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Sophia Ly sits at a laptop working

After winning NOAA fellowship, Northeastern grad will take marine environmental mission to D.C.

Sophia Ly, lab technician for Northeastern's Marine Science Center, is the winner of a Sea Grant Knauss fellowship sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Currently a lab technician for Northeastern’s Marine Science Center, Sophia Ly is heading to Washington, D.C., to work on marine policy issues as the winner of a Sea Grant Knauss fellowship sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ly, who obtained a master’s degree in environmental science and policy from Northeastern in December, will spend a year working for a federal agency, starting in February.

“It could be NOAA. It could be the EPA. I could be working for the Biden administration staff,” Ly says, adding that she won’t have an assignment until after placement interviews take place in October.

The Newton, Massachusetts, resident says she is excited about pursuing her career goal of making marine environmental science issues accessible to the public.

“As a first generation Asian American, there aren’t too many role models in the field, at least in my experience,” Ly says.

“I don’t have much exposure to marine science and environmental policy within my own community. This fellowship will allow me to explore all the opportunities out there. I can really hone in on what I like to do.”

Ly is the latest in a string of Northeastern graduate students who have received the fellowship named after former NOAA Administrator John A. Knauss.

headshot of Sophia Ly
Sophia Ly, lab technician for Northeastern’s Marine Science Center, is the winner of a Sea Grant Knauss fellowship sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

There have been at least seven other fellows from Northeastern in recent years, one each in 2013, 2015 and every year since 2017, according to spokespeople for Northeastern’s Marine Science Center and the College of Science.

Ly’s  supervisor, Marine Sciences Center professor Brian Helmuth, says Ly is positioned to flourish in the fellowship program.

“Sophia started in my lab as a sophomore and continued through her (master’s) degree. It has been fantastic to see her develop into the amazing scientist and science communicator she is today,” Helmuth says.

Ly says that since she was a child, she has cherished the opportunity to get outside and enjoy quiet moments in nature. 

Her love of the environment has translated into a desire to work on policies that help manage and sustain it, Ly says. “I want to do something that will allow me to reach more stakeholders.”

Her work for Northeastern includes interacting with the public and scientists on a number of levels, from website design proposals for Tiny Sea, an online game teaching middle school students about aquaculture, to developing a survey for researchers on roadblocks to conservation in the Arabian Gulf.

She also helped create a virtual interactive module that the public can use to learn about urban heat islands in Boston for Helmuth doctoral student David Sittenfeld.

Helmuth says he’s thrilled to see Ly’s hard work pay off and for her to receive what he calls a  “highly competitive fellowship.”

“I have no doubt that Sophia is going to play an impactful role in Washington as she takes the next step in what I know is going to be a very bright career.”

NOAA’s Sea Grant program says that since 1979, “almost 1,500 fellows have completed the program, becoming leaders in science, policy and public administration roles.”

The 2023 class of 86 fellows is the largest ever. The fellows are assigned to work for either the legislative or executive branch on issues affecting ocean, coastal and Great Lakes environmental issues.

Ly, who transferred to Northeastern University as an undergraduate her sophomore year, said she will head to D.C. this month to work as an intern for U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, before the Knauss fellowship gets underway.

She says she hopes to get a job with a federal agency after her fellowship ends in 2024. Living in Washington, D.C., will present “all different kinds of networking opportunities,” Ly says.

She encourages other Northeastern graduate and doctoral students to apply for the Knauss fellowship.

Talking with recent fellowship winners Allison Matzelle and Amanda Dwyer helped demystify the process, Ly says. “They gave me good advice. The whole process isn’t as scary as it seems.”

The following is a list of recent Northeastern graduate students who have been awarded a Sea Grant Knauss fellowship, according to spokespeople from the Marine Sciences Center and College of Science.

2013: Theresa Davenport

2015: Helen Cheng 

2017: Kate McClure

2018: Rebecca Certner   

2019: Allison Matzelle

2020: Amanda Dwyer

2021: Violet Doucette

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