Marine Science Pioneer Award Past Recipients

JU Marine Science Pioneer Award logoAbout the Marine Science Pioneer Award

The Jacksonville University Marine Science Pioneer Award is presented to an exemplary leader in marine science whose visionary leadership has served as an inspiration to others, particularly students. Their influence extends well beyond marine science. This extraordinary individual fully embraces the University's ideal of a lifelong learner, bringing to bear their remarkable talents to create new opportunities to lead, live, and learn.


Past Award Recipients

October 21, 2021

Dr. Dawn Wright

Chief Scientist of the Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri)

Dr. Dawn Wright

Dr. Dawn Wright is Chief Scientist at Esri, a world-leading geographic information system (GIS) software and data science company. Core to Esri’s mission is to inspire and enable people to positively impact their future by connecting them with the geoanalytic knowledge needed to make the critical decisions shaping the planet. Hence, Esri believes that geographyis at the heart of a more resilient and sustainable future. She was appointed to this post in October 2011 after 17 years as a professor of geography and oceanography at Oregon State University (OrSt). As Esri Chief Scientist, Dawn reports directly to the Esri CEO with a mission of strengthening the scientific foundation for Esri software and services, while representing Esri to the international scientific community. She maintains an affiliated faculty appointment as Professor of Geography and Oceanography in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at OrSt.

Dawn’s research interests include geospatial data science; seafloor mapping, coastal/ocean informatics, and environmental education. She has authored or co-authored more than 180 articles and 12 books on marine geographic information systems, hydrothermal activity and tectonics of mid-ocean ridges, and coastal/ocean informatics. Dawn has participated in over 20 oceanographic research expeditions worldwide, including 10 legs of the Ocean Drilling Program, three dives in the deep submergence vehicle Alvin and twice in the Pisces V. Her fieldwork has taken her to some of the most geologically active regions of the planet, including the East Pacific Rise, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the Juan de Fuca Ridge, the Tonga Trench, and volcanoes under the Japan Sea and the Indian Ocean. In 1991 she became the first African-American female to dive to the deep ocean floor in a deep submersible.

Dawn’s recent advisory board service, includes the NOAA Science Advisory Board, the US National Academy of Sciences Ocean Studies Board, the Board of COMPASS Science Communication Inc., the Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, and many journal editorial boards. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Geological Society of America, The Oceanography Society, the California Academy of Sciences, and Stanford’s Leopold Leadership Program, as well as a former Oregon Professor of the Year. In April 2021 she was elected to both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She holds an Individual Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Physical Geography and Marine Geology from UC-Santa Barbara, an M.S. in Oceanography from Texas A&M, and a B.S. cum laude in Geology from Wheaton College (Illinois). Other interests include road cycling, 18th-century pirates, apricot green tea gummy bears, her golden retriever puppy Riley, and Spongebob Squarepants. Follow her on Twitter at @deepseadawn.


October 21, 2019

Dr. Edith Widder

CEO and Senior Scientist Ocean Research & Conservation Association

Eddie WidderDr. Edith Widder is an internationally renowned deep-sea explorer and founder of the Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA), a scientific-based conservation nonprofit. A specialist in bioluminescence (the light chemically produced by many ocean organisms), Widder has been a leader to design and invent submersible instrumentation and equipment to enable unobtrusive deep-sea observations. Working with engineers, she has conceived and built devices that enable humans to see beneath the waves in new ways.

Two of Widder’s inventions include HIDEX, a bathyphotometer and the U.S. Navy standard for measuring bioluminescence in the ocean to keep submarines hidden, and LoLAR, an ultrasensitive deep-sea light meter that measures dim down-welling sunlight and bioluminescence in the deep ocean.

Widder is a certified Scientific Research Pilot for Atmospheric Diving Systems and holds certifications to dive the deep diving suit WASP, as well as the single-person untethered submersibles DEEP ROVER and DEEP WORKER. She has made over 250 dives in the JOHNSON-SEA-LINK submersibles.

Following 16 years as senior scientist at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Widder established ORCA to pioneer work in marine exploration and conservation, invent new ocean technologies and preserve the ocean. She created ORCA’s remotely operated deep-sea camera system Eye-in-the-Sea (EITS), which detects and measures the bioluminescence of nearby organisms on the sea floor and has produced footage of rare sharks, jellyfish and discovered a new species of large squid in their natural habitats.

