URI Alumni: Cherisa Friedlander

From one coast to another, Cherisa Friedlander can’t seem to get away from the water. During her time at the University of Rhode Island, the Attleboro, Massachusetts native studied marine biology and psychology while competing on the women’s swim team.

Specifically choosing URI because of the respected and successful marine biology program, led Friedlander to great professors and connections in her field of study. In addition to being involved in the Marine Science Society on campus, she worked with Rhode Island non-profit organization Save the Bay prior to her senior year.

“I got extremely lucky,” Friedlander said. “I made so many great connections and got my foot in the door.”

After graduating in May 2008, Save the Bay offered Friedlander a full-time position. She spent three years working as an educator and Bay Camp director. This engagement got Friedlander involved in with the Rhode Island Environmental Education Association where she was on the board of directors for two years, attending conferences and leading workshops.

With her captain’s license and background on the local waters Friedlander also spent time operating boats in Narragansett Bay after leaving URI. Coming from a service family, Friedlander always thought she would head to the U.S. Coast Guard post graduation.

“Always feeling drawn to serve in uniform, my dad suggested I apply for a position in the NOAA Corps,” Friedlander said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Commissioned Corps is one of the United State’s seven uniformed services. Since her training at the Merchant Marine Academy, Friedlander was a junior officer on NOAA’s newest ship in their fleet: the Reuben Lasker. Her tasks included handling ship operations and environmental plans for the maiden voyage of the state of the art research vessel.

Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Friedlander is currently the Operations Officer at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Santa Cruz, CA. Working under the Fisheries Ecology Division, she divides up her time on the Pacific Ocean and on land assisting scientists in fishery research.

This past January marked Friedlander’s five year anniversary with NOAA, “It has been a wild ride with amazing opportunities,” she said.

Friedlander said much of her success and opportunities have come from being flexible and open to new things. Her experience at NOAA has been nothing short of unique and ordinary.

“If you are pursuing a career in the NOAA Corps, you need to be ready to be challenged and to adjust to a lifestyle with a lot of travelling. One of the biggest skills is definitely being flexible,” Friedlander said.

Friedlander will begin a new journey as she heads to Boulder, Colorado in July to prepare for her upcoming year long excursion to Antarctica. She will be the next Station Chief of the Atmospheric Research Observatory. Upwind of the observatory is the ‘Clean Area Sector’, a large area where no one can go to maintain the cleanest air in the world.

“The air is left as pristine as possible, I’ll be maintaining instruments that take readings and measurements on things like air quality and temperature in support of climate science,” Friedlander said.

Prior to leaving for Boulder, Friedlander will graduate from California State University Monterey Bay with her Master of Science in Applied Marine and Watershed Science this spring.

“I love the fact that every few years I get to do a new job,” Friedlander said.

This URI alumni never imagined she would be traveling from coast to coast or to the South Pole after leaving Kingston. Since joining NOAA, she has worked alongside numerous scientists and fully immersed herself in what marine biology has to offer.

“When students first start college, people tell you that you need to have it all figured out. I think it is being passionate and open-minded that allows you to determine what you want to study or pursue,” Friedlander said. “Taking certain courses or participating in internships are opportunities that will help determine those interests. Students at URI have a wealth of knowledge and experiences at their fingertips, be sure to take advantage of it.”