Wave Upon Wave of Accolades

student plots points on large map in radar laboratory

Wave Upon Wave of Accolades

From boathouse to marine research powerhouse, the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science celebrates its 75-year anniversary.
From boathouse to marine research powerhouse, the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science celebrates its 75-year anniversary.
by Michael R. Malone
UM News

Peering from the window of his boathouse barge on Miami Beach in 1943, F. G. Walton Smith would have enjoyed a clear, long-range view of the shimmering tropical waters. Yet despite his great vision, the British-born biologist could never have imagined that his humble university laboratory would one day—75 years later—evolve into the renowned earth system research and educational hub that is today known as the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Several hundred faculty, researchers, staff, and distinguished guests gathered in the school’s SALT Waterfront Restaurant May 18 to commemorate the amazing 75-year voyage of the school, whose three-fold objective of instruction, basic research, and applied marine research remain the same as for Smith’s waterfront laboratory.   

University President Julio Frenk referred to the Rosenstiel School as “the jewel in our crown of knowledge” and, with the nearly panoramic view of Biscayne Bay and streaks of pink and blue filling the evening sky behind him, launched the celebration at the momentous occasion.

“Your steadfast pursuit of greater knowledge has been essential to improved hurricane forecasts, expanded knowledge of ocean and atmospheric processes, natural blizzards and catastrophes, weather and climate change, sea-level rise, marine conservation, and much more—with the end reward of providing the scientific basis for influencing sound policy,” the president said. “And all of this while developing and mentoring the next generation of scientists who will continue the pursuit for greater scientific knowledge into the next century.”

Frenk recognized the “vision and passion” of the school’s predecessors in special reference to Smith, “an ambitious 31-year-old British scientist” and his wife, May, who moved to Miami from the Bahamas in the fall of 1940 at the invite of Bowman F. Ashe, then University president.

Dean Roni Avissar coordinated the series of presentations and awards while honoring “the work of so many over decades who have contributed to the amazing evolution of the school.”

Lady Blanka Rosenstiel—school benefactor together with her husband, Lewis—shared memories of when Lewis and Smith became good friends while sailing in the Caribbean. “They were both yachtsmen who loved the sea,” she said, adding that “both were committed to education in this field.” Lady Rosenstiel also applauded that the “campus has grown beautifully” and that the expansion honored her husband’s legacy. 

Born in the port city of Bristol, England, Frederick George Walton Smith earned his Ph.D. in biology from the University of London and did post-doctoral work at Princeton and Stanford Universities. He was a young biologist in the Bahamas planting thousands of sponge cuttings—wiped out by disease a few years later—when he and his wife accepted the invite to join the University. Smith acquired a Navy engineless barge as part of his “hush hush” experimental work in cooperation with the U.S. Navy’s Oceanographic Institute on the waters around Florida. The boathouse barge, which he docked at a Miami Beach marina, served as a marine laboratory—the forerunner of Rosenstiel School—that Smith operated together with a secretary, two student assistants, and a small motorboat.

Dr Pearson with students examine various sea specimens Dr Pearson with students examine various sea specimens
Archival images from the University of Miami Historical Photograph Collection, University Archives, University of Miami Libraries, Coral Gables, Florida.
Aerial View of RSMAS campus Aerial View of RSMAS campus
vintage photo of Individual underwater vintage photo of Individual underwater
Architectural Rendering of RSMAS Architectural Rendering of RSMAS
group of students on a marine lab field trip group of students on a marine lab field trip
spa building for the university of miami spa building for the university of miami

In the 1940s and during the war, Smith served as coordinator of UM’s civilian pilot war training program. A scholar, administrator and entrepreneur, he wrote two books, The Ocean River in 1952 and The Sun, The Sea and Tomorrowin 1954, and founded Planet Ocean, an 80,000-square-foot interactive museum which opened in the mid-1970s on Virginia Key across from the Miami Seaquarium. His research findings in the early 1950s revealed that it was possible to predict outbreaks of “red tide,” the organism that gives off noxious fumes, dyes the ocean red, and kills off scores of fish.

