A late winter storm dampened the surroundings of the Robert Paine Scripps Forum for Science, Society, and the Environment, but inside the conditions were decidedly warm and bright.
The March 1 “thank you” event at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego was held to express gratitude to donors who have provided vital financial support for fellowships, allowing graduate students to more freely focus on their studies and research. In addition to a brunch buffet, the donors were treated to a showcase of Scripps graduate student poster presentations, three featured student speakers, and a panel discussion on the unique experiences of a Scripps graduate student.
The event welcomed recent supporters, such as Tom Baker and his wife Maxine, who recently moved to San Diego after more than 40 years on the East Coast.
“I was in one of UCSD’s earliest undergraduate classes and always intended to move back. One of the first things I wanted to do when I got back was get involved in Scripps,” said Baker, who is now a member of E.W. Scripps Associates. “(Maxine) and I are both divers and love the ocean, so supporting Scripps has come naturally to us. Aside from a few other charities, I can’t imagine anything more important to us personally than supporting research on the ocean and conservation.”
The event also put a spotlight on long-time donors. Scripps emeritus researcher Lanna Cheng was given special recognition for supporting student fellowships for more than 37 years. Cheng received scholarships and fellowships during her own studies at the University of Singapore and Oxford University. This support set the educational foundation that eventually led her to a renowned career at Scripps specializing in the study of marine insects.
Cheng, who for several years supported students with Ralph Lewin, her late husband and Scripps scientist, said it’s fulfilling to help them in the same way that she was supported during her education.
“All of the students here are examples of how powerful fellowships are and how they can change lives,” said Cheng. “I’m very proud of what Scripps has been able to achieve over the years and students are a big part of that. I hope all of these students are able to achieve the dreams of their lives.”
The student poster presentations spanned topics from coral reef conservation to climate change. A poster on biofuel production by graduate student Eva Sanchez Alvarez caught the eye of Tom Page, a retired long-time executive in the energy industry.
“Biofuels are one slice of (Scripps) that I happen to be personally supporting because of my history of working in the energy business,” said Page. “That’s one area that needs a lot more work. This event gives you insights of the scope of what is going on here at Scripps and gives you a chance to touch all of the different disciplines.”
Scripps Director Margaret Leinen expressed her gratitude to all of the donors in attendance, while Lisa Tauxe, Scripps Department chair and deputy director for education, said donor support allows Scripps to recruit the best and brightest students.
“Without you we wouldn’t have such wonderful students here,” said Tauxe.
One of the featured presenters was Matt Siegfried, a fifth-year student studying subglacial water systems of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. During a panel discussion on the unique experiences afforded to Scripps students, Siegfried told a tale of being in Antarctica when Helen Amanda Fricker, his Scripps advisor, contacted him and asked if he would be interested in meeting the Pope. Confusion and disbelief were his initial reactions but several months later Siegfried and fellow Scripps graduate student Emily Kelly did indeed meet the Pope in May 2014 as part of a joint workshop on climate change and social justice at the Vatican hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
“During this small gathering there were presentations from titans in several fields and it was incredible to think that there were just two scientists under the age of 50 in the room… and both are Scripps graduate students,” said Siegfried.
-- Mario C. Aguilera