Great respect for natural world drives regulatory scientist
Melisa Diolosa was a Michigan transplant attending Florida Institute of Technology in the 1990s when she first learned about the nearby Indian River Lagoon, the 156-mile-long estuary covering 40 percent of Florida’s east coast. It wasn’t long before she knew she had found her calling.
“The complexity and beauty of the Indian River Lagoon fascinated me,” Diolosa says. “The more I learned, the more I became interested in the local ecology and water resources.”
Armed with a dual bachelor’s degrees in marine biology and ecology, Diolosa began her career at the St. Johns River Water Management District in 2005 as a regulatory scientist in the Palm Bay Service Center. She was able to apply her scientific knowledge in the real world, reviewing and issuing permits that met the environmental criteria under Florida Administrative Code and ensuring the permits were in compliance.
“I have a great respect for Florida’s natural resources and I consider myself a steward of the environment,” she says. “Living in east central Florida inspires my work in the environmental field because I am surrounded by many diverse natural communities.”
In 2015, Diolosa was promoted to a project manager in the district’s Bureau of Project Management. Instead of reviewing permits, she now embraces the challenge of managing the district’s cost-share contracts. The agency’s cost-share program assists local governments, agricultural interests and other entities in creating sustainable water resources, providing flood protection and enhancing conservation efforts.
“I’m currently managing 21 cost-share projects,” Diolosa says. “Project management of these contracts involves constant coordination with the recipient on the project schedule, status and budget. Every day is different. One day might find me conducting field visits to monitor ongoing project construction; another day, I may be reviewing reimbursement requests, amendment requests, quarterly reports, and spend down plans. I’m also responsible for evaluating cost-share applications to help determine which projects receive funding. I work with other bureau members to improve the cost-share program and refine the tools we have to better manage our projects.”
Diolosa thrives on meeting deadlines and multi-tasking; her job doesn’t disappoint. “Sometimes it is challenging to complete projects within the contract expiration date, and it is necessary to amend the contract to allow for more time to complete construction,” she says. “It can be challenging because many delays are the result of poor planning. It is my responsibility to keep the projects moving forward within the shortest time possible.”
Diolosa says the best part of her job is working with funding recipients and applicants who are passionate about their projects. She also takes solace in knowing that the project she has ushered to completion provide measureable benefits and improvements to Florida’s water resources in a relatively short amount of time.
“Working at the district provides the opportunity to help protect and preserve our natural resources by educating the public, family and friends, and by partnering with public entities on projects that benefit the water resources,” she says. “If young women are interested in science, technology, engineering or math, I would encourage them to find a mentor and talk to as many people as they can about their interest. Anything a boy can do, we can do better!”