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Meet Erica Rule, Chief of Staff for Science Planning and Operations

March 07, 2023

As part of the Faces of the Southeast Fisheries Science Center series, meet Erica Rule.

Erica Rule Kayaking with Girl Scouts Erica kayaking at a Girl Scout campout. Photo courtesy of Erica Rule.

Where did you grow up? 

I was born and raised in Northern Virginia where my parents, sister, and most of my extended family still live. My interest in marine science probably started from growing up on the estuaries of Chesapeake Bay and seeing water quality changes up close. Following my growing interest in tropical marine science, I moved to Miami, Florida for graduate school, where I have lived since 1997.

Profile picture of Erica Rule.
Profile picture of Erica Rule. Photo courtesy of Erica Rule.

Where did you go to school and in what subject did you get your degree(s)?

I earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from Mary Washington College (now the University of Mary Washington) in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  I followed that up with a Master’s of Science in Marine Affairs and Policy from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School for Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science.

How did you come to work at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center?

My long career with NOAA started across the street from the center’s Miami facility, at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. As their first outreach and education coordinator, and eventually the communications director, I often collaborated with staff and leadership at the center. These collaborations included public events like the NOAA Open House and Dade County Fair, as well as coordinating many site visits from members of congress, and numerous NOAA administrators and leaders. 

Erica and her husband, Lance, enjoying a break at the observation tower.
Erica and her husband, Lance, enjoying a break at the observation tower at Shark River Valley in the Everglades National Park. Photo courtesy of Erica Rule.

In 2010, I completed the 12-month Department of Commerce Aspiring Leaders Development Program which required a detail to another federal organization. I approached the center director at the time, Bonnie Ponwith, to see if the center would consider hosting me. I spent 4 months on a detail in the Operations, Management, and Information Division working with Peter Thompson. There I spent my time researching NOAA policy for student interns and volunteers while learning a lot about the mission of NOAA Fisheries. Peter made sure I spent time with different groups at the lab and I’ll never forget Pam Brown-Eyo teaching me how to remove my first otolith (bone to age fish) from a sample at a local fish house. I should have seen a future for me in fisheries then! 

I’ve always known friends who worked at the center’s Miami facility, so it always felt like a second NOAA home to me, where people greeted me by name when I arrived. I was at ease because I knew who to go to when we needed to collaborate to get an answer or resolve an issue. After working in a few more details in the National Ocean Service during my time in NOAA’s Leadership Competency Development Program, I realized I was ready and willing to consider a change that would allow me to focus more on organizational excellence and really helping people and work units succeed. My only conditions were that I preferred to stay in NOAA, and I needed to stay in the Miami area where my family lives. When the Chief of Staff announcement opened, I knew this was the opportunity I was looking for.

What do you do at the science center?

As the Chief of Staff for Science Planning and Operations, I support the leadership of the center by making recommendations and providing timely and informed guidance in support of the center's mission. I help ensure success of the center’s recent realignment and lead the evolving strategic planning process, aligning the strategic objectives and initiatives with budget planning and execution. I coordinate with the Operations, Management, and Information Division to implement the annual budget planning process, Priority Based Resourcing, and ensure effective allocation of resources in alignment with annual guidance priorities. I enjoy working with our Deputy of Science and Operations, Lisa Defosse, in recommending and implementing courses of action to support our newly expanded supervisor network. I also get to take on some challenging assignments like co-leading our growing role in supporting offshore wind development in our region.

What do you like most about your position?

Erica retrieving a juvenile loggerhead sea turtle on a NOAA Ship.
Erica retrieving a juvenile loggerhead sea turtle during turtle excluder device (TED) testing on the R/V Caretta out of Panama City, Florida. Credit: NOAA Fisheries (ESA Permit 20339)

I really like the people I get to work with. I am absolutely inspired by the NOAA mission and the people who choose to work for our agency. We really do provide a valuable public service for the nation. I am a lifelong learner and since joining NOAA Fisheries I’ve enjoyed getting to know how we collect and analyze fishery, ecosystem, economic, and protected resources data—and all of the science support it takes to make it happen. I wouldn’t say I’ve enjoyed getting to know the massively complex NOAA Fisheries budget, but I’m happy I am now able to understand and contribute to the process of prioritizing how we allocate those limited resources effectively. I also embrace change, and was drawn to this position because of the vision our director, Clay Porch, clearly articulated would be part of my job. He emphasized helping the center gain recognition as a well-managed governmental science organization through improvements in client satisfaction driven by high-quality, multi-disciplinary and timely scientific information delivered by an empowered and engaged staff.

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

That women recognize their potential, embrace and cultivate their gifts and strengths, and support each other in their desired growth and achievement. I am thankful for the women leaders I have watched and known in NOAA—they have inspired me to accept new challenges, and not be afraid of failure. There are many parts of my life in which I have influential women role models—shout out to my mom who inspired my path into environmental science! In looking at celebrating women in NOAA, I encourage a review of this wonderful story map entitled In Their Own Words: Women Doing NOAA's Work. It was released right near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, so you might have missed it.

Erica Rule with female staff members of NOAA Fisheries.
Lisa Belskis, Trika Gerrard, Erica Rule, Keeley Belva, and Mridula Shrinivassan enjoying networking once COVID restrictions were lifted. Photo courtesy of Erica Rule.

What advice do you have for future women in Fisheries/STEM?

Reach out and find great role models and mentors, including some who have navigated your similar circumstances! Build your professional network of trusted people (men and women) who believe in you and will advocate for you. They can help you be prepared to navigate challenges, take calculated risks, and push yourself to try new roles, opportunities, and career moves. Most importantly, don’t be self limiting. If you need to expand your skill set, make that a priority. If you are interested in an opportunity but think you might not have all of the experience required, inquire. The answer might be “No,” but you never hear “Yes” unless you ask (or apply).

What do you like to do outside of work?

Erica and her family hiking in Montana.
Erica and her family hiking in Montana (Lance, Erica, Mason, Sabrina). Photo courtesy of Erica Rule.

I am an extrovert who really enjoys connecting with my family and friends outside of work. Food is my love language, and a way to decompress and transition from work to home. I love learning new recipes and trying new ingredients, as well as great local restaurants. My family stays pretty active, and we enjoy playing sports, camping, and biking south Florida's great paths like Shark Valley in the Everglades. One activity I really treasure is being a lifelong Girl Scout. My mother was my troop leader, and I have enjoyed supporting and leading my daughter’s troop for 12 years. 

Contact Erica Rule

Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on March 07, 2023