CCU aces one more test toward first PhD program

sjones@thesunnews.comJune 7, 2013 

— Paul Gayes, director of the School of Coastal and Marine Systems Sciences at Coastal Carolina University, said Friday he can still remember the school’s first big purchase after he joined the faculty in 1988.

It was a plastic tool box that cost $10 and Gayes said he and the group with him debated for an hour in the store before they forked over the cash.

“Now we’re spending millions of dollars a year,” he said, money that has helped to pay off in the state’s final sign-off on CCU’s first doctoral program.

CCU’s marine science Ph.D. got a go-ahead from the S.C. Commission on Higher Education on Thursday, but must still be approved by regional accrediting agencies before it’s official, said Michael Roberts, dean of the School of Science.

He doesn’t foresee any problems there, though, because he said the agencies are usually focused on the program having a clear and concise set of learning objectives and a way to assess the program. And both are in place at CCU, he said.

“The addition of this doctoral program positions the institution to more effectively accomplish our research and service mission for this area and beyond,” Eddie Dyer, CCU’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in an emailed statement. “Marine science is our front window program, and the Ph.D. degree will further enhance its already sterling reputation.”

The school has been working on approval for the doctoral program for several years at least. Among other things, it needed a special bill from the S.C. General Assembly allowing CCU to pursue it.

The new program also will benefit undergraduate and non-doctoral marine science students, Gayes and Roberts said.

New staff being hired for the doctoral program will give the school the resources to expand hands-on learning opportunities where students can get lesser degrees with experience in a variety of marine science projects.

Further, it will give learning opportunities for students in other disciplines such as computer science and biology.

CCU’s marine science program has a particular focus on the interaction of winds, currents and land, and doctoral students and faculty can only enhance that. Roberts said one new faculty member, set to join the school in July, has a lot of experience in ocean atmospheric modeling.

The school also is working to collect wave data from ocean-based buoys that Gayes said can be used by engineers designing offshore wind farms. He said the data will help ensure that the platforms are neither overbuilt or underbuilt.

“We need to understand those waves,” Gayes said.

Doug Nelson, the program’s second professor in the 1970s, said he and the late Richard Dame, the program’s founder, made hands-on learning one of the founding principles of CCU’s marine science program. Then as now, he said, that on-the-job experience opened doors for the program’s graduates that might not otherwise have been open.

Nelson said he remembers the spring day in 1974 when he and Dames wrote the undergraduate degree curriculum for CCU’s marine science program. The first class had just a handful of students, and the two professors didn’t envision a Ph.D. degree in the future. They were focused on success for the undergraduate program and in staying the course on its mission to give undergrads a valuable, comprehensive marine science education.

Nelson said the program got a major boost early when the wife of a local campground owner gave the program the money to buy its first ocean research vessel. Besides its practical use in research, Nelson said it was a tool to recruit students.

The school’s newest vessel currently is under construction in California and professors envision that it will offer today’s students even more opportunities.

Early on, Nelson said that the program’s students were local, but that began expanding in the 1980s and has continued since. Gayes said the program now accounts for 800 of CCU’s nearly 10,000 students.

Gayes said that current faculty is focused on ensuring the success of the doctoral program. It will give the university a road to expand marine science partnerships that already include Clemson, East Carolina University in North Carolina and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California and to seek more grants from the likes of the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geologic Survey.

Gayes gives a tip of the hat to the Horry County Higher Education Commission, which gave CCU the resources to found the school’s Center for Marine Science and Wetland Studies that now carries the name of Burroughs & Chapin because of a contribution from the company.

“We very much understand the moment,” Gayes said of this step toward CCU’s first doctoral program..

“I think it shows we have matured,” Roberts said.

Nelson, who learned of the milestone in a Friday telephone conversation, plans a bit of reflection to mark the moment.

“I will sit back and smile,” he said. “I may call a few people and congratulate them for their work to make this happen.”

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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