June 1, 2018

“The Government’s Best Kept Secret”: Dale Gump on his work with the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps

Posted by AGU Career Center

Our latest Paths Through Science features Ensign Dale Gump. After 7 years of active duty in the Navy, Ensign Dale Gump didn’t expect to pursue a career in science, but a budding interest in environmental science, along with the support of dedicated mentors, catapulted him into a career as a hydrographer in the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps. 

According to Gump, the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, commonly known as NOAA Corps, is one of the government’s best kept secrets. The program, which is a descendant of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey established by order of Thomas Jefferson in 1807, places 321 uniformed, commissioned officers on one of NOAA’s fleet of research and survey vessels and aircraft. Officers provide scientific support, like managing research projects and collecting data, but they also are skilled pilots, divers, and ship captains.

As a Junior Officer aboard the NOAA Thomas Jefferson survey vessel, Gump spends his days on any number of tasks. He may be serving as a Deck Watch Officer in the wheelhouse, the portion of the ship that houses the helm (or steering wheel), or collecting and analyzing hydrographic data such as bathymetry, seafloor characterization, direction and magnitude of ocean tides and currents, and even the temperature and salinity of the water, just to name a few.

The dynamic nature of the position keeps Gump on his feet but to him, the most rewarding aspect of the job is the ability to do scientific research.

“You can be the scientist, you can collect the data, and it’s something you can get excited about. And I still do to this day,” said Gump, who completed an undergraduate degree in Earth science and a master’s degree in glacial geology following his career in the Navy.

“Right after high school, I did a couple years of college, it didn’t really take and I enlisted in the Navy,” he said. While in the Navy, Gump worked in a variety of roles and found that he had developed an interest in the environmental and Earth sciences.

“I fell in love with this idea of the environment and environmental science….and I knew that I wanted to finish my degree” Gump said.

Gump credits the various mentors he has had through the years for piquing his interest in science and showing him that science can be engaging and invigorating.

In addition to scientific research, Corps Officers also get to travel across the U.S. and around the world. NOAA maintains fleets in the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Islands, near Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa. Shore-based billets stretch from the Arctic to the Antarctic and nearly everywhere between.  Officers can be stationed in any of these locations, as well as at the NOAA headquarters in Silver Spring, MD.

“We like to say that when you are aboard a vessel in data acquisition you’re at the pointy end” said Gump. “You’re very involved, and you’re very focused on the mission.”

However, Officers stationed at NOAA headquarters get a different perspective.

Gump explains, “when you get to the headquarter level, you get a broad scope… see how the whole organization functions from top to bottom.”

Despite the wide range of tasks assigned to Corps Officers, Gump believes that just like many other jobs, strong interpersonal skills are needed to be successful.

“We get selected on our capacity to learn, and we serve in all the different line offices because we can be the jack-of-all-trades,” says Gump. He encourages students interested in working for the NOAA Corps to seek out opportunities to network with current NOAA Corps Officers, and more generally, scientists and staff at NOAA.

“Explore those opportunities and reach out and find somebody, send us an e-mail, go to the NOAA.gov directory and just find somebody,” he said.

For more information about the NOAA Corps Program, visit https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/noaa-commissioned-officer-corps. You can listen to the full interview at the AGU Narratives StoryCorps Community.

Danya AbdelHameid is the Summer Talent Pool Intern at AGU.