New summer stipends honor president Flora, support marine biology students

A gift in memory of former Western president and biology professor Jerry Flora reflects the myriad qualities, enthusiasms, scholarly achievement and community engagement that Flora embodied.  As well as being the University president who saw Western through the social and political turbulence of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Flora, who died in 2013, was an active early supporter of protecting the Salish Sea and its environs. He, along with fellow biology professor Gerald Kraft, initiated and developed the concept of Huxley College of the Environment. And off-campus, Flora led regular local beach walks, hands-on explorations of Whatcom County’s beaches and mudflats, and was famous in Bellingham for his children’s television series, Tide Pool Critters.

It’s fitting then, that a gift in his name – the Jerry Flora Graduate Student Summer Stipend in Marine Biology– will impact directly on both the biology department and Huxley, providing critical summer support for Western marine biology graduate students. The stipends will enable graduate students to conduct crucial research in the summers and to travel to conferences to present their work, and, thanks to a recent contribution from Flora’s widow, Rosemary, two lucky students have already been the inaugural recipients.

“Graduate students are essential to the mission of our department,” says biology chair Joann Otto. “They do a lot of research, they teach the introductory labs and they mentor undergraduates by including them on their projects. Being able to offer our students a stipend like this makes our department ­– and our university ­– more competitive; it means we are able to recruit really good students, because without summer funding they often simply can’t come here. For the student, a stipend like this translates into complete freedom from having to produce an income ­– that student can focus on their research and academic work all summer long.”

The biology department’s Taylor Clement spent her summer working on population dynamics of phytoplankton in Bellingham Bay. “Taylor is working with Professor Robin Kodner here at Western,” notes Otto. “She’s also working on a project in collaboration with Northwest Indian College, some of her work is at Shannon Point Marine Center and she also works with undergraduates on her research. So she’s covering the whole gamut here. The full impact of this gift goes far beyond Taylor.” Similarly, Huxley master of science candidate Shannon Buckham, who is comparing the impact of ocean acidification on the larvae of a native Bellingham Bay oyster to a non-native oyster, works with WWU faculty supervisors including Huxley’s Dr. Brian Bingham; with members of the ocean acidification lab at Shannon Point Marine Center; and with local business Taylor Shellfish Hatchery’s Rhonda Elliot, who consults with Shannon on her project.

“Gifts like this allow students to focus on their research which supports a more efficient graduate school experience for the student and a better final research project,” notes Huxley College professor Ruth Sofield. “With continued gifts like this, we can recruit students into the environmental science graduate program and support the work that they do.” And underlying it all is a canny acknowledgment to a committed Western professor. “Jerry was big supporter of marine biology, of Huxley, of biology,” says Otto. “This is a lovely tribute to him.”