Widder was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006 and participated in the 2010 TED Mission Blue Voyage to the Galapagos Islands along with other leading thinkers and advocates of ocean conservation. Her research and inventions have been featured on BBC, PBS and National Geographic television productions. In 2012, Widder and several other scientists filmed the giant squid in its natural habitat for the first time. The historic footage aired on the Discovery Channel in Jan. 2013. In June 2019 she repeated the feat using the same camera system in US waters.

Widder graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. She also earned a Masters degree in Biochemistry and a PhD in Neurobiology awarded by the University of California, Santa Barbara.


October 23, 2018

Chris Fischer

Jacksonville University Explorer-In-Residence, OCEARCH Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader 

Chris FischerChris Fischer is an ocean explorer who has led 32 global expeditions to accelerate the ocean’s rejuvenation to balance and abundance, by unlocking the life history puzzle of white sharks and other keystone species through expeditions aboard his ship, the OCEARCH. Fischer’s multi-disciplined and collaborative approach has enabled 174 scientists from 90 international and regional institutions, greatly increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of ocean research.  This has led to 22 scientific published papers and more than 30 papers in progress.  This research is being leveraged to drive data-centric policy decisions.  Fischer has worked on ocean environmental protection policies with presidents of a number of countries, including the U.S. Fischer believes in creating inspirational learning environments. In 2013, OCEARCH’s Global Shark Tracker was launched. This website and app allows students, the public, and scientists to learn about sharks while tracking them across the planet in near-real-time. In 2014, a STEM curriculum based on the Tracker was introduced.  Since then, 100+ lesson plans have been downloaded in 45 states. In 2017, OCEARCH joined forces with Jacksonville University to foster unique opportunities for college student-centric education and promote experiential learning.  Not only do students benefit from this collaboration at a classroom level, but they are also involved at the forefront of high-caliber research. From 2009 to 2012, Fischer hosted 30 hours of TV episodes on National Geographic Channel and 10 hours on the History Channel, chronicling the research on the white shark. From 2001 to 2009, he hosted the four-time Emmy Award-winning “Offshore Adventures.”  It was the #1 watched outdoor TV series and had the goal of pouring the oceans back into people’s lives, as Fischer believes that most people are disconnected from the ocean. Fischer has received numerous recognitions, including The Explorers Club Lowell Thomas Medal for Imagination in Exploration and the Nominee Trust 100 Award for top social innovators list.  OCEARCH has been featured in more than 10,000 outlets including The New York Times, CNN, CBS Morning News, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and most major news media organizations worldwide. His work is being supported through socially innovative partnerships with Costa Sunglasses, SeaWorld, Jacksonville University, YETI Coolers, and Southern Tide.


October 10, 2017 

Dr. Robert Ballard

Renowned Ocean Explorer and Scientist

Dr. Robert Ballard

Dr. Robert Ballard is Founder and President of the Ocean Exploration Trust; Director of the Center for Ocean Exploration and Professor of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography. He is an Explorer-In-Residence at the National Geographic Society, Commissioner for the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, and a Senior Scientist Emeritus at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He served in the U.S. Navy for more than 30 years and continues to work with the Office of Naval Research. A pioneer in the development of deep-sea submersibles and remotely operated vehicle systems, he has taken part in more than 140 deep-sea expeditions. In 1985, he discovered the RMS Titanic, and has succeeded in tracking down numerous other significant shipwrecks, including the German battleship Bismarck, the lost fleet of Guadalcanal, the U.S. aircraft carrier Yorktown, and John F. Kennedy’s boat, PT-109. He has also discovered hydrothermal vents and “black smokers” in the Galapagos Rift and East Pacific Rise in 1977 and 1979. The author of numerous books, scientific papers, and articles, he has been featured in several National Geographic television programs, including “Secrets of the Titanic” and a more recent five-part mini-series, “Alien Deep with Bob Ballard.” He was a special advisor to Steve Spielberg on the futuristic television show seaQuest DSV. His honors include 22 Honorary Doctorates, National Geographic’s highest award, the Hubbard Medal, and a National Endowment for the Humanities Medal. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2014.