CC Under the Sea
By REBECCA BRANT, director of publications
They began dreaming their watery dreams at Colorado College, in the shadow of Pikes Peak. Rugged indigo peaks and a 14,000-foot snow-capped spire to the west of campus, rolling golden plains to the east, the laughing lap of Monument Creek nearby. A breathtakingly beautiful place to live and learn and grow, lacking only an ocean to make it a perfect setting. But for three CC grads, the rhythmic beckoning of the sea was strong enough to overcome the logic of geographic boundaries.
Coastal estuaries. Blue water oceanography. Nutrient cycling. Continental shelf waters. The ecology of submerged, attached marine life. Wetlands. These are the issues that concern Thomas Malone í65, director of the Horn Point Laboratory of the University of Marylandís Center for Environmental Science.
After earning his bachelorís in zoology from CC, Malone headed back to his West Coast roots, working on his masterís degree at the University of Hawaii and earning his Ph.D. in biological oceanography from Stanford in 1971. Relocating to the east coast, a decision shared by his wife, CC alumna Mary Lou Meadows '65, Malone began his post-graduate career as an assistant biology professor at the City College of New York. He then spent four years at the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory of Columbia University and three years at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, exploring his interests in phytoplankton ecology and the effects of nutrient enrichment on coastal ecosystems. Following his move to the east coast, his research interests were drawn increasingly to estuarine and coastal marine systems that he could observe more frequently and over longer periods of time. Malone found "it was important to be able to feel, taste, and smell the systems I was working with."
He joined the University of Maryland in 1982 when the chancellor of UM asked him to take over the Center for Environmental Science after the sudden death of its president. After a year and a half in an interim capacity, Malone became director of the Horn Point Laboratory, one of three laboratories that constitute the Center for Environmental Science. Heís still pleased with his decision, even though he cannot go to the sea much in his current position. Overseeing a staff of more than 130 and a budget of $7 million a year has meant relegating his educational concerns to the laboratoryís tripartheid mission -- education, outreach, and research. He likes to use his position "as a bully pulpit" to address his concerns about the gap between scientific knowledge and the implementation of environmental policies at the state and federal levels.
As if this more-than-full-time position doesnít keep him busy enough, Malone is also a member of the Executive Committee of the National Association of Marine Laboratories (NAML), president of the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), and chair of the UN panel for the coastal component of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). Like many science societies, ASLO is exploring ways to communicate scientific information more effectively to the public and to governmental decision makers. As part of this effort, ASLO will open an office in Washington, D.C., in the near future.
Malone is perhaps most excited about his work with the UN panel. The international group -- including members from the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Denmark, Poland, Italy, Nigeria, India, China, and Japan -- is working on ways to improve our ability to predict the combined effects of climate and human activities on coastal ecosystems, says Malone.
"Iíve never been involved in a project with such a high probability of failure, but such great rewards for success," he adds. "An important part of the endeavor is the free and timely exchange of information between countries, a process that can get quite dicey as data and information on the environment increase in value, and issues of public access, ownership, economic competition, and defense become more controversial. The free exchange of information is crucial to the sustainability of living resources, to the protection and restoration of ecosystems, to the mitigation of coastal hazards, and to public health."
Down the coast, Sharon Smith í67 is a professor at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. She, too, has her hands full outside the job, as a member of the Advisory Committee for the Geosciences at the National Science Foundation and chair of the subcommittee overseeing the NSFís Ocean Science Division.
Smith came to CC as a Boettcher scholar, and looks back to her junior year as a turning point. "I was thinking about becoming a doctor, but in practical terms, I knew I didnít want to work with sick people and be in hospitals all the time," she explains. "So I didnít know what to do." During her senior year, she received a Fulbright Scholarship to study rocky shore mollusk communities in New Zealand. She worked hard there, earning her masterís in 1969 as well as an NSF Fellowship to Duke to work on her doctoral degree. After her year and a half in Auckland and a semester at Duke, she was "fed up with school," she says, and took a job writing environmental impact statements on nuclear power plants in the Northeast. She soon realized she wasnít that tired of school after all. She called Duke and asked to come back, paying her own way for a semester. "Then I knew I wanted to do the Ph.D.," she says. "I knew I didnít want to work in industry. So I wrote a research proposal on plankton ecology." She submitted the proposal and a professor from Duke decided to sponsor her. After finishing her Ph.D. in 1975, she went to Dalhousie University for three years as an endowed post-doctoral fellow, then on to her own stint at Brookhaven, where she was a research scientist for 15 years, chairing the Oceanographic and Atmospheric Sciences Division for two years.
"After doing everything I could there," Smith took up teaching at the University of Miami, an institution she commends for its approach to science education. "Students must major in a regular science and minor in marine science," she explains, "and the university has active researchers teaching the undergraduates, not teaching assistants."
Smithís own research, involving the role of zooplankton in productive food webs, has taken her on a 16-month and an 8-month expedition in the Arabian Sea, and to areas in Peru, California and North Africa. While she now has her sights set on plankton life in the arctic, she hopes for another chance to return to the Indian Ocean before retirement.