Smith, who “always had salt water in his veins,” was named the school’s first dean in 1969.

Anitra Thorhaug, a plant ecophysiologist, chemical oceanographer, and the first woman to earn her Ph.D. from Rosenstiel School, offered a presentation that charted key scientific advances and other colorful milestones of the school.

“Ocean science has come a long way, baby,” Thorhaug said. Her historical overview highlighted RSMAS’ accomplishments in the areas of marine geology and radio-dating; the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies Center (CIMAS), a combined government and academic collaborative; joint oceanographic projects; fisheries and their habitats; marine chemistry; mariculture, the cultivation of marine organisms for food; policies impacting the coastal zone; among others.

Breaking from the long-standing Rosenstiel School tradition of recognizing a single recipient for the Rosenstiel Award, which honors scientists who in the past decade have made significant impacts in their field, Dean Avissar honored some 15 school emeriti—both active and retired school faculty—for their stellar achievements and then named Frank Millero as the 2018 awardee.    

The dean acclaimed Millero as “the world expert on marine chemistry whose work has defined the field over the past 50 years” and noted that Millero, whose research focuses on the application of physical chemical principles to natural waters, has published over 600 scientific papers, 72 book chapters and accumulated 51,734 citations “as of an hour ago.”

Celebrating 75 Years of Excellence in Research and Education

The University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science is celebrating its 75th anniversary of pioneering earth system research and education. From its humble beginnings in 1943, the Rosenstiel School has grown into one of the world’s leading academic oceanographic and atmospheric research institutions by keeping with its original mission to deepen our collective knowledge of the planet through cutting-edge scientific research while training the next generation of scientists.

Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS)

A Woven Fabric of Science, Discovery, and Partnership

A scientific public-private partnership between the University of Miami and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spans over 40 years and is interwoven into nearly every discipline at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS)
research vessel F.G. Walton Smith

Aboard the F.G. Walton Smith

The research vessel F.G. Walton Smith, owned and operated by the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, is a distinctive resource for scientists and research expeditions.

research vessel F.G. Walton Smith
UM’s Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. SUSTAIN lab

A Category 5 Learning Experience

UM’s Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. SUSTAIN lab offers an immersive learning experience like no other.

UM’s Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. SUSTAIN lab

In accepting the award, Millero, professor emeritus Department of Ocean Sciences, joked that he’d accepted an invite to leave frigid New Jersey and an unfulfilling job as an Exxon executive to venture to Miami in 1966 and that he and his wife, driving south in their VW bus “hit every beach on the way” to Florida. Millero honored the thousands of students and colleagues who have assisted his research and efforts over the decades.

“They did most of the work, I just wrote the stuff up,” he joked. “It’s been a great time and a great place to be.”

Mark Graham, manager for research support, earned the Long Service Award for his 37 years of dedication to service and research.

As part of the celebration, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the County Commission delivered a proclamation that recognized the school’s pioneering work on earth systems research, and a host of contributions and achievements on behalf of the county’s residents in proclaiming May 19, 2018 “UM Rosenstiel School’s 75thAnniversary Day.” 

“It’s a fantastic school because of the faculty—we’ve had so many brilliant people work here over the years—and an amazing place to be,” said John Van Leer, associate professor in the Ocean Sciences Department whose own career in physical oceanography began at the school in 1971. “Starting with Dr. Smith who was such a good judge of character and hired terrific people.”

Dean Avissar concluded the presentation portion of the gala saying that Rosenstiel School’s goals to enhance earth systems science, to conduct relevant cutting-edge research, train the next generation of scientists, educate the public and translate science into public outreach and environmental policy remain unchanged.  

“We will continue to be a beacon of education,” the dean said, noting plans for new facility improvements, new faculty hires, and introducing a new learning approach. “Our future is extremely bright based on our exemplary past.”

RSMAS 75 Year Anniversary Infographic