Alek Krautmann, a management and program analyst for NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), and Damian Manda, a Lieutenant Commander in the NOAA Corps, were accepted into the NOAA Hollings Scholarship Program as undergraduate sophomores in 2008. Little did they know that 12 years later, they’d not only be working for NOAA, but also mentoring Hollings scholars themselves.
The NOAA Hollings Scholarship, now in its 15th year, offers recipients a two-year academic scholarship for their junior and senior years, a paid summer internship, and funding to participate in two national scientific conferences.
“Since I can remember, I've always wanted to work in weather,” says Alek Krautmann. “That was the goal. I never really had to make up my mind about what I wanted to do.” It was no surprise when Krautmann studied meteorology as an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma and chose to do his Hollings internship at the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in Charleston, South Carolina.
His project focused on upper air climatology using data from weather balloons launched twice daily at the office. The project helped forecasters develop a frame of reference for active weather days like severe weather, winter weather, and heat waves. Looking back on his internship, Krautmann says that it solidified his aspirations to work for NOAA. “I was already considering working with NOAA, but I really saw through my internship that NOAA wears so many hats, and I really like the variety of topics that we cover as an organization.”
Krautmann followed his passion and has been working with NOAA now for five years. “I help to tell the full story and message of the weather through NOAA,” says Krautmann. He currently works for NESDIS in the Office of the Chief of Staff. “At headquarters, we cover hot issues or hot topics on data, new activities and program changes … We also help manage anything that deals with the value and impact of weather events,” he explains.
While working for NOAA, Krautmann has mentored recent scholars on their internship projects. He enjoys helping new scholars any way he can, by giving them advice or by being a sounding board. “It’s fun, right, because I can remember being in that new environment and having that feeling where you start to understand your piece in the larger picture,” says Krautmann. “Helping connect these students to NOAA in a bigger way is so important.”
Damian Manda is now an officer in the NOAA Corps, a career choice shaped by his Hollings experience. In 2008, when Manda was an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, his professor encouraged him to apply for the scholarship. As an electrical and computer engineering major, Manda explains, “I’d always had an interest in mapping and weather and that side of NOAA, at least, but not so much the ocean side.” So when it came time to choose a site for his summer internship, Manda wanted something that combined his engineering interests with something he hadn’t experienced before: life on a boat.
His Hollings internship took place on the NOAA Ship Fairweather in Alaska, where he worked on an ocean mapping project. The research Manda conducted during his internship solidified the idea that he was interested in a mapping career. “I never looked at seafloor mapping at all before my internship, and I really didn’t know that this was a thing, that it existed. Without the Hollings Scholarship, I wouldn’t have known about this whole field.”
Lt. Cmdr. Manda used his experience from his internship to guide his existing classes towards a career with the NOAA Corps, which he joined in 2010. In the NOAA Corps, members alternate between two-year ship assignments and three-year land assignments. Manda is currently on his second land assignment, working in Silver Spring, Maryland, as the Chief of the Hydrographic Systems and Technology Branch within the Office of Coast Survey. When Manda goes on his next ship assignment, he will move up within the shipboard hierarchy, becoming an Executive Officer.
A career in the NOAA Corps offers a chance to keep learning and trying new things. “I’m looking to go outside of the mapping realm to gain more experience in other fields. The two ships I have been on have been sister ships — they have the same design. I’d like to be exposed to a different ship and a different type of learning experience,” says Manda.
Manda has been a mentor to multiple Hollings scholars throughout his NOAA Corps career. “I think it was interesting to them [the Hollings scholars] that I had been a Hollings scholar previously,” he explains. “It helped them envision a possible career path, and it was exciting for me to be able to foster the same kind of experience and get them excited about the oceanographic work the same way that I was — and still am! Regardless of what they do in their careers, I think that the experience they received is something they can bring forward.”
On February 1, 2021, applications are due for the next Hollings Scholarship class. Krautmann and Manda advise incoming scholars to keep an open mind when it comes to choosing an internship and deciding what to do with their careers. “It's really important for people to keep their interests broad. Be flexible. See everything as an opportunity. There’s no perfect path or career trek,” Krautmann says. Manda recommends, “Be open to modifying your career plan or open to looking into new areas that you may not be aware of. Look for opportunities to broaden your experiences. Because of the Hollings scholarship, I ended up on a completely different track.”