Apply for everything and pursue new challenges
Rachel Soraruf Medley ’02
Chief, customer affairs branch, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Coast Survey
Advanced degrees: M.S. in geosciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst; M.S. in ocean mapping, University of New Hampshire; M.S. certificate in project management, The George Washington University School of Business
After graduating from Mount Holyoke, I attended graduate school in the geosciences, where I was exposed to additional fields of study and different technologies and software. I gravitated to geology because it was truly the right fit for me and resonated with my need for adventure and connection to the natural world.
Even still, after all these years, I gravitate toward things geo – I often find kinship in many of my NOAA colleagues who also started as budding geologists. In reflecting on my career path in the federal government, I would have to say that I always gravitated toward the idea of service and helping others. I was fortunate enough to attend Quaker schools, which likely invoked that sense of service to others. As I progressed in my geology career, which began at Mount Holyoke in hard rock geology with Steve Dunn, chair of geology and geography, I continued on, getting my master’s at UMass Amherst in paleoclimatology.
While working on my research in isotope geochemistry exploring the oscillation between El Niño and La Niña, I came across many datasets published by NOAA scientists. I liked the idea of science with a purpose, and data collected by NOAA is used to inform and help others around the country and the world. This seemed the right fit for me — playing to that foundational need to serve.
After I left UMass, I interned at the Marine Charts Division (they make all the nautical charts that are used by vessels in U.S. coastal waters) in NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey (OCS). I was then hired by the Hydrographic Surveys Division (HSD — also located in OCS) to use my geology background as a foundation for surveying various features on the seafloor. While working for HSD I was selected to attend the University of New Hampshire to pursue a master’s in ocean mapping.
After I finished that degree, I was offered a position in NOAA’s Navigation Services Division as the chief of the Customer Affairs Branch. In this role, I manage remotely located employees around the U.S., work directly with the maritime community, travel all over the country and the world speaking to others about NOAA navigation products and services and connect industry with our data to support new technological developments.
So far I’ve worked for NOAA for about 12 years, and in that time I’ve lived and worked in the U.K. as NOAA liaison to the U.K. Hydrographic Office, served as the deputy hydrographer for the U.S., received an M.S. from the University of New Hampshire, and completed a master’s certificate in project management at George Washington University. Amazingly, I have also managed to find a partner to share my life with, and we have three amazing children.
My advice to future graduates is to follow your instincts and apply to and accept every opportunity that comes your way. There have been several jobs or assignments that I was not selected for, but each time it shifted my focus and ultimately led to a different opportunity.
I have always been interested in learning new skills, and I continue to push my limits and do things that scare me. Recently, I volunteered to be the OCS lead to an international working group that I know very little about. I know how easy it is to become complacent in your job, and scaring yourself and trying new things brings fresh perspectives and opportunities to connect new ideas.