Alaska students selected for national marine policy fellowship

Two Alaska students have been selected for the 2024 Sea Grant Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship program, one of the most prestigious marine policy fellowships in the country. Kit Cunningham and Nick Mills were chosen after being nominated for the positions by Alaska Sea Grant.

Cunningham and Mills will join a class of 85 early career professionals from around the country to spend a year working with the government in Washington, D.C., on marine and coastal science, public administration, and policy issues. Knauss Fellows are chosen through a competitive process that includes several rounds of review. In the coming months, the Fellows will participate in a multi-day interview process after which they will be paired with host offices in the legislative or executive branches of government. They will begin their fellowships this February.

Kit Cunningham
Kit Cunningham

Cunningham, a graduate student at University of Alaska Fairbanks and employee for Alaska Department of Fish and Game, was selected to join the legislative branch.

“After spending the past five years studying declining populations of marine mammals and being up to my neck in marine debris, I recognize that systemic change can’t occur through science alone,” Cunningham said. “Even after rolling thousands of pounds of trash off a beach, I know that it will just be replaced next year. I am interested in working in the legislative sector through the Knauss Fellowship because it would give me the tools to create legislation, which could instigate immediate action regarding marine conservancy, as well as help me gain a network of people working within my field of interest and in my state.”

Cunningham graduated from Montana State University in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in conservation biology and ecology. Cunningham received a job opportunity the following year that changed her career path, a two-week contract disentangling northern fur seals on the Pribilof Islands, Alaska. This work sparked a passion for Cunningham, leading to field work in remote circumpolar locations in Alaska and Antarctica. Her current work with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game focuses on marine debris removal from the Forrester Island (Gasḵúu) complex in Southeast Alaska.

Mills is a graduate student at the University of Montana who recently participated in a diving program at the University of Alaska Southeast. Mills will serve his fellowship in the executive branch.

Nick Mills
Nick Mills

Originally from Montana, Mills is combining his love of nature and politics. He earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Montana. Mills also completed several legislative and governmental relations internships in Montana and the Washington, D.C., area. In January 2023, Mills moved to Sitka to participate in the University of Alaska Southeast’s Alaska Dive Semester. Mills is currently interning at the Coral Restoration Foundation in Key Largo, Florida, where he is applying his scientific diving experience from Alaska to restore coral populations along Florida's reef tract.

“I learned to dive to honor my sister Linnea, who died in a scuba diving course in 2020. This healing process led me to the Alaska Dive Semester, where I fell in love with the underwater ecosystems in Sitka, and knew I wanted to find a way to continue pursuing marine issues,” Mills said. “My personal connection to diving has blossomed into a broader career pivot, where I will continue diving to carry on my sister’s passion for the water while also combining my science and policy background to make a difference as a Knauss Fellow in a way that I have not been able to do before.”

Since 1979, Sea Grant has provided one-year Knauss Fellowships to over 1,600 early career professionals to work in federal government offices in Washington, D.C. If you are a graduate student in Alaska interested in applying to the 2025 Knauss Fellowship program, visit the Alaska Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship page.