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Alumnus Goes Full Speed Ahead

The Peace Corps and USC Dornsife led biology graduate student to international naval research.

By Richard Hoops
July 10, 2014

USC Dornsife alumnus Augustus Vogel (left) meets members of the Ghana Navy aboard a U.S. vessel during Vogel’s work with U.S. Naval Forces Africa. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Campbell.

USC Dornsife alumnus Augustus Vogel (left) meets members of the Ghana Navy aboard a U.S. vessel during Vogel’s work with U.S. Naval Forces Africa. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Campbell.

Augie Vogel came to USC Dornsife in the late 1990s with a bachelor’s degree in biology and three years of experience in the Peace Corps. He left USC Dornsife in 2006 with a Ph.D. in biology, a NOAA Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship in Washington, D.C. and, ultimately, connections for a career that has taken him around the world.

Augustus “Augie” Vogel is a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy, working out of an office in the U.S. Consulate in São Paulo, Brazil, as Associate Director for the Americas and Sub-Saharan Africa in the Office of Naval Research Global.

His career with ONR Global is the result of the Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship and another grant he received during his USC career from the National Security Education Program David L. Boren Fellowships.

“The Boren grant came with an obligation to work in a security agency for a year after graduation,” Vogel said. “Somehow, almost magically it seems, the Knauss Fellowship got me pointed to the Navy’s science and oceanography world.

I started thinking about how security, science and environmental management are all intertwined; how often their communities isolate themselves and how much might be achieved by operating at the borders of those communities and seeing what could be done to get people to see things the same way.”

Vogel grew up in Virginia and earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Virginia in 1996. He then traveled to equatorial Africa and worked for three years in Ghana with the Peace Corps.

In 1999, Vogel entered the Ph.D. program in Marine Environmental Biology in USC Dornsife under the advisement of Suzanne Edmands, faculty at Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies and associate professor of biological sciences at USC Dornsife. He made frequent trips to Mexico and the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island as part of his research into temporal and spatial genetic variance in recruitment of kelp bass. During his graduate studies, Vogel also worked as a science teacher at Sheenway School and Culture Center in Watts (1999-2002) and Yavneh Hebrew Academy in Los Angeles (summer 2004), where he developed a science camp curriculum that included “Yuck! Dissection is Gross!,” “Fish Tails and Whales,” “Life in a Bottle” and “Young Science.”

Vogel’s graduate committee at USC Dornsife included Dennis Hedgecock, Paxson H. Offield Professor in Fisheries Ecology and professor of biological sciences; Dale Kiefer, professor of biological sciences; Tony Michaels, former director of the Wrigley Institute; Christine Thacker, adjunct associate professor of biological sciences; and John P. Wilson, professor of sociology, civil and environmental engineering, computer science and architecture.

Vogel’s dissertation topic was a study of molecular markers in kelp bass off the coast of Southern California. In 2009, Vogel, Edmands and two other authors published an article about the research in the journal Fisheries Science.

After he finished his doctoral work in 2006, Vogel accepted a NOAA Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship that led to a one-year internship in the Office of the Oceanographer of the Navy. That in turn led to two years of work with U.S. Naval Forces Africa.

“I focused on developing ocean science projects in Africa that performed research, supported development of the country and helped diverse communities — including the security community — come together to develop common projects,” Vogel said. “We got a whole series of things started, including a coastal geosciences program in Ghana with funding from ONR. That experience introduced me to ONR, which led to a successful interview for my current job.”

ONR — the Office of Naval Research — is the office of the U.S. Department of the Navy that manages science and technology programs of the Navy and Marine Corps through schools, universities, government laboratories, and nonprofit and for-profit organizations. In 2010, Vogel started work for ONR Global at its office in Santiago, Chile, and in January 2014 he moved to São Paulo, Brazil, to open a new ONR Global office there.

Among the ONR projects Vogel has organized are the modeling of water, sand and silt in the mouth of the Amazon River; studies of coastal erosion in West Africa; water turbulence at potential sites for sea turbines to generate alternative energy; trans-Atlantic operations of autonomous underwater gliders; and the location and tracking of ships from satellites.

“We build research projects that fit into the ONR portfolio,” Vogel said. “We identify international researchers whose work warrants ONR support and collaboration, and then collaborate with them to develop the research plan and funding sources. I put these projects together — primarily focusing on Chile, Brazil and South Africa — and it’s been a great way to fuse my interests and backgrounds in science, international work and now, security.”