Scientist Honored for Bigelow Education Programs


Any given summer day finds Senior Research Scientist David Fields on a boat in the Damariscotta River, helping a group of interns collect oceanographic samples, or in his laboratory, blaring Bill Withers as he moves between students at microscopes. Even if Fields is working alone in his office, a group of students tends to stay close, sitting at a table outside his door.

After years of teaching students at Bigelow Laboratory with humor and dedication, Fields has won the prestigious 2019 Ramón Margalef Award for excellence in teaching and mentoring in the fields of oceanography and limnology. Fields is a zooplankton ecologist who studies how small-scale interactions impact the global distribution of these tiny animals, and he also helps lead three of Bigelow Laboratory’s education programs – all of which are currently accepting 2019 applications.

The Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) cited Fields’ “enthusiastic leadership and effusive commitment to developing transformative, hands-on marine science education programs, and for creating opportunities for authentic science experiences for high school and college students from all backgrounds.”

“I’m honored to receive the Margalef Education Award. The educational opportunities offered by Bigelow provide a pipeline for attracting and retaining students in STEM fields from Maine and from around the country,” Fields said. “Many people contribute their time and their finances to bringing these exceptional educational programs to fruition every year, and it translates to a real impact for our students and the scientific community.”

Fields will receive the award at the ASLO Aquatic Sciences meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in February. He will attend the meeting with 17 students who completed Bigelow Laboratory’s 2018 Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, which he developed ten years ago and leads every summer.

Over the last decade, about 150 undergraduate students from across the country have traveled to East Boothbay to conduct original research under the mentorship of Bigelow Laboratory scientists. About a third of these REU interns have presented their projects at scientific conferences, and many have published their work, resulting in 18 peer-reviewed papers. Applications for the 2019 program will be accepted until February 15, and undergraduate students can submit them on Bigelow Laboratory's website.

“David’s awe-inspiring ability to excite students about science is recognized around the country, and it’s great to see this formally celebrated with this award,” said Benjamin Twining, senior research scientist and the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Vice President for Education. “We are lucky that David contributes his contagious energy to our students every year and provides them with exceptional research experiences.”

Fields also works with Research Scientist Nicole Poulton to co-lead the Keller BLOOM (Bigelow Laboratory Orders Of Magnitude) Program, which has engaged over 450 Maine high school juniors in experiential learning over the last 29 years. These students work with Bigelow Laboratory scientists, go on a research cruise, conduct experiments, and learn how to analyze their results. The Program provides students an opportunity to learn about the biological, chemical, and geological characteristics of the local marine environment and envision what a career in science would be like. Every fall, Fields and Poulton also teach a field methods course to Colby College students in a semester-in-residence program at the Laboratory.

“David has helped so many students learn about the ocean and its importance to our lives here in Maine and beyond,” Poulton said. “The students leave the Laboratory equipped with an incredible research skillset and an appreciation for how much is yet to be discovered about the ocean.”

Applications for the May 2019 Keller BLOOM program will be accepted until April 15, and all current high school juniors in Maine are invited to apply online.

In 2010, Fields helped spearhead the creation of a professional development program for Maine science educators. The program provides teachers the opportunity to spend a week immersed in science education and curriculum development at no cost. They return to schools across Maine equipped to teach ocean science in a local and global context. Fields and Poulton give instruction on a broad range of oceanographic topics, from how to calibrate scientific instruments to the global carbon cycle. The BLOOM Educators Program will be held in August this summer, and Maine science teachers can register on Bigelow Laboratory's website.

“This program has brought ocean literacy into the classroom of over 80 educators, and has indirectly reached nearly 5,000 students,” Fields said. “That’s a huge educational impact for the state of Maine.”

Upper image courtesy of Kevin Fahrman, Foreside Photography.