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Heather Kerkering receives national recognition for her exceptional service to local communities in the Pacific Islands.

Heather Kerkering, Assistant Regional Administrator for the Pacific Islands CASC, was recently awarded the 2024 Pinnacle Award for “Federal Employee of the Year – Professional, Administrative, Technical” from the Honolulu-Pacific Federal Executive Board (FEB).  

FEBs play a critical role in linking federal government functions between Washington D.C. and local communities, and only one award is given each year from each of the 26 FEBs across the nation.  

Mari-Vaughn Johnson, Regional Administrator of the Pacific Islands CASC, nominated Heather for this prestigious award that recognizes Heather’s outstanding achievements and positive impacts working in local communities across the Pacific in 2023. She was presented with the award at the 68th Annual Excellence in Federal Government Awards Program. 

“Heather thoughtfully asks the right questions, always advocating for the best for the communities she works with,” says Vanitha Sivarajan, with the DOI Office of Insular Affairs (OIA). “She always wants to make sure she understands any issue thoroughly before addressing it, and is one of the brightest, sharpest, and most fun people I know.” 

In 2023, Heather effectively worked two jobs for the Pacific Islands CASC: As the Assistant Regional Administrator, expanding climate change adaptation work in the region, and as a Research Coordinator, identifying critical resource and science gaps, keeping careful records, and fostering partnerships.  

“I feel lucky to be able to work in such an important field, especially in the Pacific where climate impacts are happening now,” Heather says of her job. “And to have an opportunity to work with people to build our climate resilience. I enjoy the opportunities we provide from the funding we do, but also that we get to be in the field to help with restoration projects or engage with communities.” 

Heather has certainly had a positive impact on a restoration project on Molokaʻi, working with Judith Drexler, Research Hydrologist with the USGS California Water Science Center. Drexler says: “[Heather’s support] has led to the initiation of wetland restoration projects on the island, a new coastal wetland classification of Hawaiian wetlands, and stronger partnerships among local NGOs and federal and state partners.”  

Other notable achievements from 2023 include addressing the threat of invasive species across the Pacific as part of the Pacific Regional Invasive Species and Climate Change (RISCC) Network. For example, when the Republic of the Marshall Islands faced resource challenges in disseminating information about the threats of the invasive Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle, Heather and the Pacific RISCC Network developed, printed, and delivered factsheets back to the island. 

Elliott Parsons works with Heather as part of the Pacific RISCC Network. With her help, the network grew to about 500 people, and its success is largely driven by Heather’s focus on improving communication about invasive species’ issues.  

Curt Storlazzi, from the Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, agrees with Parsons, also noting Heather’s communication focus: “[Heather works] to be sure our message is clear and on-point when communicating our science to managers so it can be used to support their decision making.”  

Storlazzi also adds, “she is an active engager with local managers, most all of which are underserved, native communities and represents the science we serve to support those managers and peoples extremely well.” 

Last year, Heather also built a bridge to a past employer – the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) – to create a new collaboration. With MBARI, the Pacific Islands CASC co-hosted the EARTH teacher workshop in Honolulu in July 2023, providing career growth opportunities for teachers from Hawaiʻi and American Samoa. The teachers formed strong connections and produced six local lesson plans by the end of the workshop. Because of this event, Heather was later invited to the Amerika Samoa Disaster Resilience Summit, where she connected to hundreds of local students and spoke to teachers about opportunities to work with PI CASC. 

Stay tuned for an upcoming “Scientist Spotlight” to learn more about Heather’s work with the Pacific Islands CASC and keep reading for more compliments from her colleagues.

Congratulations to Heather on the well-deserved award!   

A man and a woman wearing tropical shirts and jeans stand on either side of a woman in a sundress holding an award.

“Our region, PI-CASC, and I are beyond thankful for the diligent, inspired, caring, and consistent work that Heather tirelessly puts into the job. She is committed to connecting with this shared place we call home. She builds relationships. She builds friendships. She listens. She hears the places where she can make a difference. Then, the real magic of Heather is that she does not just share her ideas and vision; she goes that extra step. She envisions how to get it done and gets it done.” - Mari-Vaughn Johnson, Pacific Islands CASC Regional Administrator 

“It is clear from my years of working with Heather that she cares deeply about exploring creative, culturally relevant ways to better connect the work we do with the communities we work in. She is patient, personable, a joy to work with, and an incredible asset to PI-CASC!” - Pat Hart, Professor and Chair, Department of Biology, UH Hilo 

“She made our organization's relationship with the college stronger both in the Marshall Islands and in Honolulu through establishment of partnerships, networking and project management.” - Dolores deBrum-Kattil, Executive Director Marshall Islands Conservation Society 

“Heather is a founder and leadership team member of the Pacific Regional Invasive Species and Climate Change Management Network, a Community of Practice in Hawaii and across the USAPI, and her leadership (e.g., vision, building relationships, leveraging expertise/funding), has been critical for this group to grow and achieve success.”  - Elliott Parsons, Pacific Regional Invasive Species and Climate Change Management Network  

“Heather's contributions to creating and managing a Pacific Island network of invasive species and climate change practitioners and researchers has resulted in a community of experts and colleagues that together are addressing two of the greatest global challenges of the century.” - Toni Lyn Morelli, Research Ecologist at the Northeast CASC 

“Heather has an amazing openness and drive to find a way to remove any impediments, support project leaders in their work, and, in so doing, improve the resilience of Pacific Island communities to climate change.”  - Judith Drexler, USGS California Water Science Center 

“She has done an outstanding job communicating not only our science, but the implications of our science, so that it can be effectively used by local managers to support their decision making as related to climate change and sea-level rise and the role of ecosystems in reducing, if not mitigating, the impacts of climate change and sea-level rise.” - Curt Storlazzi, USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center 

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