Lake Champlain Sea Grant Fellows Reflect on Experience

By Anna Marchessault
May 08, 2024

Lake Champlain Sea Grant partners with organizations across the basin to support our Partnered Fellows. These fellowships are one to two-year positions meant for early career professionals to grow their skills and network in the Lake Champlain basin. This Spring, our fellows Carolyn Koestner and Stephanie Tyski are finishing up their two-year positions with us and reflecting on the experience, so we asked them to share some of their key takeaways.


Q1: What skills or experience did you gain through the position?

Carolyn: Over the course of my GIS & Science Communications Fellowship hosted at the Ausable River Association (AsRA), I had the opportunity to work and connect with so many people across the Lake Champlain basin. This opportunity to expand my network was invaluable as I look to sustain a long-term career and life in the Adirondacks. I also had the opportunity to become an FAA-licensed drone pilot and use drones to help AsRA better document its river restoration work. Drones are becoming an ever more important part of the GIS field, so I was glad for the opportunity to add this to my skillset.

Stephanie: During my time as a Watershed Science Communications Fellow with the Adirondack Watershed Institute (AWI) and Lake Champlain Sea Grant, I was given many opportunities to gain new skills and build confidence in the ones I already had. For example, while I had some experience in event management before my position, being the point person for AWI’s annual Sips & Science event during Adirondack Water Week allowed me to successfully plan and manage a large scale event. I also had the opportunity in September of 2023 to attend the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network Meeting in Chicago which provided a lot of new experiences, from flying alone for the first time to learning about the different issues the Great Lakes face. It was intriguing to hear about how the Great Lakes handle aquatic invasive species in comparison to the Adirondacks. Along with that, I made some great connections and got to educate others on different methods of education through video games.


Q2: What kinds of projects did you most enjoy working on?

Carolyn: I really enjoyed getting to use my GIS skills to help AsRA make place-based decisions more thoughtfully as well as better communicate their work to the public. One favorite project that I worked on that comes to mind is the virtual tour of the river restoration projects that I created. When I first joined AsRA, there was no one place for people to go to learn about all of their amazing past work, making sharing these successes really cumbersome. I decided to fix that by putting together this virtual tour so that all their past work could be viewed and celebrated from a single link. Since launching, the tour has been well received by funders, the public, and staff, and was so successful that I also worked on similar tours for other AsRA projects, like their climate-smart culverts. I also was able to manage AsRA’s Guided Watershed Tours program. Started in 2019, this program offers free opportunities for people to get out and connect with the Ausable watershed. Since taking over the program, I’ve had pleasure of being able to connect hundreds of people with the outdoors through a variety of programs, from riverwalking, to birding, to mushroom walks, to paddling. It’s truly a joy at each program to get to see people connecting with the outdoors and seeing the watershed around them in a new way.

Stephanie: I loved having the creative freedom to work on a couple of video games for the AWI. It gave me the experience to gain problem solving skills from perspectives that I normally would not have worked from. It also allowed me to dabble in design programs that I had not used previously. My favorite project that I worked on though was the Puddle Jumpers podcast. It was so rewarding to travel to different towns and highlight the work that community members in the Lake Champlain Basin were doing to protect their waters. It even resulted in one of the interviewees, Friends of Moody Pond, receiving an award from AWI for their work on the eradication efforts of Eurasian Watermilfoil from Moody Pond.


Q3: What did you see as the benefits and the challenges of a partnered fellowship position?

Carolyn: I think one of the best benefits of this partnered fellowship is, as I mentioned above, the opportunity to connect with such a large network across the Lake Champlain basin. On the other hand, I do think that is also one of the biggest challenges of a partnered fellowship is not quite being a “full” staff member at either organization and being stuck in a bit of limbo at times.

Stephanie: It’s great to have connections between two organizations as it can double your network base and provide more resources. It also allows for the opportunity to get different perspectives on various projects. It can be challenging though when it comes to figuring out what organization a project should fall under or how to report it. It can also be a bit difficult to feel connected to colleagues since you might not see them all the time depending on where you’re based.


Q4: What do you think you’ll take with you from this position into your career?

Carolyn: Over the course of my fellowship, I was assigned a wide range of job duties. Getting to partake in so many different tasks allowed me the opportunity to learn what I want to do more of in my career and what I want to do less of. For instance, in this role I did a mix of communications and education work – and learned that while I enjoy communications work, I don’t really enjoy doing education work! That was an incredibly important distinction for me to learn and one that I didn’t know before this position.

After my fellowship, I’d like to continue to use my GIS and communication skills at an environmentally focused organization to thoughtfully analyze place-based data, guide organizational decision making, and empower communities. I’ll be building upon the successes I’ve had over the past two years and continuing my work with AsRA in a new role as a Communications and Outreach Associate. I’d also like to continue expanding my GIS contracting work, so if you are in need of a map – please reach out!

Stephanie: I have gained experience in a multitude of areas due to my fellowship. I have learned that I’m quite good at certain tasks that I otherwise would have never tried and confirmed my talents in others. One insight I have gained is that while I very much enjoy doing communications, it’s not something I’d like to do for the rest of my life. While I’d like to continue running social media accounts and writing blog posts, I don’t want that to be the focus of my career. As I mentioned earlier, this position has helped me gain confidence in my skills and I have many ideas on how I would like to utilize them in the future.

After my fellowship, I plan to find a relevant position to work for another year and then hopefully start my PhD in the following fall. I have become very interested in how people interact with and learn about the environment through technology, and I would love to continue my Master’s research on using video game tech in the environmental education world.


Q5: What is your favorite way to connect to the Lake Champlain basin?

Carolyn: My favorite way to connect with the Lake Champlain basin is to get outside! Whether it’s going for a hike or a paddle or camping or a walk around town, I love any opportunity to spend time outside.

Stephanie: My favorite way to connect to the Lake Champlain Basin is to go fly fishing. There are so many amazing places across the basin to search for trout, from large rivers like the Ausable to small hidden ponds. There’s something amazing about seeing the world from the middle of the river rather than the banks, stripping your line as you watch the fly bob over the riffles.

(Note: that is not a typo. It is riffles, not ripples.)


Lake Champlain Sea Grant full-time staff also uses these partnered fellowships to make new connections across the basin. We partner with the Ausable River Association and the Adirondack Watershed Institute on shared communications materials, events, and funding opportunities. Learn more about our partnered fellowship program. As we announce new fellowships, opportunities will be included in our monthly newsletter, social media, and on our website.