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Lauren Land, Ph.D. Student – “How did I end up in Geography?”

I was born and raised in the Chesapeake Bay region of the great state of Maryland. Since I was a little girl, I wanted to pursue a career in science. I have my parents to thank for indulging my curiosity with frequent trips to the Baltimore Zoo, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and the Maryland Science Center. I had my first trip to the ocean when I was 12, and if you can have a life-changing experience when you’re 12, that was it – I was amazed at the power of the ocean waves and knew from that moment that I wanted to learn more about the ocean and its coasts.

I went to the University of Maryland in College Park and graduated in2008 with a major in Environmental Science and Policy. I held my first internship at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and attended meetings for different Chesapeake Bay tributaries to learn about water quality problems associated with non-point source pollution and agricultural runoff. For two summers, I worked with an engineering and environmental firm specializing in ecological restoration and smart development at the land-water interface. I lived the easy life where we spent most of our days out on the water, surveying waterways around the Chesapeake Bay for seagrass species and density.

I was in college when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. In January 2007, I came to New Orleans with my college marching band to build houses in Musician’s Village. I’ll never forget the image I saw when we drove over the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal – houses removed from their foundations. Trucks and boats in the middle of kitchens. Rubble everywhere. In my college environmental science courses, we talked extensively about the role that wetlands play in reducing storm surge and erosion. While I did not yet understand the social and economic conditions leading to the disaster of Katrina, I could see the negative impacts of wetland loss. That experience served as the inspiration to come to LSU.

In July 2008, I joined the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences and worked on a lab study to investigate the microbial and physical responses of dredged sediment to two natural soil-stabilizing amendments (Xantham Gum and Guar Gum) for use in coastal wetland restoration. I enjoyed each step along the way (collecting sediments, applying treatments, doing lab work, analyzing results, writing papers, and graduating!!), but I also knew that I wanted to work at the science-policy interface to enhance the applicability of science to everyday life. So, through Louisiana Sea Grant, I applied for the Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship Program.

In 2011, I moved to Washington D.C. to work in NOAA’s National Sea Grant Office for one year. That one year gave me a quick introduction to the vast expanse of policy issues related to managing human behavior for environmental conservation and sustainability. When I first started with Sea Grant in the National Office, I was excited at the fact that all Sea Grant research projects involved actual people and agencies and organizations. No Sea Grant research happens in a silo – it is all applied. My academic training was in wetlands biogeochemistry, so I was used to being in a lab and focusing on my samples. In my first week of the Fellowship, Mike Orbach (Duke University social scientist) said “You can know the ins and outs of an ecosystem, but at the end of the day, our work is about managing people’s behavior.”  The lightbulb clicked on – I could see the importance of tying scientific research to reality.

I fell in love with the Sea Grant model of Extension and applied research: communicating with various audiences to identify their information needs and to share research results to provide information for making decisions for living, working, and playing in coastal environments. During the Fellowship, I enjoyed learning about the ways that each Sea Grant Program helps bridge the gap between coastal research and coastal people. I was fortunate to apply for a position at Louisiana Sea Grant, and I’ve been here since March 2012.

I’ve had the opportunity to partner with some of my colleagues on a “harbor of refuge” project related to ports and hurricane preparedness for commercial fishing vessel operators. As I’ve worked on this project and learned more about the process of pre-hurricane and post-hurricane management of boats, I’ve been introduced to various players – federal agencies, state agencies, local governments, and commercial fishing communities; emergency preparedness, navigational interests, and small businesses.

In my efforts to engage more with the social science discipline, I decided that I needed to go back to school. That’s how I came to the Geography Department! I began taking courses in the fall of 2013. I knew that Geography would be a perfect fit because of its nature as an integrative and synthetic discipline, functioning at the interface of the natural and social sciences. I have enjoyed learning about the development of geography as a field of study and its applicability to all issues, especially in the environmental policy world. Learning to think and ask questions like a geographer has already helped me in my role at Louisiana Sea Grant by helping me to approach problems in an interdisciplinary way.

For my dissertation research, I hope to tease out the interdependencies between ports and waterfront businesses in small port communities, especially as it relates to the commercial fishing industry. And now that we’re encroaching on ten years after Katrina and Rita, how have smaller port communities fared in their recovery? By understanding these relationships, I hope that my research will have application to facilitating communication and long-range planning efforts between ports, various levels of government, businesses, and community residents – all leading towards enhanced viability and resilience of smaller communities. In 2007, Louisiana was responsible for 20% of the nation’s import and export of petroleum products, 53% of that nation’s export of grains, and 37% of the nation’s commercial fisheries landings (Louisiana Marine Transportation System Plan). Our state is important to the economic growth and functioning of the United States, and that resilience begins at the nexus of land and sea in this beautiful, working coast environment.