Knowing that to pursue her own research interests, she must convince others of their value, Smith has become proficient at writing grant proposals, primarily to the National Science Foundation, for which she worked in 1988-89. "It was crucial for me to work with the agency," she says, "because I gained such an understanding of the process behind the funding of projects." And requests are far different than they used to be. "Fewer ships," she says. "Ships only offer a snapshot. We need long-term observation, instruments we can leave in the sea to collect data.
One of her allies with the NSF is Marcia McNutt í73, a CC physics major who credits the Earth science revolution of plate tectonics with her career in marine science. "It was a new paradigm, and there was great interest," she explains. "It was a global model, but most of the discoveries were under the ocean, where the plate boundaries are."
After CC, McNutt went to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., completing her thesis there at "such an exciting time -- it was equivalent to going into biology right after Darwin came out with the theory of evolution." A circuitous route led her to MIT, where she taught for 15 years and directed the Joint Program in Oceanography with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. When the directorship of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) became available, McNutt was approached by the chair of the search committee. "He tracked me down at the airport," she recalls. "I was intrigued. MBARI isnít like a university, not departmentalized by traditional disciplines."
In her role as president and CEO, McNutt manages 175 scientists, engineers, and administrative staff, and a $30 million per year budget, funded almost exclusively by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation. "I see my primary responsibility as making sure we have the best staff possible, then deciding which projects to undertake," she says. "Itís important to find synergy between projects, to make the sum of the work greater than the individual parts."
While MBARIís sister institute, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, is involved in conservation and outreach, the research institute is committed to developing the next generation of research instruments and technology. MBARI scientists propose and execute experimental and theoretical studies in the ocean sciences, then engineers and operations staff develop or adapt technology to make the experiments possible. "Weíve tried to break down the disciplinary and cultural boundaries between science and engineering," she explains. "We make sure thereís good communication and collaboration between the two to best meet the needs. Whether science leads to new technology or technology allows new scientific exploration, it doesnít matter as long as that interaction happens more often."
McNutt is also president-elect of the American Geophysical Union and recently served as vice chair of the Advisory Committee for Geosciences at the National Science Foundation. Her role on both is to identify areas to receive attention and funding, to help with long-range planning, and to disseminate the results of various research projects. The American Geophysical Union is the largest society -- nearly 35,000 -- of Earth science professionals. It publishes a number of journals and holds meetings spring and fall to showcase results. "Itís quite an honor and an important role being president of the AGU," she says, "because the president speaks for the top scientists in the world, even testifies before Congress."
While the paths of these three alumni have overlapped at various institutions -- the National Science Foundation, Brookhaven National Laboratory, etc. -- all look back to their time at Colorado College as the most formative. "The stage was set at CC," Malone recalls. "Of all my professors, I remember Richard Beidelman most. His Ecology and Evolution class excited me, and his emphasis on taking us out into the field to observe the ecosystems -- it was an early version of how ecology is taught today." He also recalls Mary Alice Hamilton, professor of zoology. "She really focused on the importance of controlled experiments, providing a good example for how I conducted research later on."
Role models were important for Smith, who remembers encountering gender bias after CC -- both in graduate school and in employment. CC was "gender blind," Smith says, while Duke in 1968 was anything but. "Only five of the 30 zoology professors would even accept a female student," she recalls, explaining that Richard Beidelman called a contact in Dukeís botany department on her behalf. The school was "transformed" by the time she returned from the University of Auckland, and "what started as war and racial protests spilled over to gender.
"CC offered an atmosphere free of gender bias," she continued. "We just didnít think about it. We were all treated equally at a time when that wasnít common in the sciences."
McNutt remembers being one of the first women to graduate from the physics department at a time when "some professors went out of their way to help, some were average, some were resentful -- but Dick Hilt made sure I wasnít going to fail." When considering the situation of women in the sciences today, McNutt says "the battle is no longer the glass ceiling, but a leaky pipeline." Many female undergraduates are pursuing the sciences, but only a handful make it to senior-level positions at research organizations.
Why have CC grads -- men and women alike -- been able to climb the ladder? Each credits the enthusiastic support of professors whose "learning through the senses" approach left little room for textbook reading. They also mention working closely with professors on research projects as undergraduates, "an invaluable experience," McNutt says. And as the Class of 1999 undertakes its post-commencement journey into the working world, these alumni want them to know, a liberal arts education -- especially under the Block Plan -- will afford them untold benefits.
"The opportunity we had to take classes outside of our majors," McNutt says, "chemistry, biology, math, and geology, as well as physics, made the vocabulary familiar to me. Today, I work primarily with biologists, chemists, and geologists, not physicists, so I feel I have a background to understand them better, and they in turn feel I am more knowledgeable."
In 1989, Smith spoke on the value of a liberal arts education for a scientific career at opening convocation. She shares much the same message now. "CC was a top-notch program and continues to be. When I went to Auckland and to Duke, my work was as good as anyone elseís, regardless of the science background they had." The support and encouragement she found at CC is what she tries to provide for her students today.
"The liberal arts education I received at CC," Malone explains, "has served me well -- helped give me the confidence to branch out into the things Iím doing now." With a grandfather, mother, father, aunt, and uncle who all attended CC, Malone knew where heíd be going to undergraduate school all along, but he has no regrets. "If it werenít for the liberal arts and the collaboration that comes from the Block Plan, I may not be involved in something like the UN effort today."Back to Index