Expert in climate adaptation to lead Oregon Sea Grant Extension and engagement program

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CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon Sea Grant has hired an interdisciplinary scientist with expertise in climate change adaptation to lead its 15-person Extension and Engagement program.

Jessi Kershner, who has coordinated the water and climate programs at the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) since October 2021, will start her new position on Feb. 5. She will be based at Oregon Sea Grant’s office at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

As one of three associate directors at Oregon Sea Grant, she will provide leadership for Extension professionals who include experts in coastal zone and marine issues related to environmental literacy and workforce development, healthy coastal ecosystems, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, and resilient communities and economies.

She takes over from Jamie Doyle, who became the interim leader of Oregon Sea Grant’s Extension and Engagement program in December 2022 after Dave Hansen retired. Doyle will return to her role as Oregon Sea Grant’s Extension specialist for coastal community development in Coos County.

Kershner will work closely with OSU’s Division of Extension and Engagement and the university's Division of Research and Innovation, along with the national Sea Grant program, to help Oregon Sea Grant advance its vision for thriving coastal communities and ecosystems – a vision well aligned with OSU’s vision for a thriving world.

“I am looking forward to the new expertise related to climate adaptation and environmental justice that Jessi Kershner will bring to our team,” said Oregon Sea Grant’s director, Karina Nielsen. “I am also excited to see what new ideas and approaches we will develop as she refocuses her expertise on the marine and coastal systems that inspired her earlier in her career.”

“Oregon Sea Grant is working toward a variety of strategic goals, many shared with OSU, that will benefit from Jessi Kershner’s expertise,” Nielsen added. These include creating enduring and collaborative community partnerships, bridging differences and incorporating many ways of learning and knowing, contributing to research that solves problems, inspiring more effective stewardship, growing community and ecosystem resilience, supporting evidence-based community education, and facilitating greater civic participation.

Kershner plans to spend much of her first year listening.

"I want to have conversations with people at Sea Grant and the communities and partners they work with,” she said. “I want to learn what people are doing and where they’ve seen opportunities and things that need more attention. What are the emerging concerns or issues? Where can Sea Grant provide value? Where can we make connections? Where can we do legwork so that when the next funding opportunity comes along, we’re ready for it?”

At OWEB, Kershner managed grants, analyzed natural resources policy proposals, evaluated and tracked climate-related agency investments, and developed processes to include diversity, equity and environmental justice principles in water and climate initiatives. She also led the agency’s efforts to develop climate-related evaluation criteria for its grantmaking. For example, applicants are now required to describe how they’ve engaged with local communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Applicants also have to explain how their project contributes to adaptation and resilience for ecosystems and human communities.

Prior to OWEB, she was a program coordinator for 11 years at EcoAdapt, a nonprofit that conducts research, offers trainings and facilitates the exchange of knowledge to help government agencies and organizations adapt to climate change. She designed and facilitated customized workshops and trainings with diverse partners, supervised staff, managed projects, applied for grants, and built long-term partnerships with Tribes, agencies, nonprofits and academia.

Kershner, who has lived in Corvallis since 2015, earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from California Polytechnic State University and a master’s in marine science and policy from the University of Washington, where she studied how ocean acidification affects the swimming ability of sand dollar larvae.

Even though she grew up in landlocked Logan, Utah, she felt the tug of the ocean. So in high school, Kershner applied to colleges on the West Coast. A stint studying sea urchins in a lab at Cal Poly got her hooked on cell biology and intertidal ecology. Later, while attending policy-related conferences as an undergraduate, she heard people talk about the importance of using science to inform policies. That inspired her to apply to the UW’s program.

In her new job, Kershner is looking forward to returning to her roots in marine science and putting her skills as a connector, manager and scientist to work to help Oregon’s coastal communities and ecosystems thrive.

“I love the idea of getting to contribute to the place that I live,” she said.

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