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Last modified: Monday, March 22, 2010

IU's Josh Stewart receives prestigious scholarship, soon to be IU's first marine biology grad

March 22, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Josh Stewart, a senior at Indiana University majoring in marine biology -- yes, marine biology -- has been selected as the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society's 2010 North American Rolex Scholar, a prestigious honor that will put him on the road, or more correctly, in the water, for a year with leading underwater filmmakers, marine biologists and others working in the field of marine conservation.

Stewart photo

Photo by Heather Brogden

Josh Stewart

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The New York native already had a passion for tropical seas when he came to IU Bloomington, which has no marine biology program and is more than 600 miles from the nearest coast. Studying at a landlocked university can have its perks, though. Stewart quickly dove into the underwater science program in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and in just a few short years has participated in a wide range of research projects, including excavating Captain Kidd's 17th century shipwreck, studying coral recruitment in underwater parks, and recovering extinct animal remains in culturally significant underwater caverns in the Dominican Republic.

"If I'd have gone to a university on the coast where marine biology is a top degree, I would have been competing against hundreds of undergrads to do research," said Stewart, who has participated in field research every summer since his freshmen year and during some Spring Breaks, too.

At IU, he used the Individualized Major Program to design a Bachelor of Arts degree in marine biology, with the help of sponsors Charles Beeker, director of the School of HPER's Office of Underwater Science, and Claudia Johnson, an associate professor in the Department of Geological Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Beeker said students in his underwater science program often pursue degrees in underwater archaeology through IMP or in anthropology. Stewart, he said, has paved the way for others to pursue marine biology degrees, with several other students currently seeking such a degree.

"Josh came to us as a freshman and I thought, 'Marine biology? Everyone wants to be a marine biology major.' But he pursued it; he developed a degree. He went to Australia to get special training and combined this with extensive field work. He's proven to be one of the finest students I've worked with as an undergrad," Beeker said. "Now, he's an accomplished marine biology student and is receiving international recognition for his work. We at IU should be very proud of Josh."

Stewart photo

Photo by Heather Brogden

Josh Stewart, right, teaching a diving class at the the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation

Print-Quality Photo

Johnson said Stewart has accumulated a solid body of knowledge in marine biology, underwater archaeology, photography and more recently, videography and describes him as "an ideal student who will continue to work hard to achieve his goals, and who will represent Indiana University well as he travels abroad, now and into the future."

Stewart spent a semester at James Cook University in Australia (near the Great Barrier Reef) where he helped with research projects and took an intensive load of marine biology courses necessary for him to be IU's first marine biology graduate. When he graduates in May, he also will have minors in biology and anthropology and a certificate in underwater resource management. Now, his passion for all things tropical has evolved into a passion for the protection and conservation of marine environments, through both research and efforts to educate the public about the need for conservation efforts.

"I definitely want to do conservation work. I love diving for fun, being in the water. It's upsetting to go places like the Dominican Republic and see a reef that's basically been destroyed and it's obvious that it's from human activity," Stewart said. "I'd like to see that change and I think we're perfectly capable of managing these resources. It's just a matter of us now knowing what we're doing to them and how to go about fixing this."

The Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society's 2010 North American Rolex Scholar award will help Stewart chart his course after graduation. The program arranges for leaders in the field of underwater conservation -- including underwater filmmakers, photographers, marine biologists and marine conservationists -- to host him, allowing Stewart to immerse himself in their work. The society will pay for Stewarts travel, room and living expenses. Stewart said he is looking forward to the opportunity.

"I will be looking at conservation from different aspects, such as restoration, rehabilitation, working with marine protected areas. I want to do research. Getting a better understanding of how marine ecosystems work is crucial in conservation work. I also want to look at public outreach, particularly film and television, and how it can be used as a conservation tool."

The Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society has been selecting scholars for more than 30 years. Scholars are chosen for North American, Europe and Australaisa, with travel extensively travel throughout their own region. They will make presentations about their experiences at the society's annual spring meeting.

Robert M. Goodman, dean of the School of HPER, said Stewart's award draws attention to the high caliber, interdisciplinary work being conducted by the underwater science program, which collaborates with researchers and students from other IU departments.

"Typically one thinks about marine biology and underwater resource studies at higher education institutions on the coasts yet IU has one of the oldest and finest programs in the country," Goodman said. "Josh Stewart's success with this exciting award is testimony to our fine academic programs."