Melissa Mac Garrett and John Fitzpatrick are the first two recipients of bachelor of science degrees in UH's marine biology program.

UH marine program
awards first 2 degrees

The 2-year-old biology program
has more than 150 students

John Michael Fitzpatrick of Maui and Melissa Mac Garrett of St. Petersburg, Fla., are the first graduates of the University of Hawaii's 2-year-old marine biology degree program.

"I am proud to walk with John (today) ," Mac Garrett said. "We have been through many classes together and have become good friends."

University of Hawaii "This is really neat news," said Charles Hayes, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, noting, "When we get calls from the mainland asking about UH, the question asked more than any other question is, 'Do you offer a degree in marine biology?'"

The fledgling program already has more than 150 majors "and should be one that grows to international prominence," he said.

Sherwood Maynard runs the marine biology degree program as well as the Marine Option Program, which offers a certificate in ocean studies.

He said he draws on various departments in the College of Natural Sciences and other colleges and the medical school for faculty and graduate students to teach the marine biology undergraduates.

The current enrollment is more than double the first year, he said, adding, "If we have 300 next year, I'm not sure how we're going to handle it."

He said the program is getting along adequately financially but he would like to be able to support more student projects and research "to take advantage of all the opportunities that are out there."

David Carlon, Department of Zoology assistant professor, introduces students to ecological and evolutionary ocean processes in his course, Biology of Marine Organisms.

An intensive lab gives students hands-on experience with the environment and organisms. Activities include an oceanographic cruise to measure how plankton communities change with depth, snorkeling on coral reefs, and a visit to the Honolulu fish auction to understand "how the economy of the global sushi market is driving up the price of fish but adversely affecting worldwide fish stocks," Carlon said.

"It gets students going on really big questions in marine biology right now and how do we answer those. We want to make them competitive professionally, if they want to go on to a profession or a graduate program."

Cynthia Hunter, assistant professor and dean of the biology program, said the first marine biology graduates are "two fantastic students."

"We're awfully proud of them. They're bringing a lot to the world. It will be interesting to see where they take their skills and education further down the road."

Mac Garrett, 33, and Fitzpatrick, who spent his 23rd birthday last week studying for finals, share a love of the ocean and a background in the Marine Option Program.

Mac Garrett has a bachelor of science in psychology from the University of Central Florida and began pursuing a biology degree at the University of South Florida. She transferred to the UH biology program three years ago to study coral reef ecosystems, then moved into marine biology as soon as it was offered.

She became "immersed in the marine community" here as a MOP student and became its student fiscal/office manager.

Fitzpatrick, raised on Maui, said his parents pushed him toward marine biology "so I could hopefully get a job doing what I love: playing in the ocean."

He started college at Pacific University in Oregon after graduating from St. Anthony High School, but "the lack of warm water brought me back home."

He attended Maui Community College and participated in MOP activities there, learning about the ecosystem surrounding Maui and working as a kayak guide to pay for school.

He transferred to UH-Manoa, began working on a degree in biology and "jumped in" when he heard of the marine biology program.

Fitzpatrick said he's moving back to Maui after graduation and will look for job until he's "rejuvenated for graduate school."

Mac Garrett is coordinator for Reef Check Hawaii, a volunteer-based coral reef monitoring network, and said she'll continue with it after graduation. She also plans to combine her two bachelor of science degrees to conduct public outreach, with emphasis on marine conservation education.

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