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Institute of Environment student becomes first Panther to accept NOAA’s Knauss fellowship

Institute of Environment student becomes first Panther to accept NOAA’s Knauss fellowship

March 22, 2021 at 2:15pm

Matt Smith wants to build a world where coastal communities are more resilient to the unknown. Now, he will be doing this in the nation’s capitol.

The FIU Ph.D. candidate in the Institute of Environment is the first FIU student to accept a NOAA John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. He is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources and the Coastal States Organization as a Coastal Resource Specialist.  

The paid fellowship places early career professionals in federal government offices, specifically sea grant programs, and gives them the opportunity to be hands-on with national policy decisions affecting ocean, coastal and Great Lake resources. He was one of three students in Florida selected for this prestigious fellowship.

He looks forward to taking on new challenges. Smith hopes to connect scientific evidence with policy implications and increase public awareness about issues that exist in coastal communities and what people can do.

The one-year fellowship relocates Smith to Washington, D.C., where he’ll work on a variety of national and state-level coastal resilience projects and contribute to the ongoing development of the new Systems Approach to Geomorphic Engineering (SAGE) Initiative.

“I’m excited to fit in all the pieces I’ve learned from urban ecology to coast planning and apply that,” Smith said “Really understanding how we can optimize the planning process and the design process for making a more resilient coastline.”

The Ph.D. candidate in biological sciences who grew up in the backwoods of Maryland, always knew he wanted to study environmental science in some capacity. The intersection of people, places and society fascinates him.

Smith’s work in Houston back in 2015 on the Buffalo Bayou – an area hit by Hurricane Harvey and known for substantial flooding – allowed him to work with residents on the ground and propose solutions to mitigate flooding. It was at that moment he knew he wanted to study coastal ecology.

Smith came to FIU because of a graduate fellowship position at the university’s Urban Resilience to Extreme Sustainability Research Network (UREx SRN), which allowed Smith to understand society as it relates to the ecology of the environment and how technology comes into play.

Over the last four and a half years, Smith spearheaded the deployment of a research buoy in the Coral Gables Canal and collected, analyzed and identified some of the sources of pollution in urban waterways that flowed into Biscayne Bay.  

“With every challenge, there’s going to be an opportunity for rising to the occasion,” Smith said.