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Released January 22, 2004

NOAA HONORS LOCAL MARINE EDUCATOR

BILOXI - Dr. Sharon H. Walker, administrator of The University of Southern Mississippi's Scott Aquarium, relishes introducing people of all ages to the wonders of oceans and estuaries. Throughout her career, Walker has strived to create greater educational opportunities for people in Mississippi and beyond to learn about marine environmental issues.

This month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration named her Team Member of the Month in recognition of her local, regional and national impact on environmental education, Dr. LaDon Swann, director of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, announced this week.

The NOAA award honors outstanding non-NOAA partners for excellence in advancing the agency's mission. Walker's association with the agency began in 1981 when she started a marine environmental chemistry class at Ocean Springs High School. Her funding to develop the class came through the local Sea Grant Consortium. The consortium is one of a network of regional and state programs under the auspices of NOAA's National Sea Grant College Program and is headquartered at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs.

Walker soon became an intern and then later a marine education specialist with the Sea Grant Consortium. With the backing of Sea Grant and the laboratory, she began launching marine education programs on the coast for children and securing funding from NOAA and other agencies for teacher education.

A suite of Project Marine Discovery programs at Scott Aquarium started with a planned field trip program for school groups and grew to include the popular summer PMD Sea Camp, mini-camps of one to three days for school groups, a field trip for pre-school groups and mini-camps for teachers. Summer teacher institutes that she developed and piloted have expanded to nationwide programs conducted by multiple universities and laboratories with support from multiple agencies.

Walker also continues her Sea Grant connection as director of education for Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant, which nominated her for the award.

In the nomination, Swann described Walker as a leader in helping NOAA understand opportunities for a new mission in environmental education and literacy.

A NOAA article also cited Walker's contribution to Sea Grant nationally. During a year on loan to the national office from Scott Aquarium, Walker set the precedent of securing funding from other sources for Sea Grant education at the national level and encouraging partnerships among agencies to accomplish mutual objectives in education related to ocean and coastal sciences. She has also assisted in developing national policy through contributions to agency strategic planning and working with the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education and other groups.

Through her funded projects, Walker "has extended the NOAA mission significantly and increased NOAA's visibility and presence in environmental education and literacy at the national level," said Dr. Ronald C. Baird, national Sea Grant director.

The J.L. Scott Marine Education Center and Aquarium is an outreach component of the Southern Miss Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, a unit of the university's College of Science and Technology.

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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM

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