From Marine Affairs Department Chair to Director of Rhode Island Sea Grant: Dr. Tracey Dalton Discusses Her Interdisciplinary Approach

By Sarah Schechter, CELS Communication Fellow

Dr. Tracey Dalton sets a great example for College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS) students as she advances her own career to become the new Director of Rhode Island Sea Grant. Previously the Marine Affairs Department Chair, Dr. Dalton will remain a faculty member a third of the time and will be back to teaching a course in the marine affairs department next academic year. Her transition into the Rhode Island Sea Grant director position has been supported by the interdisciplinary perspective that she gained through her academic career and developed further as faculty within CELS. Bringing this interdisciplinary mindset to her new position has been met with success as the team at Rhode Island Sea Grant are already productive collaborators. “I find it rewarding to be able to jump onto this team and be a part of these projects because they have been doing really great work” she states in reference to RI Sea Grant.

Dr. Dalton’s investment in interdisciplinary science throughout her academic and professional career is evident when looking at her background. She received her Ph.D. in Environmental Science with a focus in Policy from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, a program that provided her with a range of perspectives when considering the environment. Dr. Dalton draws on fields like public policy, anthropology, and economics and uses a blend of the tools, methods, and theories across these disciplines to help inform policy and planning within coasts and oceans. She describes her current research as studying people and how they use coastal and ocean spaces. Specifically, how their uses interact in space and time, how we govern those uses, and how changes in coastal and ocean use impact people.

After earning her doctorate degree., Dr. Dalton was delighted to receive a position with the Marine Affairs Department at URI, where she was able to apply her interdisciplinary degree and learn more about working with students. “I was pleased when I came to URI, that they were offering a lot of training in teaching,” she said. Having gone to graduate school in the region, she was familiar with the URI’s marine affairs program. “Something that was fortunate is that I was still able to maintain my connections with some of the groups I’d been working with over the years” she states. Dr. Dalton has experienced support for interdisciplinary research and social science in environmental science at URI, which provided her with collaborative opportunities in fields like aquaculture and offshore wind. She participated in leadership training in and out of
URI that helped her develop the skills she needed to advance in her career from faculty to the Department Chair to now the Director of Rhode Island Sea Grant.

“I’m hoping that in my role as Sea Grant Director, I’ll be able to facilitate collaborations and help build capacity among researchers to talk to each other across those disciplines a little bit easier,” she explains. Applying those leadership skills, Dr. Dalton would like to develop research opportunities, similar to those she experienced while earning her Ph.D. and hopes to share the importance of an interdisciplinary perspective. She will also be supporting and overseeing students applying to the National Sea Grant student fellowship programs like the Knauss Fellowship and the Coastal Management Fellowship. “Now I’m shifting over to work that involves a broader community, looking at stakeholders across Rhode Island, people who are connected to the coast in all sorts of different ways and that’s one of the things that I’m really enjoying about this position,” she remarks. This position will allow Dr. Dalton to approach the same pillars of marine science, policy, and people that she has focused on within CELS, but now with a much larger scope, focusing on the state of Rhode Island.

While this position is new for her, Dr. Dalton is excited to share her ideas and experience with the CELS community. She reflects on her work as a full-time CELS faculty member saying that “One of the things I’ve enjoyed about being a faculty member in CELS, and not just in Marine Affairs, is that whole idea of interdisciplinary collaborations. I’ve been able to work with researchers in other departments across the college.” She continues this collaborative work in her new position and aims to reach all communities and groups that are associated with the oceans and coasts in ways that are inclusive.