Tiger shark

Marine science researchers study tiger sharks’ impact on ecosystems; the new initiative would provide more opportunities for hands-on marine experiences for students.

Marine Studies Initiative strives to expand marine studies, student experience

The colleges of Oregon State University have united over one topic: investment in making OSU a leader in marine studies.

“We want to be number one in marine studies globally,” said Sastry Pantula, dean of the College of Science.

OSU has been developing plans to put the university on the map in the field of marine studies. The Marine Studies Initiative has been in the works for a couple of years, but has recently been gaining traction. The deans of all the colleges have formed an executive committee to plan and flesh out what marine studies will look like for the university. The committee has been working on specifics like learning outcomes, research and fundraising.

The initiative itself entails the development of an undergraduate marine studies program and an extension of Newport’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, including a new building.

The College of Science already offers a marine science option through the biology major, but the marine studies program will offer students a different kind of marine education.

Pantula said that marine science is the backbone of marine studies; however, marine studies is an opportunity to take science to education and policy. Science policy is a big part of the initiative and one of the reasons why the program is being started.

“If you think about it writ large, if that incredible learning environment in Newport can become part of the university’s academic offerings for the whole campus — not just for those studying fisheries or oceanography or atmospheric sciences, but for students in virtually any area of study, such as social science or writing — that is truly unique,” President Ed Ray said of the initiative in the fall 2014 issue of the Oregon Stater.

Jane Lubchenco, advisor and distinguished professor in the department of integrative biology, described Ray as the initiative’s “strongest champion.”

The marine studies program would be one that cuts across college lines.

“The vision would be that it is multi-college,” Pantula said. “This is a discussion that is ongoing; we want to make sure that students have a good mentoring advisor.”

The main colleges involved include the College of Science, College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, College of Engineering and the College of Agricultural Sciences; all the colleges are involved to some extent.

Currently, colleges are submitting information on pertinent classes and faculty that would be beneficial to the future marine studies program.

“The initiative is catalyzing exciting new discussion and opportunity here in Corvallis and Newport,” Lubchenco said. “There is serious engagement around the key questions and the opportunity to integrate across all of the major units of the university. This is truly a cross-OSU endeavor.”

Since completion of the project will not be for many years — fundraising isn’t expected to be completed until June 2017 — current students will most likely not experience the impact of these efforts.

“First thing, (students) will have access to excellent researchers,” Pantula said. “We are actually engaging in considerate effort to recruit new faculty. New faculty focuses on student success, student experiences and enhanced diversity.”

The university is committed to developing this program, and within the next year, will hire six new faculty members with the Marine Studies Initiative in mind.

The new program will bring with it expanded course offerings and more opportunities for experiential learning at the coast. Experiential learning opportunities would be experiences like doing marine research, working aboard research vessels or working with marine agency workers.

The biggest impact would be seen at HMSC. With a new building comes the opportunity for students to spend a year or two studying at the center.

“We have had tremendous support for the marine studies initiative within the Hatfield Marine Science Center community,” said Maryann Bozza, HMSC program director. “The initiative will dramatically increase the opportunities available to undergraduates.”

The new Newport building will initially focus on quality hands-on student education, according to Lubchenco.

“We have ample evidence from the College of Science’s marine biology class taught at Newport each spring that immersive experiences can be transformative for students,” Lubchenco said. “The lessons learned from decades of experience with this class and others are informing design of this new program. But of course the program will integrate across both campuses, drawing upon and strengthening the expertise and facilities in both Corvallis and Newport.”

The initiative would also give coastal community college students an opportunity to complete their four-year degrees at HMSC.

“A major part of the initiative is about workforce development and training problem solvers who have a foundation in core subjects, deal with big data and computational skills and — more importantly — have good communication skills to work across scientific and policy borders,” Pantula said. “It is bringing all our colleges together which helps students to work in teams harmoniously. It will also have an impact on students from various parts of Oregon, especially from the coastal communities.”

The initiative is predicted to cost the university $65 million. The new building at HMSC alone will cost $50 million. An additional $15 million will be need for hiring professors, funding student scholarships and providing graduate fellowships.

If the university can raise $5 million in fundraising and receive $25 million from the state, an additional $20 million will be donated to the initiative.

“The ocean is central to life on Earth and essential for a prosperous and healthy future for people. Yet we are squandering its precious resources and risking our future,” Lubchenco said. “Innovation, holistic approaches and bright young minds are key to tackling and addressing challenges such as food security, clean energy, human health, prosperous and resilient communities, abundant wildlife and a deep understanding of ourselves, our history and our future. OSU’s vast expertise, geography, focus on the practical and ability to evolve position us well for these opportunities.”

Kat Kothen, news reporter


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