Lora Harris awarded Elkins Professorship

August 27, 2021

Dr. Lora Harris, an associate professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) Chesapeake Biological Laboratory has been awarded the Wilson H. Elkins Endowed Professorship for 2021-2022 by the University System of Maryland. 

Harris is an internationally respected estuarine ecologist who is known for her research to support science-based management and restoration of estuarine ecosystems, from nutrient dynamics to oysters and tidal wetlands. She has expanded her ecological research to become a national leader in efforts to diversify STEM fields generally, but the ocean sciences in particular.  This work has included taking a leadership role in UMCES efforts to become a more inclusive and diverse institution.

“The financial support from the Elkins Professorship will allow me to bring my efforts at broadening participation home to Maryland,” said Harris. “The timing for this work is just right. Regionally there is growing awareness of the intersecting issues of equity and environmental management.”  

For the past decade, Harris has worked to broaden participation in the geosciences through a series of National Science Foundation (NSF) funded initiatives. These initiatives have included development of Centro TORTUGA, an ocean science program in Puerto Rico that seeks to encourage islanders to take up STEM careers. This work has broadened recently with additional NSF support into the SEAS Island Alliance, a collaborative, multi-institutional program that seeks to foster a sense of belonging in ocean sciences for islanders from Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam and other US affiliated islands.  This work is establishing support programs that provide mentoring, family programming, professional networking and cohort-building experiences to diversify ocean sciences. 

“Island communities are some of the most vulnerable to the effects of changes in climate and natural resources,” said UMCES President Peter Goodwin “Dr. Harris has recognized the critical importance of preparing highly-trained scientific experts that are part of these communities and can help navigate progress toward a thriving, safe and resilient future that sustains the unique island heritage and culture.”

As a member of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Diversity Workgroup, Harris sees the community desire to be involved in the science that is informing management of the Chesapeake. Funding from this professorship will enable Harris to extend the curriculum she has developed to include UMCES and SEAS Islands Alliance students, and regional science community partners. 

“Our students are vocal in the urgency of creating actionable and solutions-based science that can benefit society,” said UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory Director Thomas Miller. “This is true for UMCES graduate students, as well as the high schoolers, undergraduates, and recent graduates who participate in Centro TORTUGA and the SEAS Islands Alliance.”

The Wilson H. Elkins Professorship honors the late Wilson H. Elkins, President of the University of Maryland College Park from 1954 to 1978. The Wilson H. Elkins Endowment Fund and others like it further USM's mission of teaching, research, and public service. The Elkins Professorships support professors and researchers who demonstrate exemplary ability to inspire students and whose professional work and scholarly endeavors make a positive impact at their universities, the entire system, and beyond. Candidates for the Elkins Professorship must possess a solid record of achievement in their academic or professional disciplines; demonstrate a desire and ability to lead and inspire undergraduate and graduate students; show significant achievement beyond their traditional disciplines; and demonstrate ability and intent to pursue scholarly or professional activities beyond USM.