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Insights Meet Grace Morris: Shaping Environmental Policy and Coastal Resilience

How did you get interested in water and coastal issues?

I have been interested in water and coastal issues ever since I was a child. I grew up along the Puget Sound in Washington State and have experienced the impacts of living in a flood prone area with critically endangered species like the Southern Resident Killer Whale

My proximity to the shoreline and my awareness and curiosity of the slough of natural and manmade changes occurring there made studying the coastal zone the natural progression of my academic interests. In graduate school I studied Marine and Environmental Affairs with a certificate in International Development Policy and Management.

How did you learn about Atkins?

I first learned about Atkins at the annual at the annual Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) conference in Orlando, Florida, in 2022. When I walked past the Atkins booth, I noticed how friendly and excited Atkins employees were about their work and attendance at the conference. 

While many of them had travelled from offices across the county, they came together as a team. I knew from spending just one afternoon around the Atkins booth that I had to join this team.

How did you get involved with ASFPM?

During my final year working towards my Masters in Marine Affairs, I took a floodplain management course where I worked as part of a team of students on a project examining solutions to mitigate coastal flooding in Westport, Washington. We collaborated to develop a plan that considered future flooding scenarios while being conscientious of the community’s sense of place and Environmental Policy. 

Since most of my team members were engineering and urban planning students, I was the one tasked with developing our policy recommendations. My main contribution was ensuring the community values were not being dismissed or minimized throughout our project. We were encouraged by our professor to submit an abstract to the ASFPM Student Paper Competition. That’s when I represented the team at the annual conference in Orlando and we won first place.

How does it feel to go back to ASFPM as a young professional?

This year at ASFPM, I’ll be presenting on how congressionally directed spending can support coastal community resilience. Now that I am a young professional with Atkins, I am excited to go back and share some of the projects I have been working on since last year. When I attended as a student, I had four jobs vaguely related to my interests, and I had to take time off to attend. Working one job in my field now is incredibly exciting, and it all began at ASFPM when I walked past the Atkins booth!

I look forward to attending now after spending a year versing myself in floodplain risk mitigation and environmental policies. I am most excited about reconnecting with the folks I met last year. My former advisor attends every year—I am hoping to meet with him as he helped launch my career.

How do you see your career progressing at Atkins?

Atkins provides many diverse opportunities to tailor my career. I enjoy the policy track and impact through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). I’ve been supporting FEMA with addressing National Initiative to Advance Building Codes (NIABC) priorities by providing qualitative data analyses and research support. I’ve also been supporting Technical Mapping Advisory Council objectives as needed. I spend most of my time tracking news, federal initiatives and legislation related to building codes and Net Zero.

In the long term, I’d like to get more experience working on coastal resilience. In my personal time I volunteer with a local partnership doing trail and river restoration—I think that satisfies my itch for field work— but I can see myself assisting on informing policy for coastal resilience projects and look forward to seeing what opportunities exist in this area at Atkins.

What areas are you looking forward to working on next?

Many topics have piqued my interests. The next thing I research will likely be focused on decarbonizing the energy sector by utilizing coastal wind and tidal energy. As a student, I focused on climate change from a community mitigation perspective, and I did not look too deeply into the drivers of climate change from the energy sector. 

My background is interdisciplinary, and I have been exposed to many different aspects of environmental issues. While this has the benefit of letting me understand environment-related conversations, it has also been the impetus of my interest in exploring many topics.

What advice would do you have for young professionals new to the industry?

The best advice I was given when starting my career was to identify and rank five topics I would like to explore, five skills I know I have and enjoy using, and five skills I would like to have in 10 years. This is both helpful when interviewing, providing you with quick skills and interests to note when asked, and when coordinating with managers about career goals. At a minimum, identifying the things you want to learn more about can direct you towards networks and opportunities that help propel your career forward.

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