GULFPORT -- The University of Southern Mississippi on Monday announced the formation of a new School of Ocean Science and Technology, which will be housed in the College of Science and Technology.
The school consolidates marine-related research and education programs under one administration and includes the Division of Marine Science based at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County; the USM Gulf Coast Research Laboratory and Division of Coastal Sciences in Ocean Springs; and the university's fleet of five research vessels.
"Through the new School of Ocean Science and Technology, the university will position itself as a national leader in marine science research," said Dr. Steven R. Moser, USM provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.
The school's director will be Dr. Monty Graham, chair of the Division of Marine Science and interim director of the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. He said the school is an alignment of existing programs, meant to increase research productivity, improve coordination of research programs and better opportunities for external funding.
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The school will be the only one in North America to offer an undergraduate degree in marine science with an emphasis in hydrographic science.
"One of the most important results of creating this school is we are now bringing people of different disciplines together for profound research," said Dr. David Hayhurst, dean of the College of Science and Technology. "There is significant synergy within these different divisions that will allow a much broader stroke of scientific discoveries."
Graham said Coast residents, in particular, should benefit from the formation of the school.
"Before this school was created, the challenge to respond in the face of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the 2010 oil spill was daunting; you had to go through multiple layers and a series of approvals before any action could be taken," he said. "With the new school creating a house for all of the resources to exist under a single unit, a response will be efficient and well organized."
After the oil spill, USM led the way in mapping and analyzing the oil spill's effects on the Gulf's ecosystem. Faculty and staff within GCRL and the Division of Marine Science began investigating and processing the damage as 200 million gallons of crude oil billowed into the Gulf of Mexico. Within two weeks after the initial explosion, the University assembled an Oil Spill Response Team to coordinate efforts in monitoring the spill's repercussions. More than six years after the spill, faculty continue to research and study the effects in Gulf waters.
About 60 guests and stakeholders gathered at the top of the Island View Casino Resort on Monday afternoon for the announcement and reception.
Graham said the school will gauge its success by "increased graduate and undergraduate enrollment, increased scholarly output by faculty, and meeting the educated workforce needs of the growing blue economy on the Mississippi Gulf Coast."
The research vessel fleet includes the new 60-foot R/V Jim Franks, completed in February, and the 135-foot R/V Point Sur, acquired by the University in February 2015. The R/V Point Suris the only oceanographic class research vessel home-ported in the northern Gulf of Mexico east of the Mississippi River.