January 6, 2011

Colby awarded $600K to expand marine studies

By Scott Monroe smonroe@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — Colby College is starting 2011 by pouring more resources into its increasingly in-demand marine conservation program with the help of a $600,000 grant.

Meanwhile, the program’s scope and importance is expanding as Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in West Boothbay Harbor makes good on a partnership with the college by having its scientists teach classes and jointly conduct research.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded Colby a $600,000 grant to support environmental studies, according to President William “Bro” Adams in an announcement Tuesday night.

“This latest expression of support from Mellon is enormously important to us,” Adams said. “It enables us to take the next logical step in the evolution of the environmental studies program, which the foundation has done so much to advance in the past.”

Colby professor Russell Cole, of the biological sciences department, said the grant will enable Colby to “expand our curriculum more fully into marine conservation and policy areas, which is something our students are keenly interested in, but haven’t been able to do until now.”

About 80 students are enrolled in the marine conservation program, he said.

“We’re very excited about this funding,” Cole said Wednesday, “and since we have a strategic partnership with Bigelow Laboratory, this is a way to strengthen that partnership by providing policy conservation expertise to go with internationally recognized research from Bigelow.”

The grant enables the college to hire three additional faculty for the marine program, for a total of five professors by the fall semester, according to Cole. New faculty will teach in the areas of aquatic ecology, marine conservation and policy, and international environmental policy.

Among them will be Loren McClenachan, who is a postdoctoral fellow in the biological sciences department at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. McClenachan received her doctorate in marine biology from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, Cole said.

Colby already has benefited from its new partnership with Bigelow. As was the case last year — and will be for at least three more years — two of the lab’s scientists are teaching courses at the college this month during Colby’s “Jan Plan.” This summer, two Colby students served as research assistants for Bigelow’s senior research scientists, who worked in the Amazon and off the Costa Rican coast.

On Wednesday, a cruise ship departed from the coast of Chile — with a Colby chemistry professor, student, and Bigelow scientists — for a six-week excursion to study the southern Atlantic ocean. They’ll end up in Cape Town, South Africa.

In addition, an initiative is under development to establish a semester of study at the Bigelow Laboratory for Colby students, according to the lab’s executive director and president, Graham Shimmield.

“We’re working to develop a joint curriculum on marine sciences, potentially for the fall of 2012,” Shimmield said. So, the $600,000 grant “to Colby is one that will confirm their direction in environmental studies and will help propel and motivate our joint relationship.”

Cole said the expansion of Colby’s marine sciences opportunities could have benefits for the state of Maine. The new incoming professor at Colby, McClenachan, is interested in fisheries and using historical research, so that “might provide some insights for other agencies in the state, or nonprofits, that have been working on those issues,” Cole said.

“This is, in part, the vision of the president (Adams), and Bro saw the benefit of working with Bigelow and truly taking advantage of the wonderful resources the coast provides, with the Gulf of Maine,” Cole said.

Shimmield said the lab’s partnership with the college is unique because “Colby is essentially our chosen partner for education curriculum.”

“We see this is really as the first step in an inter-relationship and we’re hopeful it will blossom and grow over the coming years as look forward to training the next generation of marine scientists.”

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