Have you ever imagined what it might be like to spend a year at the South Pole or engage in research at fisheries? Cherisa Friedlander has firsthand experience. As a member of the NOAA Corps, Friedlander serves in a unique branch of uniformed service that many are unfamiliar with. Her work experiences are quite different from the typical weekly team meetings, business trips to New York, or daily commutes. Let’s delve into Friedlander’s intriguing job, her tips for those interested in exploring the NOAA Corps or uniformed service, and the advice she would give her younger self.

Name: Cherisa Friedlander, NOAA Officer
Age: 32
Location: Newport, RI (originally from Attleboro, MA)
Education: B.S Marine Biology, University of Rhode Island
M.S Applied Marine and Watershed Science, California State University Monterey Bay

How Did You Choose Uniformed Service?

Coming from a family with a military background—her father being a retired Navy member—Friedlander was strongly influenced by her upbringing and decided to follow in her father’s footsteps.

Choosing the NOAA Corps

Initially aiming for the Coast Guard after college, Friedlander’s career path took a turn towards the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Commissioned Corps. Encouraged by her father due to its scientific mission, Friedlander ended up finding profound satisfaction in the NOAA Corps compared to her initial aspirations with the Coast Guard.

Experiences as a Young Woman in NOAA

As part of a small branch with unique challenges for women due to extended periods away from home, Friedlander has seized remarkable opportunities during her single years. From navigating the Panama Canal to having her graduate studies funded through the GI Bill earned as a service member, and most notably, spending a year in Antarctica, her journey has been both demanding and rewarding.

Leading the First All-Women Winter South Pole Research Team

Selected to spearhead NOAA’s Atmospheric Research Observatory at the South Pole, Friedlander and colleague Sabrina Shemet formed the inaugural two-woman team at the South Pole. Despite the initial nervousness, the experience unfolded as one of the most extraordinary periods of Friedlander’s life, featuring six months of darkness, sightings of the Southern Lights, and chilling temperatures hitting -103F!

Overcoming Career Challenges

Balancing personal life with demanding assignments has been Friedlander’s major hurdle. Her current sea duty obligations, requiring almost 130 days at sea annually, leave limited time for personal relationships. Prioritizing quality time with loved ones when possible remains her coping strategy.

A Day in the Life

Stationed on a research vessel in Newport, RI, Friedlander serves as the Operations Officer, facilitating seamless coordination between the ship’s crew and scientific team during oceanographic and fisheries research expeditions. Tasked with navigation duties, she undertakes four-hour watches daily, ensuring smooth sailing for diverse research projects. Additionally, her roles as primary medical and environmental compliance officer require her to handle related tasks like sanitary inspections and hazmat inventories.

Favorite Job Aspect

Despite the challenges of sea life, witnessing breathtaking natural phenomena like sunsets, whale and dolphin sightings, and conducting cutting-edge research projects such as deep-sea coral exploration via a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) are the highlights of Friedlander’s job.

Advice for Aspiring Women in Uniformed Service

Passionate about her work, Friedlander encourages women to explore and understand the opportunities within various uniformed branches before making a choice. Delving into the challenges of a service-oriented lifestyle, she believes that while not suitable for everyone, serving the country can be an enriching and rewarding experience.

Unveiling Uniformed Service Realities

Dispelling misconceptions, Friedlander emphasizes that the NOAA Corps is an active-duty uniformed service under the Department of Commerce, supporting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). With assignments across different NOAA divisions, including Fisheries and Weather Services, the NOAA Corps offers a unique avenue for those passionate about science and service.

Advice to Her Younger Self

Reflecting on her journey, Friedlander would remind her 22-year-old self, engaged in fulfilling yet non-traditional work, to trust the process and embrace individual paths. Acknowledging societal pressures versus personal fulfillment, she highlights the importance of honoring one’s unique journey, regardless of societal timelines.


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