Far from coastline, IU student majors in marine biology

Senior receives award to study, travel



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Josh Stewart and two marine biologist friends traveled to the Togean Islands in Sulawesi, Indonesia to film an independent documentary in January 2010. The film focuses on the effects of modernization and overfishing on marine ecosystems. Emulating the native Bajo sea gypsies, they circumnavigated the Togean Islands (approx. 125 miles) in 11 days in a dugout outrigger canoe. (Photo Credit: Tane Sinclair-Taylor) Buy Photos



But his dreams are different than most because his are now a reality.

About to become IU’s first marine biology graduate, Stewart, a senior was recently named the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society’s 2010 North American Rolex Scholar, an honor given to one student a year. Scholars are also chosen from Europe and Australia.

Stewart said the goal of the scholarship is to explore potential career paths. Though currently interested in marine conservation, the award will allow him to travel the globe and meet experts on a variety of topics.

“It could provide us with experiences or things we never thought we were interested in,” Stewart said.

The scholarship will take Stewart to multiple countries over the course of one year. He will do marine biology fieldwork that will help him in his research. Though his travel will focus on North America, he also plans to go to South Africa and the South Pacific.

Stewart described the program as a series of internships through a network of researchers who are on the cutting edge of marine biology. Directors of the program help the scholars plan and set up their year, Stewart said.

Stewart leaves Saturday for New York to begin the program that will run until next April. Though not finalized, he plans to first go to South Africa to study predatory behavior associated with sardine migration. He will stay there for about a month.

Claudia Johnson, director of graduate studies and one of Stewart’s sponsors, described the Rolex scholarship as incredibly prestigious and competitive.

Stewart is unique because he is the first marine biology major at IU and that helped him receive this scholarship, she said.

More than 600 miles from the nearest coast, IU is not the ideal school for a marine biology major.

Stewart, a New York native, planned to study biology at IU and then move on to a research university on the coast to pursue his oceanic aspirations. But after taking Introduction to Scuba with Director of the Office of Underwater Science Charles Beeker, Stewart met with advisors in the Individualized Major Program to create a marine biology major for himself.

Stewart is now teaching the course that originally inspired him.

“That’s the flexibility of the IMP program,” Johnson said. “It allows students to take their intellectual and creative potential and develop it into something of their own.”

Beeker is Stewart’s other sponsor. Both Beeker and Johnson help him select courses, design his research and carry out his projects.

Johnson said the marine biology major stemmed naturally from current research at IU. She researches coral reefs and Beeker works in underwater archaeology.

“He sort of combined what the two of us were researching,” Johnson said.
Stewart was able to take a combination of biology and underwater science courses to construct his major. In addition, he studied abroad in Australia to take courses that weren’t offered at IU. He gained field research experience by traveling to the Dominican Republic during the summers.

Though he said it was challenging, Stewart said he thinks there were more advantages than disadvantages in creating his own major. The biggest benefit was that he was the only one studying it.

“I never had to fight to be a research assistant like I would if I went to a school like the University of Southern California where everyone is a marine biology major,” he said.

Because of that, Stewart was able to work on multiple projects such as Captain William Kidd’s 17th-century shipwreck.

Now, other students are following Stewart’s footsteps in pursuit of a marine biology degree at IU. Stewart said he knows of at least two students who have begun working with IMP advisors.

Stewart is fueled by his passion. He said that seeing degraded environments and disappearing animals has inspired him to put all his energy into conservation.

“What’s the point of research if there is nothing to research?” Stewart said. 

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