James "Tut" Warren's role at The University of Southern
Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory is as a fisheries biologist,
but the experience of a Missouri student could add career catalyst
and matchmaker to the scientist's résumé.
The paths of
Warren and student Brent Thoma crossed when Warren returned to his
alma mater, Northwest Missouri State University, and presented a
seminar on the Southern Miss GCRL Summer Field Program.
of the opportunities to study marine plants, animals and processes
through hands-on, feet-in university field courses clicked with
the sophomore studying wildlife ecology and conservation. It re-ignited
the fascination Brent had harbored for marine biology since elementary
school days and opened the way for some life-changing decisions.
Now in his
third summer working with Southern Miss Department of Coastal Sciences
faculty at the GCRL, Brent has set his sights on a career as a university
professor and on teaching and conducting research in taxonomy and
ecology with his own research group. An important part of that picture
is his wife, Jana, another development of the GCRL experience. She,
too, is in her third summer at GCRL, preparing for a future in marine
She is beginning
her coursework and research toward a master's degree under the direction
of Dr. Richard Heard, professor of coastal sciences at the lab.
She is also a teaching assistant for his class in the GCRL summer
to apply to the coastal sciences master's program at the lab in
December after he finishes his bachelor's degree in his home state.
Earlier this summer he hooked up with Warren again, working as a
lab aide in fisheries. A grant for the second half of the summer
is allowing him to continue research he began in Heard's lab last
His first class
in 2001 gave him a glimpse of things to come. Two Southern Miss
coastal sciences students, one working on his doctorate and the
other serving as a teaching assistant, fed Brent's voracious appetite
for knowledge about the organisms of Mississippi's coastal waters.
as I had an interest, they went out of their way to work with me,"
with Heard, an international authority on marine invertebrates,
solidified Brent's enthusiasm for the Southern Miss laboratory's
approach to education.
having trouble identifying one of the crabs we were studying,"
he said. "I came up (to the Oceanography Building) and met
Dr. Heard. He wasn't dressed for field work, but he marched into
the salt marsh to collect the crab and show me what I needed to
know. All that enthusiasm and helpfulness impressed me."
of the lab's courses was another plus for Brent.
always had to pay my own way. Since my university was a GCRL summer
program affiliate, I could get financial aid through my school.
It didn't cost me any more to come to GCRL for the field course
than it did to sit in a classroom in Missouri and study things in
jars instead of in their natural habitat."
timed rainstorm the first day of class also played a part in his
future. Jana, a student from Berry College in Rome, Ga., shared
her umbrella in the downpour and soon love blossomed.
her passion for knowledge and the fact that she was willing to "go
out into the field and get wet and dirty." But he also admits
that one of the first things he noticed was her red hair. "I
have always liked red hair. She was absolutely beautiful."
The two returned
to the GCRL and Heard's lab for a second summer, Jana as a visiting
scientist and Brent as recipient of a scholarship endowed by a former
summer program students.
zoologist started Brent on research to scientifically describe a
new species of pinnotherid crabs, organisms that are commonly called
pea crabs and usually live in burrows of large marine worms and
ghost shrimps or in association with bivalves. Jana worked on parasitic
isopods, a marine cousin of the roly-poly or sow bug.
By the time
the couple married in December 2002, Jana had graduated and was
working toward a doctorate in biochemistry at the University of
Missouri Columbia. Brent had transferred to the biology program
what she had been working on in the summer, and I did, too,"
Brent said. "As the semester went on, we were both trying to
finish papers describing the new species we had worked on at the
GCRL." Jana decided to quit the biochemistry program, and both
looked toward the Southern Miss lab for the future.
gave us the opportunity to get behind the scenes and work with the
professors," Brent said. "Our experiences have allowed
me to be comfortable with our decisions. I feel like we are already
part of the family here. That is part of the openness of the GCRL."