwin

Watching the 2014 State of the Union Address last night, staring down the barrel of my last three days as a Knauss Fellow, I couldn’t help but get to rehashing the past year and seriously contemplating my future.

“Seriously contemplating my future” was an unfortunately common response by many Knauss Fellows to describe our post-fellowship plans during our graduation ceremony. This would have been much more depressing had we not allowed the wry humor of sarcasm and acceptance control the atmosphere. The indisputable crowd favorite was “moving in with my very employed wife,” and thankfully, laughter was in abundance.

Knauss Class of 20132013 Knauss Class Graduation with NOAA Administrator, Dr. Kathy Sullivan

A more positive example was a proposal to start our own group, which I have taken the liberty to name the Knauss Non-profit Association for Unemployment SuccesS (KNAUSS). If this year has taught us nothing else, it’s how to make ridiculous organizational acronyms. Is there a job for that? You can find us frolicking through various Smithsonian museums over the coming weeks, because “FREE” is a price we can stomach.

I digress. I didn’t want to come here to complain. We’ve been more than hard enough on ourselves the past few months, and I want to end this fellowship on a positive note.

While many of us have been left with uncertainty, just as many have found their next steps. Some will stay on with their former host offices, pushing forward the mission and projects they have already invested much of the past year in! Some are going back to school, to finish that pesky dissertation or start a new degree! Still more have found new opportunities that align with their passions and new skills, and I couldn’t be more excited to see where they go from here!

It is amazing what this past year has done for us. We had no idea what we were in for after Placement Week, over a year ago. We have become masters of science, policy, communications, bureaucracy and networking. I have no doubt that we are all prepared for whatever comes next, and it’s only a matter of time before we are recognized and rewarded for this experience with a job.

One criticism I’ve heard with regards to the SOTU from last night was that it was hardly different from the 2013 SOTU, and that it only highlighted how little President Obama has actually accomplished in the last year. I can’t deny that the 2013 speech had left me with a lot of hope for the future of research, development, new energy, and addressing climate change. Instead we were hit with a crippling sequester and government shutdown that impeded research advancements. But last night, when I heard the President say, “Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery,” I couldn’t help but feel hopeful about the year to come.

Oh, and did you hear? The President came right out and stated “climate change is a fact!” While I have more than a few issues with fracking, I appreciated the President’s praise of natural gas as a way to “power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.” Even better was his promotion of solar power and proposing “a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.”

These are welcome words. Obviously only time will show us if this SOTU is more than foolish optimism and an actual push towards progress, but I am excited to see some action. I am excited to stay in DC, even though I don’t know what I will be doing next. I feel energized by the potential to continue on in this city as an environmental and ocean advocate.

Things are happening, and I’m already seeing the number of job postings increase (we’ve also been armed with tips for negotiating salaries). So let’s get out there and keep doing what we started! After all, we’re in the G-D-M-F Knauss Mafia!!

Go forth my fellows, and keep an eye out for the first official meeting of the KNAUSS.

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