UAB’s Cutts selected for national marine policy fellowship

By: Melissa Schneider / Published: Jul 25,  2018

Sandra Cutts
Sandra Cutts

Sandra Cutts, a University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) doctoral candidate, has been selected as one of 66 finalists for the 2019 Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship.

Cutts, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in environmental engineering, will spend one year in the Washington, D.C., area working in either an executive or legislative government office.

As a doctoral student at UAB, she is investigating brownfields (properties that face redevelopment or reuse issues because they contain or are perceived to contain pollutants or contaminants). She is looking at redeveloped sites for trends and characteristics that could ultimately encourage stakeholder investment in cleaning up and redeveloping brownfields.

She also enjoys providing environmental information to communities and working with them on environmental efforts.

“I enjoy that because people are willing to absorb the information, and they are willing to do their part to minimize their footprint,” she said.

The fellowship

The Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium endorsed Cutts' application for the highly competitive Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, which is sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Sea Grant College Program.

Since 1979, the Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship has placed more than 1,200 early-career professionals in the government offices and agencies in Washington D.C. to work as science advisers. The 2019 finalists will become the 40th class of the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship program.

“The Knauss fellowship is one of Sea Grant’s flagship programs,” Jonathan Pennock, director of the National Sea Grant College Program, said. “Every class of Knauss fellows continues to raise the bar, and the 2019 finalists are no exception. I’m also happy to share that in response to growing demand for Sea Grant Knauss fellows in federal government offices, we are pleased to include two additional legislative fellowships for the 40th anniversary class.”

Knauss finalists are chosen through a competitive process that includes several rounds of review at both the state Sea Grant program and national levels. Students finishing master’s degree, Ph.D. and Juris Doctor programs with a focus and/or interest in marine science, policy or management apply to one of the 33 Sea Grant programs.

If applicants are successful at the state-program level, a panel of experts reviews their applications.

“One of the most impressive comments Sandra made during her interview was her desire to return to Alabama after completing her fellowship,” LaDon Swann, director of Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant, said. “She has a strong commitment to servant leadership.”

Highly recommended

Professor Stephen Egarievwe, director of the Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Science Center at Alabama A&M University, is Cutts’ mentor and former research advisor.

“She is among the top 10 percent in terms of intellectual abilities among the students I have taught, mentored and advised in the past 10 years,” he said. “She has displayed exemplary work in numerous community improvement activities. Her passion, tenaciousness and hardworking character, combined with her academic abilities, will make her to be a successful fellow.”

Later this year, the 2019 Knauss fellows will travel to Washington, D.C., to interview with several executive and legislative offices to determine where they will work during their fellowship, which begins in February.

“I am looking forward to seeing how my interests, education and research could add value,” Cutts said. “I’m excited about the opportunity and totally open to new challenges.”

In addition to her coursework, she has been an intern with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, General Services Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site. She also performed environmental research in Africa, where she investigated the use of solar panels in Saharan areas.

“I enjoy talking to people from diverse backgrounds and really working to come up with solutions,” she said. “You have to work with everyone to come up with solutions and look at the problem in a holistic way.”

Cutts has a master’s degree in environmental planning and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, both from Alabama A&M University.


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