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  June 11, 2001

Ambitious Initiative Planned
for Marine Science Program

The kick-off of Campaign UConn last month marked the beginning of an ambitious initiative for the marine sciences programs. The goal, during the next 10 years, is to make UConn the home of one of the nation's top three coastal marine sciences programs.

As the first major step toward that end, Chancellor John D. Petersen has merged the Department of Marine Sciences and the Marine Sciences and Technology Center into a single academic and research unit.

The recommendation for the change came from the Marine Science Coordinating Council, whose membership includes faculty representatives and department heads at the Avery Point campus. Joseph Comprone, associate vice chancellor and director of the Avery Point campus, is chairman of the council.

Robert Whitlatch, head of the marine sciences department, has been appointed interim director for the combined units, for a term of three years. Richard Cooper, who had been the technology center's director, becomes the new coordinator of community and industrial outreach for the Avery Point campus.

"With the restructuring, we can build upon our well established marine sciences program and turn it into one of the premier centers for coastal marine sciences and technology in the country," Petersen says.

In undertaking this initiative, UConn will be delving into relatively uncharted waters. Whereas most institutions focus their research on either the deep ocean or the watershed, the intersection of the two has yet to receive as much attention. And since the Avery Point campus is perched on the shoreline, Long Island Sound is the perfect laboratory and classroom for real world research and education in this area.

"The coastal zone is where humans have incredible impact and influence. More than 50 percent of the U.S. population lives within 100 miles of an ocean," Petersen points out. "We are positioned to assume a leadership role in research and teaching on the coastal marine environment. It is an area critical to the economy; it is where food comes from, and it is where the environmental issues are."

Whitlatch says his faculty applauds the new initiative. "With the merger of the departments and a new $24 million state-of-the-art building, we have, for the first time in our history, the infrastructur e that will enable us to move forward in new arenas of research, education and outreach."

The marine sciences faculty is already immersed in projects addressing some of the coastal marine issues - from the investigation of non-native marine species invading Long Island Sound to the creation of a series of high-tech buoys relaying real-time information about water conditions and quality to a public website.

But Whitlatch, a marine biologist, says the science community still has much to learn about the dynamics between the ocean and atmosphere. A strategic plan, not yet finalized, calls for expanding the marine sciences program to include the study of the earth and atmosphere.

"Our vision for the future also includes developing sustainable ways to properly steward the coastal environment, identifying resources along the coasts for harvesting, predicting and assessing global climate change as well as providing research and resources to the public and policymakers," Whitlatch says.

Other priorities include endowing named chairs, increasing support for postdoctoral students, graduate and undergraduate fellowships, and possibly creating a school of marine sciences.

But before any of that can happen, additional external funding is needed and that is where the University's capital campaign comes in.

Janice Palmer

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