Luca Grifo-Hahn Charts His Future

From Capitol Hill intern to deckhand educator to NOAA officer, Luca Grifo-Hahn navigates an early career in conservation

  • By Delaney McPherson
  • Next Generation
  • Sep 27, 2023

LIKE MANY YOUNG ADULTS trying to find their professional path, Luca Grifo-Hahn’s working life has taken some unexpected turns. But the 26-year-old’s positive outlook has helped him navigate uncharted waters. He describes his career trajectory as a puzzle, and with each new opportunity, he “puts the pieces together.”

Grifo-Hahn first fell in love with nature as a child, learning about plants from his botanist parents in the Washington, D.C., area and reading Ranger Rick® magazines. While studying biology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, he participated in field work on the nearby St. Mary’s River, an experience that solidified his desire to work in the environmental realm.

When the COVID-19 pandemic derailed his plans to join the Peace Corps, Grifo-Hahn pivoted to policy and advocacy work as an intern on Capitol Hill. Once pandemic restrictions eased, he took a research position in California’s Farallon Islands (below), working on a boat and on land to conduct breeding surveys of the Cassin’s auklet, a small but sturdy North Pacific seabird.

An image of Luca holding a bird, sitting with two other people.

The auklet research segued into stints as a deckhand educator. For the Sultana Education Foundation in Chestertown, Maryland, and for Living Classrooms Foundation in Baltimore, Maryland, he took groups of students of all ages on educational sailing trips, teaching them about their local waterways and the nature surrounding them (top).

“Showing kids, ‘this is your backyard, these are the resources you have to protect,’ putting fish in their hands and getting them excited, that was the intersection of work I wanted,” he says.

Now Grifo-Hahn is pivoting again to spend more time at sea. Earlier this year he was accepted into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Commissioned Officer Corps. After completing a 17-week training at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, he’ll be stationed on a NOAA ship: conducting hydrographic research, mapping the sea floor, and reporting on oceanographic and atmospheric conditions. “I never grew up boating,” he says. “So it’s been really cool to stumble upon it through science.”

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