Triggered by the needs to adapt to higher education in the 21st century, many remarkable changes have taken place recently at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Over the past five years since I became Dean of the School, we have worked quite energetically to improve our infrastructure and to implement transformative changes to poise the School as a leader in research, education and services to the community, as an integral part of the University of Miami, which is to be “the next great American research university.
The most noticeable infrastructure improvement on our Virginia Key campus, is our new 86,000 square-foot Marine Technology and Life Sciences Seawater Complex that was inaugurated on October 2, 2014. The complex includes the one-of-a-kind Alfred C. Glassell Jr. SUrge-STructure-Atmosphere-INteraction (SUSTAIN) building capable of simulating 3-D wind-wave flow and surge produced by Category 5 hurricane force winds in complex coastal conditions. The Marine Life Sciences building, also located within the complex, provides a dedicated space for the study of marine animals, the critical connections between oceans and human health and the impacts of evolving climate on marine organisms and ecosystems. This complex was made possible thanks to a federal grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), generous gifts from the Glassell Family Foundation, Marta Weeks Family, Vetlesen Foundation and the University of Miami.
Another significant change to our campus is the demolition of our former seawater building, and where we are now starting construction of a state-of-the-art scientific scuba-diver training center. This center will include an 18-foot deep pool and a high-jump platform for the training of rescue divers. Less visible but not less important, all classrooms, our auditorium, our commons, research labs and, in general, all our facilities are being modernized and upgraded. We have also thoroughly modernized space on the Coral Gables campus for hosting the administration of our undergraduate programs, a marine science laboratory and computer classroom.
Our research, education and outreach infrastructure has also been boosted recently by the acquisition of Broad Key, a 63-acre island located in the Florida Keys. This new facility provides our students and a cadre of our world-class scientists with an ideal platform to launch field courses and conduct research that will help us to better understand Florida’s complex marine ecosystems.
Another exciting addition to our research and education infrastructure is our new helicopter that is being transformed into a one-of-a-kind Helicopter Observation Platform (HOP), a flying scientific laboratory equipped with state-of-the-art technology and scientific instrumentation. This platform provides our scientists with a unique capability to obtain vital information on environmental processes and mechanisms that affect our climate and impact human health.
Our mission at the Rosenstiel School is to train the next generation of Earth scientists while conducting cutting-edge research and creating the knowledge that we communicate to our students and our community. With this in mind, we reorganized the School into five departments that will be able to better deliver this mission: (1) Ocean Sciences; (2) Marine Geosciences; (3) Marine Biology and Ecology; (4) Atmospheric Sciences; and (5) Marine Ecosystems and Society. We are in the process of developing new graduate programs aligned with these new departments, which we anticipate offering to new incoming graduate students by Fall 2015. We also plan to increase our offering in undergraduate and professional education as a result of this reorganization.
Our faculty and scientists continue to excel in research grantmanship as attested by the about $70M funds that we are awarded annually from federal, state and private foundations research grant competitions. This is also well illustrated with the recent announcement by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) of two awards made to the School totaling $29M. Our research teams will continue investigating the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the worst spill in U.S. history that killed 11 workers and spewed 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico We use these funds for our research infrastructure, but more importantly, as the main source of income for the fellowship of our graduate students. We offer all our Ph.D. students a competitive package that allows them to dedicate their time to their study for a period of five years. This has tremendously helped in our effort to recruit the very best students – nationally and internationally. Our Ph.D. program has grown by about 50% in the past few years while significantly increasing the average GRE and GPA of each class. With the development of new graduate programs, we project an additional increase of about 25% in the coming few years.
Realizing that the degree required for obtaining a good job in sciences today is a master’s degree, in 2011 we introduced a Master of Professional Science program with various discipline tracks. This program has been growing steadily and very successfully fulfills its mission of equipping students with the applied skills needed for the workforce.
Last but certainly not least, we are particularly proud and committed to our undergraduate programs in Marine Sciences, Meteorology and Marine Affairs, which count about 400 students and has nearly doubled in size in the past few years, while steadily increasing its quality and ranking. Having the unique opportunity to be on and/or in the water the vast majority of the year presents a clear advantage to our students interested in Marine Science. The proximity to coral reefs, our semester abroad program that includes a semester in the Galapagos (among many other destinations), our Shark Research and Conservation Program, just to list a few opportunities, all contribute to our goal of offering our students a unique learning experience. Our undergraduate program is arguably ranked at the top of its competition. It attracts the best students nationally and internationally and greatly contributes to the reputation of the University of Miami.
As mentioned above, many changes have occurred in the past few years but this is far from being the end of it. Our strategic plan for the next seven years projects the recruitment of 16 new faculty members and we have just initiated a first wave of five recruitments. This is also creating a lot of excitement on campus as recruitment of new talent is key to propel the School into new areas of research and education that guarantee our future as a vibrant and forward-looking institution of higher education.
I encourage you to join us at the School as a student, scientist, faculty member or a friend. Our “Sea Secrets” public lecture series is a good way to learn more about us and I cordially invite you to visit us. We always have someone on campus, whether it is one of our students, a dedicated faculty or staff member, or me personally, who will be delighted to speak with you and introduce you to our wonderful School.
Roni Avissar, Ph.D.
Dean, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
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