May 28, 2017  

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GCRL Research Scientist Franks to Serve as Spring Commencement Speaker

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Jim Franks

A senior research scientist at The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL), internationally recognized for his longtime study of Gulf Coast marine life, will serve as the school’s spring 2017 commencement speaker.

Jim Franks, who holds faculty appointments in USM’s School of Ocean Science and Technology and the Graduate School, will deliver keynote addresses at two commencement ceremonies on the Hattiesburg campus, set for 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Friday, May 12 at Reed Green Coliseum; and at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 13 at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi. Approximately 1,900 students are candidates for degrees this spring, one of the largest graduating classes in recent years.

A marine biologist with 40 years of research experience in the Gulf of Mexico, Franks’ research and academic interests span life history studies of Gulf of Mexico fishes to pioneering research on their offshore habitats. He has authored or co-authored more than 50 scientific papers with special interest given to large offshore fishes, such as cobia, marlin, tunas and sharks. Franks also co-authored the contingency guide to the protection of Mississippi’s coastal environments from spilled oil.

“The gracious invitation by USM President Rodney Bennett to be the keynote speaker for commencement is an incredible honor I will always cherish,” Franks said. “I am humbled by the opportunity and extraordinarily happy.
 
“I look forward to congratulating the graduating students on their exceptional accomplishment. Whatever future they might be contemplating, Southern Miss has provided an education that prepares them for their journey through life as the world becomes the focus of their generation - a journey empowered with knowledge.”

Franks has served on marine fisheries management boards; advisory committees and task forces associated with the NOAA Marine Fisheries Initiative (MARFIN); Mississippi Wildlife Federation; and Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, among others. He is a recent two-term chair of the multinational Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute.

Among the many honors earned by Franks include The Mississippi Wildlife Federation’s Conservationist of the Year Award, also known as the Governor’s Award, the American Fisheries Society’s Presidential Award and C.A. Shultz Conservation Award. USM recently honored Franks’ service to the University and the Mississippi Gulf Coast with the naming of its newest research vessel, R/V Jim Franks.

Jill Hendon, interim director of GCRL’s Center for Fisheries Research and Development, said choosing her colleague as commencement speaker is a “well-deserved honor” for Franks. 

“Jim is a dedicated ambassador for the fishing community and an advocate for the conservation of our coastal and pelagic resources,” Hendon said. “His name is renowned throughout our USM, coastal, and the scientific communities; he has truly been the face of USM’s GCRL over the last 35 years.

“He has been an inspiration to countless students and colleagues, and many credit him for their passion in this field. I’m honored to be his colleague and friend.”

Reflecting on his own time in college, Franks said the undergraduate and graduate education he received has served him well throughout his life. Ironically, an influential undergraduate mentor who inspired him to study marine life was longtime GCRL director Dr. Gordon Gunter, who in the summer of 1963 introduced Franks to GCRL’s Summer Field Program and later served as his graduate advisor.

“As I prepare to speak to our graduates, I recall dedicated, charismatic professors like Dr. Gunter who inspired and encouraged me along the path that led to my life’s work as a marine biologist, my passion in life. Those seminal experiences I will never forget.”

Franks continues expressing that passion through his mentorship of students, service on graduate student committees, collaborations with colleagues on research projects, engagement in coastal community environmental activities and sharing career experiences with a new generation of marine scientists.

“Having the good fortune to work as a research scientist who studies the biology and ecology of coastal and oceanic fishes is, for me, totally fulfilling,” he said. “Engaging undergraduate and graduate students in research and monitoring projects is a rewarding experience, and that’s a two-way street. Contributions by students to research efforts are integral to the success of those studies.”  

For more information about spring 2017 commencement at Southern Miss, visit https://www.usm.edu/commencement.