The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has taken transformative steps to fortify its reputation as the leader in marine education and research along the Gulf of Mexico with the formation of a new School of Ocean Science and Technology (SOST).
The new school, housed within the College of Science and Technology, brings together marine-related research and education programs under one administration and harnesses elements from key areas of the University including the Division of Marine Science (DMS) based at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County; the USM Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) and Division of Coastal Sciences in Ocean Springs, Miss; and the University’s fleet of five research vessels.
The fleet includes the new 60-foot R/V Jim Franks, completed in February 2016, and the 135-foot R/V Point Sur, acquired by the University in February 2015. The R/V Point Sur is the only oceanographic class research vessel home-ported in the northern Gulf of Mexico east of the Mississippi River.
“Through the new School of Ocean Science and Technology, the University will position itself as a national leader in marine science research,” said Dr. Steven R. Moser, USM provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “Our faculty and staff in the school will continue to provide high-quality educational and research opportunities in the northern Gulf of Mexico, allowing us to better understand our coastal resources and the associated impacts those resources have on our economy and community.”
Dr. Monty Graham, chair of the Division of Marine Science and interim director of the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, will serve as the school’s director. Graham points out that the establishment of the new school reflects the nexus between USM’s identified center of excellence in marine science and education with an emphasis on stakeholder engagement and economic development.
“The ultimate goal of the School of Ocean Science and Technology is to increase productivity of USM’s research, education and economic development enterprises through enhanced coordination of research and education programs, improved opportunities for external funding, and increased focus on community and industry relations,” Graham said. “Factors we are using to gauge our success are increased graduate and undergraduate enrollment, increased scholarly output by faculty, and meeting the educated workforce needs of the growing blue economy on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”
Michael Jones, president of The Maritime Alliance – a non-profit based in San Diego whose mission is to promote blue jobs and blue tech around the world – applauds USM for what he believes the new school will provide for the Gulf Coast region’s environmental and economic sustainability.
"It is important and timely to see USM organize its already significant marine science efforts into a new School of Ocean Science and Technology to better focus on the vibrant Gulf Coast’s blue economy,” Jones said. “Enhanced interaction between academia, industry and policy makers at new, state-of-the-art facilities will promote innovation, better prepare the entrepreneurs and workforce of tomorrow, and create exciting growth opportunities for the region. “
Jones continued, “As the largest blue-tech cluster in the United States, The Maritime Alliance looks forward to working closely with USM and the region as it institutionalizes its cluster and increasingly engages nationally and internationally.”
The Marine Industries Science and Technology (MIST) cluster is administered by USM in partnership with the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology (MSET). The cluster is comprised of marine-related entities, which includes private business, state agencies, non-profits, colleges and universities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
“One of the most important results of creating this school is we are now bringing people of different disciplines together for profound research,” said Dr. David Hayhurst, dean of the College of Science and Technology. “There is significant synergy within these different divisions that will allow a much broader stroke of scientific discoveries.”
Anticipated benefits of SOST include increased educational opportunities for students – such as the University’s unique degree offerings in the field of hydrographic science. SOST holds the distinction of being the only school in North America that offers an undergraduate degree in marine science with an emphasis in hydrographic science.
Hydrography is the branch of applied sciences that deals with the measurement and description of the physical features of oceans, seas, coastal areas, lakes and rivers – as well as with the prediction of their evolution – for the primary purpose of safety of navigation and all other marine purposes and activities, including economic development, security and defense, scientific research, and environmental protection.
The USM hydrographic science graduate program has seen a continued increase in non-sponsored students due to the two-year program’s 100 percent job placement of graduates.
Graham stresses that additional rewards from the new school will include increased efficiency during projects and easier-to-leverage resource funds. He notes that Mississippi Gulf Coast residents, in particular, should benefit from the formation of the school.
“Before this school was created, the challenge to respond in the face of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the 2010 Oil Spill was daunting; you had to go through multiple layers and a series of approvals before any action could be taken,” he said. “With the new school creating a house for all of the resources to exist under a single unit, a response will be efficient and well organized.”
Following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, now known as the largest environmental disaster in United States history, The University of Southern Mississippi led the way in mapping and analyzing the oil spill’s effects on the Gulf’s ecosystem. Faculty and staff within GCRL and the Division of Marine Science began investigating and processing the damage as 200 million gallons of crude oil billowed into the Gulf of Mexico. Within two weeks after the initial explosion, the University assembled an Oil Spill Response Team to coordinate efforts in monitoring the spill’s repercussions. More than six years after the spill, University faculty members continue to research and study the effects in Gulf waters.
"Our goal is to expand and advance research in the Gulf of Mexico – work that directly impacts the regional and national economy,” said Graham. “Establishing this school allows The University of Southern Mississippi to assume a leading role in marine science and education in the Gulf of Mexico.”
For more information about the University’s School of Ocean Science and Technology, visit www.usm.edu/ocean.