Knauss Fellow Jesse Ross explores policy at Navy Office of the Environment

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Friday, February 5, 2021 - 9:15am

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Jesse Ross 2020 Knauss FellowNew Hampshire Sea Grant’s 2020 Knauss Fellow Jesse Ross is wrapping up his year working in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations, and Environment. There, he contributed to policy, environmental evaluations, worked with stakeholders, and helped plan environmental strategy. 

Before beginning his Knauss Fellowship, Jesse completed both his undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of New Hampshire, where he explored the impacts of oil in the marine environment as a member of the Coastal Response Research Center, led by Dr. Nancy Kinner.

As a Knauss Fellow, Jesse continued working to understand and mitigate environmental impacts, but shifted focus from research to policy and its implications for naval operations and facilities. One of the functions of the Navy Secretariat’s Environment Office is to act as a mediator between naval operations and local stakeholders. Jesse supported these efforts for several large projects, especially related to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Jesse explained that NEPA requires the Navy “to take a hard look at any action that will impact the environment and include public input.”

Jesse helped integrate stakeholder feedback into the Navy’s plans for the modernization of a Naval Air Station in Nevada, involving outreach with state agencies, local tribes, and other local interested parties. “I was able to listen in on calls with Congressional representatives as well as tribes, and then draft documents for interagency agreements for airspace use over a National Wildlife Refuge,” Jesse said.  

Working through this air station modernization project gave Jesse hands-on experience in environmental policy creation, a process he discovered to be surprisingly collaborative between agencies that help each other to understand what policies might mean for them. “Following the Counsel on Environmental Quality’s [CEQ] update to NEPA regulations, we worked with many other agencies to understand and implement new regulations. I was often tasked with looking at how the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development], or Department of Homeland Security was implementing the new regulations, as we updated ours. In interagency guidance calls, we discussed what agencies were doing to implement the NEPA update. ‘What does that look like for your internal policies?’ Then I could draft memos of guidance on specific provisions and share that with the other services in the Department of Defense, and other agencies as well,” Jesse described. These memos were reviewed by top Navy counsel and subject matter experts before being published for internal guidance.

For Jesse, this experience reframed the concept of what policy is, how it’s created, and ultimately how it’s interpreted and implemented. “I got to work with experts to draft memos that went out to the Navy and U.S. Marine Corps on what the updated policy means for our practitioners in the field,” said Jesse.

Seeing how policy works from the inside was an illuminating and inspiring experience. “I'm encouraged by how a one-page memo can turn into action all over the country. By the nature of this year, I'm hungry for more experience. I'm still really attracted to D.C. and national-level, federal policy.”

While Jesse’s experience at the Navy was not exactly what he expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic – telecommuting instead of touring an air station by helicopter or visiting an aircraft carrier – he found great value and career development opportunities in the work he accomplished. Even working remotely with high-level leadership provided incredible professional experience in project management, strategy, and policy. Despite changes to his fellowship plans, Jesse discovered a more nuanced appreciation for the role of policy makers. “I was encouraged to see how the government works, and I think I'd like to participate in it more,” said Jesse. “I was really drawn towards this big, wild experience, but now I think I'll stay because of the intricacies.”

I was encouraged to see how the government works, and I think I'd like to participate in it more. I was really drawn towards this big, wild experience, but now I think I'll stay because of the intricacies.

Jesse Ross, 2020 Knauss Fellow

With his Knauss Fellowship coming to an end, Jesse will continue his federal policy work for another six months at the Navy, where he’ll be helping to implement new requirements of the Biden Administration, whose executive orders have already set new goals and guidelines for all agencies regarding land and environmental stewardship.

Jesse sees his next steps keeping him involved in government and policy, but he’s also interested in working with organizations that support conservation more directly, particularly in water resources. He knows his experience as a Knauss Fellow will help him achieve his future goals.


Applications for the 2022 Class of the Knauss Fellowship are being accepted until February 19, 2021. To learn more, visit our Graduate Student Opportunities page.


Story by:

Tim Briggs, NH Sea Grant Science Communication Specialist