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Arnold School of Public Health

Maggie Carson awarded Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship

January 26, 2023 | Erin Bluvas,

Environmental health sciences doctoral candidate Maggie Carson has been selected to join one of the most prestigious fellowship programs in her field. As a member of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Sea Grant Program - John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship 2023 cohort, she will live and work in Washington D.C. as a fellow in the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the White House (part of the Executive Office of the President). The one-year program kicks off on February 1, not long before Carson defends her dissertation to wrap up her Ph.D. program.

The Norman J Arnold Doctoral Fellow’s spring graduation will be her second at USC. Carson is a 2017 graduate of the Arnold School’s Master of Public Health in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior program, where she was introduced to environmental health sciences during a core class taught by professor/chair Geoff Scott.

“I loved learning about the multitude of environmental contaminants out there in the world and how those things that are supposed to be helping humans, like flame retardants sprayed in buildings and on clothes to help prevent fire, can actually lead to negative human health impacts,” Carson says.

During her doctoral program, she became particularly interested in how human health is affected by contaminants found in water – whether through drinking water or recreational exposure (e.g., swimming, boating, fishing). Working with Scott and the Center for Oceans and Human Health and Climate Change Interaction, Carson began studying the toxins produced by a freshwater cyanobacteria that covers large portions of Lake Wateree and conducting field and laboratory toxicity tests with fish and assessments of lake residents. .

“Maggie will be able to bring this expertise to NOAA, which is one of the lead agencies that report to Congress under specific federal laws regulating harmful algal blooms, ” says Scott.

These toxins are present in both fresh and salt water in increasing numbers due to climate change and the rapid (often runaway) growth it causes. They can make humans and animals sick – not just acutely but with long-term immune system and liver damage as well – and are harmful to local ecology.

“Water is a precious and essential resource, and I want my research to help protect it and therefore protect human health, because humans can’t survive without access to clean water,” says Carson, who plans to continue addressing water contamination issues throughout her career – starting with the Knauss Fellowship.

“The Knauss Fellowship offers graduate students the invaluable opportunity to put their academic knowledge to practice in tackling marine, coastal, and Great Lakes management and policy challenges at the federal level,” Jonathan Pennock National Sea Grant College Program director said in an announcement. “We look forward to welcoming the 2023 class of Knauss fellows and seeing how they will apply their unique insights to developing solutions to some of the most important challenges facing the country.”

Carson will be applying the knowledge and expertise she gained during her time at the Arnold School as an Ocean Policy Fellow. Located at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (right next door to the White House), she will work with the Office’s Climate and Environment Team, which provides subject matter expertise. 

“As a fellow, I will primarily support ocean policy work, such as engaging with the Cabinet-level, congressionally-authorized Ocean Policy Committee,” Carson says. “I will also assist with the implementation of ocean policy, including initiatives related to climate, wind energy development, marine biodiversity, environmental justice, ocean spatial data and many other areas.”

"The Office of Science and Policy sets the research and technology agenda for many environmental agencies such as NOAA and the EPA, and we are all so proud of Maggie’s selection as a Knauss Fellow," Scott says. "Our former late Dean Winona B. Vernberg and John Knauss were great friends when he was the NOAA Administrator and often visited South Carolina.”

Her acceptance into the program is a reflection of the tremendous number of achievements Carson has received over the last several years. She is/has been a Southern Regional Education Board Fellow, SEC Emerging Scholar, Native Forward/American Indian Graduate Center Science Post Graduate Scholar, SPARC Award winner, and a Breakthrough Graduate Scholar. Carson is known for her service/leadership work and is the recipient of the Doctoral Student Excellence Award (Department of Environmental Health Sciences), Outstanding Graduate Student Award for Excellence in Diversity (Graduate Student Association) and Dean’s Award for Excellence in Leadership (Graduate School).

“I wouldn't be where I am without the support of my family and the wonderful faculty, staff, students and administrators from across the Arnold School and university,” she says. "I would particularly like to thank my doctoral committee members – Drs. Dwayne Porter and Daniela Friedman as well as Associate Dean for Research Alan Decho for all of their technical advice and research guidance.”


I Am Public Health: Maggie Carson

Recent doctoral graduate Shelby Butz awarded John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship

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