Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions alumna to lead American Fisheries Society

March 9, 2020

As a graduate student, April Croxton was selected by the EPP/MSI Graduate Sciences Program to join the NOAA Fisheries lab in Milford, Connecticut. There, she kicked off a 15 year — and counting — career with NOAA. Now, as the first African American to hold the Second Vice President leadership position of the American Fisheries Society (AFS), she is drawing on her experience to forge new connections between NOAA and AFS.

April Croxton, a NOAA program analyst, is the first African American slated to lead the American Fisheries Society, the largest professional society related to fisheries in the United States.

At the business meeting at the 149th meeting of the American Fisheries Society (AFS) in Reno, Nevada, April Croxton made her way up to the conference center stage to take her place as the newly elected Second Vice President. Croxton, a program analyst at NOAA, is the first African American to hold this leadership position in the oldest professional society related to fisheries in the United States. 

Croxton is an alumna of NOAA’s Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions (EPP/MSI). With over a decade of experience as a researcher for NOAA Fisheries, she makes important connections between NOAA and AFS. As Second Vice President, she is part of the governing board of the society, and in three years, she will assume the role of President.

Croxton had an early connection to aquatic ecosystems and the species that live there. Growing up in the Northern Neck area of Virginia, she recalls that she was “always outside, always near the water.” Her interests spanned from fishing with her dad to a fascination with dolphins, but the issue of water contamination was a common thread. “In Richmond, we have the James River — it’s a main transportation area,” says Croxton. “I would hear people say, ‘don’t eat fish from the river.’ You could see the industry along the banks, so obviously, there had to be something going on.”

The thought of water contamination in her own backyard inspired her early school projects and science fair entries. With encouragement from supportive teachers and mentors, April studied biology at Virginia Union University and secured an undergraduate fellowship from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Later, as a Ph.D. student at Florida A&M, she was accepted into the EPP/MSI Graduate Sciences Program. This program, which ran until 2012, allowed NOAA to convert a trainee who completed their graduate degree requirements to a position as a federal employee. 

Through the Graduate Sciences Program, Croxton was selected to join the NOAA Fisheries lab in Milford, Connecticut. There, she broadened the scope of her research from looking at chemical contaminants to considering a suite of environmental stresses in shellfish. This kicked off what would become a 15-year — and counting — career with NOAA.

“Following graduate school, I was asked by a fellow colleague to co-host a career development panel, and one of the panel members was the current President of AFS,” she explains. “I was then encouraged by my colleague to join and become active in the society.” 

Since joining the organization, Croxton has served as a member of the AFS governing board and management committee, as well as President and Vice President of the Equal Opportunities Section. “Each leadership opportunity has been a nomination by fellow members who saw my passion and drive for the work being done in the society,” says Croxton. 

These opportunities with AFS ultimately informed her career at NOAA. “Our paths, it’s so interesting how they wind in ways we wouldn’t expect,” she says.“The leadership roles [at AFS] have been developmental exercises for me that can be applied to my current job,” Croxton explains. “I was a researcher for 14 years; I have those skills ingrained.” But by volunteering to be a leader through AFS, she was able to develop the “soft skills” she needed to transition into management and policy with NOAA Research — skills like setting priorities, planning collaborative meetings, and getting people to work together to accomplish a goal. 

Looking back, Croxton says, “EPP has been one of the most instrumental vehicles for my career. Exposure to opportunities within NOAA has opened doors and created learning experiences that have benefited me throughout my career.” To young scientists considering joining professional societies like AFS, she advises, “Join early and be active. They are a great way to build relationships with professionals in your field.”

This story was included in the Fiscal Year 2019 NOAA Education Accomplishments Report.