Women in Science: Leaders in Electronic Technologies

March 27, 2019

Electronic monitoring and electronic reporting technologies are being developed to support science-based management decisions in commercial and recreational fisheries across the country.

NOAA's women leaders in electronic technologies.

This year, to celebrate Women’s History Month, we are highlighting eight women leaders in electronic technologies. We asked them to tell us about themselves and what it means to be a woman in science. 

Greater Atlantic    

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Claire Fitz-Gerald (B.S. in Biology, Trinity College; M.S. of Environmental Management, Duke University) is a Fishery Management Specialist with the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office in Gloucester, Massachusetts.  After completing her degrees, Claire worked with the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, partnering with the fishing industry on electronic monitoring pre-implementation programs for the groundfish fishery. 

In 2017, she joined the Sustainable Fisheries Division as a member of the groundfish team.  Claire collaborates with her colleagues at the Regional Office and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, as well as industry and nonprofit project partners, to manage two ongoing electronic monitoring pre-implementation programs in the groundfish fishery.  She also serves as the electronic technologies liaison for the region. 

Fitz-Gerald Quote:

“I believe in maximizing the harvest of our natural resources while ensuring our fisheries are sustainable for the future.  Working at NOAA Fisheries allows me to serve industry, and use my knowledge and expertise to impact federal fisheries policy.”

National

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Jackie Wilson (B.A in Aquatic Ecology, University of California, Santa Barbara; M.S and Ph.D. in Theoretical and Quantitative Ecology, University of Florida) is a Fishery Management Specialist with the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Management Division in Silver Spring, Maryland.  She joined HMS as a Sea Grant Knauss Fellow in 2005 and has continued there as staff.

Since 2013 the HMS Division has required that seafood dealers use electronic reporting.  Jackie leads the HMS electronic data collection system, which includes multiple state and federal partners, for HMS seafood dealers.  She has organized and coordinated the integration of electronic HMS reporting requirements into existing electronic reporting programs across multiple regions. Her efforts make use of current technologies to inform management decisions with timely, accurate, and consistent landings data and to monitor and measure the effects of those management actions in real time.

Wilson Quote:

“We have had phenomenal leadership by women at NOAA who have embraced new technologies.  Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, a former Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator, gave a keynote address that still resonates with me today. She said, ‘We live in an era of finite resources with an ever increasing demand for them. However, unlike any other time, we now have the capabilities and technologies to monitor, measure, and react to conservation and management needs in real time.’ Such leaders exemplify strong, intelligent, and informed leadership, and provide role models to inspire women to pursue scientific careers and powerful leadership positions.”

West Coast

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Courtney Paiva (B.S. in Marine Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth) is the Project Manager for the Electronic Monitoring Program at the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. Courtney grew up in Massachusetts close to the coast, and developed an interest in ocean and marine organisms at a young age.  After graduating from college, Courtney worked for the UMASS Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology as a laboratory technician, where she identified fish and invertebrates on video for its scallop survey.

 

Courtney went on to become a fisheries observer in New England and then moved across the country in 2013 to Portland, Oregon, to work as a data imagery reviewer at the Pacific States Commission.  She was instrumental in implementing NOAA Fisheries’ electronic monitoring projects on the West Coast and in Alaska.

Paiva Quote:

“I was raised to see women and men as equals, so I was taken aback when I was in college and a male Ph.D. student told me that being a female will help me with my career in fisheries. I interpreted this as ‘women aren’t as intelligent and useful as men in fisheries, so they are just used for diversity.’ I didn’t believe that statement then, and I don’t believe it now. I have been surrounded by extremely intelligent and successful females for the past 8 years of my career in fisheries. These women have contributed so much to fisheries science, and I am eager to see future generations of women take on a more prominent role in this field.”

National

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Laura Keeling (B.A. in Environmental Biology, Skidmore College; M.S. of Environmental Management, Duke University) is a Fishery Management Specialist with the Domestic Fisheries Division in the Office of Sustainable Fisheries in Silver Spring, Maryland. Laura grew up on Cape Cod, where she followed her childhood passion for riding and competing horses. Laura worked at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole as a research assistant on a eutrophication study of a local estuary while teaching lab and field courses to undergraduate students. 

Laura joined the Office of Sustainable Fisheries in 2017, where her portfolio expanded to include policy development and outreach for electronic technologies as well as legislative analyses. Laura coordinates with the Office of Science and Technology, NOAA Fisheries leadership, regional offices, councils, industry, NGOs, and other partners to develop national policies aimed to improve the guidance, coordination, regulation, and implementation of electronic technologies in fisheries across all regions.

Keeling Quote:

“I grew up in a family of women in the medical field, so I was lucky enough to be encouraged from a young age to explore my interest in the sciences. My passion for environmental conservation and science was fostered through challenging college science courses, and furthered by my first true mentor and boss who is a leader in her field of biogeochemistry. Being supported by, and shown examples of, strong women in the sciences throughout my education and personal life helped me see all the possibilities out there for me to pursue. I am given confidence in women making important contributions to technological advances in sustainable fisheries management from the increasing presence and leadership roles of women I work with in the field, lab, and office.” 

