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Released February 10, 2003


BILOXI -- Community college student Byron Brewer is gaining hands-on experience in marine biology, thanks to a University of Southern Mississippi scholarship endowed through the university's J.L. Scott Marine Education Center and Aquarium.

Brewer, 27, plans to enroll at Southern Miss Gulf Coast in the fall and is doing the preliminary research for a new exhibit, working two afternoons a week with aquarium specialists and education staff at the Scott aquarium.

The Waveland resident is the first recipient of the Nick Baron One-Semester Undergraduate Fellowship -- endowed by parents, family, friends and the Rotary Club of Stennis Space Center in memory of Baron, a 19-year-old college student who lost his life in an automobile accident.

Brewer is completing his second year at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College-Jefferson Davis Campus, attending college on the G.I. Bill after a six-year stint with the U.S. Navy Seabees in Gulfport. The scholarship is giving the Hancock High School graduate a broader view of his chosen major.

"One of the great benefits of the fellowship is it is helping me explore different fields of study and career options in marine biology," Brewer said. "It is helping me become acquainted with unfamiliar areas of the field in which I could have an interest."

Right now, Brewer is immersed in assembling all the information he can about the Pascagoula River, listed by the National Audubon Society as one of the largest essentially unfragmented river systems in the lower 48 United States and one of the healthiest river ecosystems in the Southeast.

"We wanted to offer him several options that would mean something to him in his education and at the same time help us," said Rodney Harris, one of Brewer's mentors at the Scott aquarium.

Harris said the research stage of preparing for the exhibit is a huge job: understanding the watershed, looking at the estuarine habitat, the plants and animals unique to that area, and human involvement.

"Brewer will look at the general big picture and provide suggestions on how to focus the project on specific topics. I put him in contact with individuals in agencies and environmental groups interested in the Pascagoula, and he is forging ahead on his own," Harris said.

Along the way, Brewer has encountered the science of wetlands and their function, an experience that has changed his perspective. The son of Cheryl Sheffield of Lakeshore, Miss., Brewer grew up in the coastal region.

"I live on a bayou in Hancock County," Brewer said. "Things that I witnessed every day — tidal flows and interaction of animals — I now appreciate. That is the best thing. I am relating to the environment in a totally different way, a more personal way."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM