University of Delaware undergrads will soon have more opportunities to “get their feet wet” in ocean and coastal science, thanks to a new initiative in the College of Marine Studies. Although the college will continue to award only graduate degrees, its new Program for Undergraduate Studies is designed to provide additional courses in marine science and education for UD students working on their bachelor’s degrees.
John Wehmiller, professor of geology in the College of Arts and Science, will direct the interdisciplinary program. Wehmiller, who also holds a joint appointment on the faculty of the College of Marine Studies, has served on numerous student and administrative committees over the past 30 years. In addition, as a former chair of the Department of Geology, he has wide experience in organizing and developing undergraduate programs at the University.
“In developing this program, the college is expanding its role and commitment to educating students about the importance of the marine environment,” says Carolyn Thoroughgood, dean of the College of Marine Studies. “Dr. Wehmiller will work closely with the College of Arts and Science to help establish new degrees that emphasize marine science and to pursue other initiatives of mutual advantage to both colleges and to the University.”
The College of Marine Studies currently offers two courses to undergraduate students. In addition, a semester-in-residence program is offered each fall at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes. This program exposes eligible juniors and seniors to marine science through introductory graduate-level courses and individual research projects conducted under the guidance of faculty advisers.
Over the next several months, Wehmiller will work on adding an ocean science “track,” or concentration, to the environmental science degree. This is an interdisciplinary degree, offered within the College of Arts and Science, with concentrations in geography, biology, and geology. Wehmiller also will serve as a liaison between undergraduate students and faculty to promote various research opportunities in ocean science.
“I am excited about being able to contribute in this area,” says Wehmiller. “The proposals we are suggesting will provide ways for prospective Delaware students to ‘do’ marine science as undergraduates. In addition, it should also lead to more interaction between the College of Marine Studies and the Department of Geology, something I have always been committed to.”
A member of UD’s faculty since 1972, Wehmiller conducts research on a technique called amino acid racemization, which is used to date fossils in coastal plain sediments. Most recently, he has been using this technique to study the geology of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. His work will help predict which areas of the coastline are the most susceptible to erosion by physical processes such as waves, tides, storms, and rivers — an issue of increasing concern along the East Coast.
Wehmiller earned his doctorate in geology from Columbia University in New York City and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. He is active in the professional community, having organized numerous national and international workshops and symposia. In addition, he coordinates the Assateague Shore and Shelf Workshop, which is an annual meeting of coastal scientists that encourages the participation of both graduate and undergraduate students.