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June 19, 2018
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

Faces of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Karen Tougas: Administrative Support Assistant

We continue our series to introduce the people who work at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). Each month we feature a new "face" from the Center's five laboratories and share with you a bit about who they are, what they do at the Center, and what they enjoy doing in their spare time

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Midwest – Wisconsin, Ohio, and high school in Illinois. After high school, I moved to South Dakota with my high school sweetheart, we married and had a baby girl. I was young. Back then all you needed was love and everything else would work out (I think about that time and wish we had more love in this world today). After my husband died, I moved to Tennessee with my daughter to be near my family. In 1978, I followed my parents to Rhode Island, where they grew up. I remarried and had two more children. I have two daughters, a son, and six grandchildren – two girls and four boys.

Where did you go to school and what did you get your degrees(s) in?

In 1987, I decided I wanted to go to college. I had three children and worked full time, but I knew I could do it. In 1990, I graduated from the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) with an Associate’s Degree in Medical Administration/Secretarial. During the three years I was attending CCRI, I drove a school bus, which allowed me to go to classes and have a work-study job while my bus charges were in school. After I graduated, I was hired at Brown University in Providence, RI, as the administrative assistant in the Medical School’s Center for Gerontology and Health Care Research.

Tell us a little about how you came to the NEFSC.

For several years, I also worked at night, part-time, for Meadows Edge Addiction Recovery Center in North Kingstown, RI. One of my colleagues was looking for a full-time job and checked USAJOBS quite often. She came in one day and showed me an administrative support position at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Narragansett. I loved working at Brown, but if I could have a job in Narragansett, much closer to home, I was going for it. I applied in October of 2000, interviewed in November, but was not offered the position until May 2001, after a job freeze was lifted. I started on June 4, 2001.

What do you do at the NEFSC?

I am an administrative support assistant (ASA) for the Narragansett Laboratory in Rhode Island. My position is with the Apex Predators Program (APP) in the Population Biology Branch, part of the Center’s Population & Ecosystems Monitoring & Analysis Division. However, as the only federal administrative support assistant on site, I work with staff from all divisions. I am a trusted agent, which means I handle all security and common access card issuance for the Narragansett Lab. I am a group administrator for several purchasers and complete most of the purchasing for Narragansett staff. I also track the use of the E-Z passes in RI and NJ for our fleet; am a property custodian and a contact for three other custodians; and create requisitions for APP and Oceans & Climate Branch staff. In addition, I am the master timekeeper for the Center, serving as the point of contact for NOAA's Workforce Management Office’s Payroll, Timekeeping and Records Branch. I enter expenditures for the administrative officers in their division’s budget sheets. Basically, whatever needs to happen, happens.  

Every summer I attend a recreational shark tournament in Montauk, NY with Nancy Kohler, chief of the Apex Predators Program. I help distribute shark tags for our Cooperative Shark Tagging Program, record data, and label samples. I assisted with necropsies on basking sharks that washed ashore in Wellfleet, Mass. I sailed aboard the NOAa Ship Delaware II for a couple of coastal shark longline surveys; sailed on several winter ecosystems monitoring surveys aboard the NOAA Ship Albatross IV, and participated in a couple of bottom trawl surveys and one scallop survey. I am also a member of our lab's House Committee, helping to organize picnics, weekly bake sales, monthly birthday celebrations, and the holiday party – the morale is high in Narragansett because we get together often.

What you like most about your position?

I love my job!  I have been an administrative support assistant for 28 years – 17 with NOAA.  Because I am motivated, a self-starter, and a multitasker, I am suited for this kind of work and enjoy it very much.  Being a federal administrative support assistant requires a willingness to work your way through the bureaucracy to get the job done.  I like getting creative to figure out a way to move things along.  I am happy when I can help others with issues that come up. 

Our campus is lovely. In the morning, as I make my way down South Ferry Road looking at beautiful Narragansett Bay, I think about how peaceful it is here and how grateful I am every day for this job and the people I work with.

What are some of your hobbies?

I love to cook, listen to music, see live music performances, read, and walk. And I love the beach. I enjoy traveling to Colorado to see my oldest daughter and her family. I love spending quality time with my grandkids – a couple of them have attended the Woods Hole Science Stroll in August with me. One of my grandsons loves to “chillax” and I am always up for that, too! We have a lot of family gatherings and we all love the beach – Sand Hill Cove every Sunday.