New Alliance for Ocean Science


Colby and Bigelow Lab strategic partnership promises a range of opportunities for students



By David Eaton
Photography by Heather Perry '93


Executive Director of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences Graham Shimmield, left,
and President William D. Adams sign a partnership agreement.

The College took a big step forward in its programs to study the environment when President William D. Adams signed an agreement with Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences to form a strategic partnership and announced plans to start a marine conservation track in the Environmental Studies Program.

"This is important for Colby,” Adams told an audience of Colby and Bigelow staff members and guests at the signing event in West Boothbay Harbor in June. “A lot of students are interested in this, and it gives us a way to deepen a very strong niche that we already have with respect to the environment.”

A gift from Elizabeth Ainslie ’87 and her family allowed Colby to establish a new position in the Environmental Studies Program. The Elizabeth ’87 and Lee Ainslie Professorship in Environmental Studies will support a faculty member in marine conservation and will initiate a marine conservation track in environmental studies beginning in the 2011-12 academic year. “In conjunction with Colby’s partnership with Bigelow Labs, the Ainslie professorship will make Colby a leader among liberal arts colleges in the area of marine conservation and science,” Adams said. 

One goal of the Colby-Bigelow partnership is to increase the teaching and research collaboration between Colby (students and faculty) and Bigelow’s senior research scientists. “Our two institutions share a mutual vision about the importance of expanding educational opportunities in marine sciences,” said Graham Shimmield, Bigelow’s executive director. “We, essentially, are going to deliver education through the lens of frontline research activity.”

Bigelow faculty members taught Jan Plan courses in bioinformatics and in oceans and climate change at Colby last year, and two Colby students spent the summer as research assistants for Bigelow senior research scientists working in the Amazon and off the coast of Costa Rica. The partnership agreement calls for Bigelow faculty members to teach two courses each January for the next three years and for greater opportunities for Colby students to conduct independent research mentored by Bigelow scientists.

In September Bigelow Labs announced its third multimillion-dollar grant for new facilities—$9.1-million from the National Institute of Standards and Technology will fund a new Center for Ocean Health (COH) to study ocean microbial systems. The COH will be one of three new, interconnected research centers, along with the Bigelow Center for Blue Biotechnology (supported by a $4.5-million Maine Technology Asset Fund grant in 2009) and the Center for Ocean Biogeochemistry and Climate Change (supported by a $5-million National Science Foundation grant in 2010).

Collaboration between the Colby faculty and Bigelow research scientists is not new. Dr. Frank and Theodora Miselis Professor of Chemistry Whitney King is co-investigator with Bigelow’s David Emerson on a three-year National Science Foundation grant to study water chemistry. But the partnership lays out a vision for even closer collaboration between the two institutions, perhaps culminating in the development of a semester-away academic program at Bigelow for Colby students.

Both Adams and Shimmield pointed to the pivotal role David Coit (P ’08), chair of Bigelow’s board of trustees, played in bringing the partnership to fruition. “With David’s foresight and vision,” said Adams, “we saw a way for Colby to reach out in this fundamentally new direction.”

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