Scripps graduate students Charles Perretti (left) and Hao Ye (right).

Trio of Scripps Students Receive Fager Awards

Scripps graduate students awarded for their educational contributions in statistics and quantitative science

Three outstanding graduate students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, recently received Fager Awards, rare accolades named in honor of Edward William (E.W.) Fager, a founding member of the department of oceanography at Scripps, as well as the department’s first director. Fager Awards are given to students who make a difference in training other students, especially in the area of statistics and quantitative science. Charles Perretti, Hao Ye, and Rachel Morrison (posthumously) received these honors during an award ceremony late April.

E.W. Fager came to Scripps in 1956 after receiving a Ph.D. in biochemistry at Yale University, and another Ph.D. from the University of Oxford, where he studied animal ecology under famed zoologist and animal ecologist Charles Elton. Recognizing the close ties between ecology and the environment, Fager embedded biological oceanography in the new oceanography department at Scripps, where he introduced students to the methods of quantitative ecology and statistical design.

After Fager died in 1976, members of the Biological Oceanography curricular group at Scripps, together with past students and colleagues, established a fund to recognize the lasting contributions of their dear friend.

“In honor of his enormous accomplishments, we set up a fund to support the Fager Award,” said Elizabeth “Pooh” Venrick, emeritus research oceanographer at the Integrative Oceanography Division at Scripps.  

“Because Fager disliked bureaucratic regulations, the Fager Award has virtually no rules,” said Venrick. Unlike other academic awards (which are often given out annually), the Fager Award is only bestowed when students in biological oceanography go “beyond the norm” in conducting research or in promoting education.

Since 1976, the Fager Award has only been presented to 11 Scripps students, so three students receiving this honor in 2014 is quite an achievement. Lisa Levin, director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps, noted the level of excellence put forth by Ye, Morrison, and Perretti, and the efforts that made the three students deserving recipients of Fager Awards.

“The R workshops run by Hao and Rachel and the seminar series initiated by Charles set them apart from other students in making unusual contributions to the quantitative well being of Scripps students,” said Levin. (R is a programming language and software environment for statistical computing and graphics.)

Perretti, a Ph.D. graduate student in the Climate, Atmospheric Science, and Physical Oceanography Department (CASPO) at Scripps, has been studying the population dynamics of California market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens). Much like Fager, his research combines field observations, lab experiments, and mathematical models.

“Receiving the Fager Award is a great honor,” said Perretti. “Prof. Fager made tremendous scientific contributions by combining novel quantitative methods with traditional empirical observations. I can only hope to follow in his footsteps.”

Ye’s research involves the development of nonlinear forecasting methods and their applications towards understanding the structure and connectivity of complex systems (including marine ecosystems), so he is also very familiar with Fager’s legacy.

 “Recognizing some of the names of past recipients and their achievements, I feel incredibly honored to receive this award, along with Charles and Rachel,” said Ye, a fellow CASPO Ph.D. graduate student.

The Fager Award was presented posthumously to Morrison, a fourth-year Ph.D. graduate student in marine biology who died in an accident earlier this year. Morrison studied the resilience of marine ecosystems, and specifically the capacity of ecosystem recovery following major disturbances—research that would have been right up Fager’s alley.

The medallion on the shared Fager Award plaque reads, “Water struck creates circles at a great distance.” The hard work and educational efforts made by Perretti, Ye, and Morrison will certainly have a similar effect, positively impacting other students and the biological oceanography community for years to come.

Past Fager Award recipients include the following Scripps scholars: 
Richard Methot (1977), Jeffrey Star (1977), Anthony Koslow (1980), Jeffrey Napp (1985), Waldo Wakefield (1985), Timothy Ragen (1989), Michael Graham (2001), Alex DeRobertis (2001), Bonnie Becker (2004), Joel Fodrie (2006), and Drew Lucas (2006).

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