Southeast

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Heather Moncrief-Cox (B.S. in Marine Biology, Minor in Environmental Studies; M.S. in Environmental Biology, University of West Florida) is an Assistant Observer Coordinator with the Southeast Fisheries Science Center’s Observer Program in Panama City. Since her third-grade career day—when Heather dressed up as a marine biologist—she has never looked back. Heather currently works with vessel owners and crews to place observers on board fishing vessels in the Gulf of Mexico.

Heather is also the project manager for developing a tablet application for at-sea data collection. Use of tablets allows for real-time quota monitoring and reduces transcription errors through in-app validations, while also minimizing costs associated with paper forms and data entry time. She recently worked on an electronic monitoring project, testing the feasibility of using video cameras for documenting protected resource interactions with commercial shrimp trawling vessels. Heather is also co-leading the development of a barcoding system to improve sample tracking across database platforms.

Moncrief-Cox quote:

“Commercial fishing is a nearly all-male field, so being able to break down walls and prove my capabilities as a female scientist has always been my top goal. The greatest compliment I could receive leaving a vessel was being told by the captain I was welcome back anytime, something I accomplished quite a bit over the years. Although I’m now in a female-dominated office, maintaining that kind of respect with stakeholders and coworkers is still a priority. Being successful in a STEM field is about proving your strengths to yourself as much as it is proving them to others.”

Northeast

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Erin Kupcha (B.S. in Marine Biology and a B.S. in Mathematics, Roger Williams University; M.S. in Computer Science, Bridgewater State University) is a Fishery Biologist with the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts.  Erin grew up going to the Jersey shore, staying in the ocean as long as she could convince her family to let her.  Erin started as a Closed Area scallop observer in May 2000, worked as a contractor for the Observer Program for 5 years, and became a federal employee in 2005. 

Working with the Data Management Systems Division at the Science Center, Erin supported the deployment of the first observer at-sea data collection program with Wi-Fi connectivity to facilitate timely transmission of the data upon landing.  In 2014, she supported development of a rugged tablet with a native Android application designed and written to be target device–independent, permitting ease of deployment for future generation platforms.  Since then, Erin has been collaborating with other U.S. observer programs to discuss their unique electronic reporting requirements.  

Kupcha Quote:

“There was always a strong contingent of women in the STEM classes in high school and in undergraduate and graduate courses that I attended.  The diversity of people that I met during this time taught me that STEM is a common language and connection in all cultures.” 

Pacific Islands

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Stefanie Dukes (B.S. University of California at Santa Cruz; M.S. in Marine Sciences, University of Puerto Rico) is a Fishery Management Specialist with the Fisheries Research and Monitoring Division at the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu.  Stefanie grew up in Canada and developed a fascination with the ocean while spending her summers in Florida.  She began her marine science career as a fisheries observer in the Northeast.  After observing, she joined Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office to ensure the quality, timeliness, accuracy, and completeness of fishery-dependent data sources. After 6 years there, she accepted a position at the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center to work on the insular fisheries data collection systems that support fisheries management in Hawaii and the territories of Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.  She has developed a strong partnership with staff at the territorial and state fisheries agencies.  Her collaboration with these partners includes ensuring that fisheries data are delivered in a timely fashion, monitoring fishing effort, and working to update and modernize agency applications while implementing quality control measures and data collection standards.

Dukes Quote:

“Growing up, it never occurred to me that men and women weren’t on even ground regarding career choices or opportunities. It was always instilled in me to dream big and do what fuels you to be successful and kind no matter what your gender.  Landing in a field that was traditionally male dominated, I was surprised by some of the challenges I’ve encountered.  Over the years, however, I’m finding that a shift is occurring, and with more women in leadership and management roles it’s both encouraging and promising for future generations. In our current global climate both politically and environmentally, science is becoming increasingly important, and I’m moved by and hopeful about the dialogue occurring within our younger generations.”

Alaska

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Suzanne Romain (B.S. in Marine Science and Natural History, Evergreen State) works for the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission to develop sensor and machine vision data collection strategies with the Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division Innovation Project.  Suzanne grew up in the Northwest, getting out on boats to fish with her family at age 5.  Having developed a love for the ocean she started as an observer in the Alaska fishing industry. After years at sea and out on seabird refuges, she understood how difficult and expensive it is to observe the ocean and its critters, and she developed a keen interest in sensor-based data collections. 

Suzanne’s current project includes strong collaboration among the Pacific States Commission, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, University of Washington, North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and Alaska fixed gear fleet. She designs and fabricates the hardware systems of electronic monitoring data collections, which include the microcontrollers and the sensors they read, and the machine vison cameras and computers, all of which must be waterproofed for marine environments.

Romain Quote:

 “As far as being a woman in science, while I have encountered disrespectful individuals, the majority of fishermen and scientists I have worked with have been inspirational and very bright.  I have learned as much from deck crews and captains as I have from my scientist peers. Since this field in particular calls for such a diversity of skills and experience, it truly takes all kinds to complete a mission.  One thing I appreciate about my career has been the opportunity to learn new things—from navigation and J-cuts for the Japanese markets; to electronic board design, machine vision algorithms, the physics of sound, the mechanics of photography, and the properties of swim bladders; to how many lobes on the petasma makes for a male krill’s age.  It’s a field with so many interesting things to encounter and niches for so many different types of people.  The adventurous and driven individuals I have met along way are my tribe, and I am most grateful for finding it.”