College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Environmental Science & Policy

Dustin Picard (2013), NOAA Commissioned Officer, sails world-wide in support of science research

Only two and a half years out of graduation, Dustin Picard (Marine and Coastal Management, 2013), has already traveled across half the world. Over the past two years, he has spent time in Asia, the South Pacific, along the west coast of South and Central America, and even above the Arctic Circle. Not only has he traveled the Pacific, but Dustin has gotten to do what he loves most at many of these exotic destinations -- scuba dive. The best part of all? He’s getting paid to do it!

During his senior year, Dustin attended the UMD Career Fair and met a Commissioned Officer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The two hit it off, influencing Dustin to begin his application. When Dustin had his selection interview, the interviewer turned out to be the same officer! With a previous connection to the interviewer, a strong background in marine science, years of diving experience, and a fervent passion for ocean conservation, Dustin secured the position.

As a NOAA Commissioned Officer, Dustin has been assigned to NOAA’s flagship research vessel, the R/V Ronald H. Brown. For two years, he has traveled everywhere the ship has gone, providing support to NOAA and academic scientists as they conduct their research. Among many memorable trips, Dustin’s favorite so far has been the 22 days spent above the Arctic Circle. “We saw sea ice, and walruses and polar bears,” he recalls, “it was like living the Discovery Channel. It was really cool to see it.”

Beyond the sensational views, one of the biggest perks of Dustin’s job is meeting and learning from some of the most respected oceanographic researchers in the world. It's through these connections that Dustin has figured out what comes next. In January, he’ll begin working at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico, the most northern coral reef system in the world. Dustin will serve as a Vessel Dive Operations Coordinator, ensuring that the research boats are ready to sail, and acting as the lead diver for research teams. “It will be a thrill to get back into what I really want to do, coral reef research,” Dustin says.

Dustin’s interest in coral reef conservation began early in life. His father served in the Navy, so Dustin grew up by the water and fell in love with diving and snorkeling. In particular, Dustin credits years of family trips to the Caribbean as the source of his desire to protect oceans. “I would dive the same coral reefs each year and see the human-caused degradation over time,” he explains, “It really sparked a passion within me to dedicate my life to conservation.”

When he got to Maryland, ENSP-Marine and Coastal Management was an obvious choice for Dustin, and he looks back on the program, and especially its staff, very fondly. “Dr. W was great. She actually took an interest in all of her students and got to know them personally . . . Dr. James’ passion and excitement set the culture in his classes . . . Professor Goger encouraged me to continue following my passion for ocean conservation,” he recalls. While at school, Dustin was not only an ENSP major, but also an undergraduate TA, an orientation advisor, active in Greek life, and a College Park Scholar.

As for memorable classes, he credits a Geography study abroad class that he took sophomore year as having the biggest influence on him. It was a 10 day course studying the cultural and physical geography of the southern Caribbean islands. After taking it himself, Dustin served as the course’s TA for two years, which helped him develop strong leadership skills.  As someone who was highly engaged during his college years, Dustin’s advice to current ENSP students is to “Never stop learning, never stop networking, never stop exploring, and get involved as much as you can. Follow your passions and the rest will fall into place.” 

While Dustin is very excited to begin his new job in January, he’s keeping his long term career goals in mind. He plans to pursue a Master's degree and, ultimately, a PhD in marine conservation, with the intent of becoming a professor at UMD 20 or 30 years down the road. Asked what draws him to teaching, Dustin replies, “I want to help inspire future generations of marine conservationists.” 

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