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“We were living in very exciting times,” Sessing said of working as a Knauss Fellow under Sylvia Earle, the then Chief Scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). As an Executive Branch Fellow, Sessing chose to work in the NOAA Office of the Chief Scientist’s Office of Ecology and Conservation. Though this office has dissolved into other offices within NOAA, Sessing has remained a NOAA employee. A main focus of her fellowship was preparing NOAA and the U.S. Government for the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, and working with NOAA offices to develop a national aquatic nuisance species program. Her work on the Earth Summit, as it was called, was highlighted by her participation as a delegate for the United States at the conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Ten years later she was again called upon to represent NOAA and the U.S. at the World Summit on Sustainability Development which was held in Johannesburg, South Africa.
In between these assignments, Sessing returned to Hawai‘i to help establish the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. She describes that experience as calling on all she learned from UH Sea Grant to work with many competing interests including the state of Hawai‘i, fishermen, tour boat operators, and environmental organizations to find common ground to allow the sanctuary to become established. She also worked on the restoration of marine sanctuary resources, such as coral reefs, that had been damaged by ships.
Currently, Sessing works in the NOAA Satellite and Information Service in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. “My current responsibilities involve working with our leadership team to explain the need for our annual $1 billion budget for NOAA’s satellite systems and data management activities in the Congressional process,” she stated. Sessing spent a year as a Brooking Institution Legislative Fellow with Congressman James Walsh from New York to get a behind-the-scenes view of how Congress appropriates money. “Fascinating” is all Sessing would say.
“I’d be the first one to say that folks should look at the Sea Grant Program and the Knauss Fellowship as an opportunity to see the world from a different perspective.” Sessing said.
Sessing also found great support from the Sea Grant Program and her Fellowship host office. “I cannot fully express my gratitude for the guidance and mentoring that former UH Sea Grant Director Jack Davidson, former Extension Leader Bruce Miller, and Knauss Fellowship host David Cottingham gave me both personally and professionally. Although they are former bosses, to this day, I consider them, first, friends.”
Prior to coming to the University of Hawai‘i (UH) for graduate studies, Sessing graduated from the University of Miami with a double major in marine science and biology and a minor in chemistry. At UH, Sessing’s master’s research focused on shrimp aquaculture and nutritional physiology at the Oceanic Institute, Makapu‘u Point. While Sessing’s fellowship lasted only one year, her work in marine science and environmental policy has spanned decades.