Deborah Bronk believes that private support can help fill the gap in science funding. She gives to William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) to support student research and to ensure that financial resources are available to stay on the cutting edge.
What inspired you to become an oceanographer?
Growing up, I was a poster child for the importance of exposing kids to science. For me it was the television program, "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau." I grew up in Nashville, Tenn., and did not see the ocean until my teens, but I knew from a very early age that I wanted to study the ocean like Cousteau. When I was six or so I started collecting shells, but instead of going to the beach I went to garage sales. The collection got a big boost when some elderly neighbors gave me many that they had collected over the years. I still have the collection, in plastic sewing boxes in my lab, and I take them with me when I go out to talk to school kids.
What do you enjoy most about teaching and conducting research at VIMS?
That’s easy: the people – faculty, staff and students! It is just a wonderful community. From 2012 to 2015, I served at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va., ultimately as division director of Ocean Science. In that capacity, I met with leaders of marine institutes around the U.S., most of which I have visited at one time or another. In all of that travel I don’t think I’ve seen an institute that is more collegial than VIMS. We are an institute where people help and take care of each other. We also have fantastic instrumentation and facilities, which allows us to stay at the forefront of our fields and attract the best students.
What inspired you to support William & Mary's VIMS philanthropically and to include the institute as a beneficiary of your estate?
When I thought about what I wanted to leave my three great kids ... money to help them follow their dreams or to get them started on saving for their own retirement was a goal. More important than money, however, I also want them to be happy and healthy. The ever-increasing degradation of our environment puts that at risk. Humans have radically changed our planet and if the human race is going to thrive in the future we must understand the world around us so that we can make better decisions going forward. VIMS is a place where we excel at creating new knowledge through basic science but then translate it into answers and solutions to real world problems. By supporting VIMS after I’m gone, I will help assure that this work will go on. My work has been my life-long passion and a source of great satisfaction. It makes me happy to know that I will be helping the next generation to experience a life in science.
Why is private support so important for students and faculty as they aspire to make an impact in their communities and the world?
The U.S. has always supported science and it has been the powerhouse behind our economy and the quality of life we enjoy in this country. We are now in a period in history when financial support for science is increasingly political and competition for funding is fierce. This makes it harder to find the money to get the preliminary data or proof of concept data, which are important in getting grant support. Private philanthropy can fill that gap.
Students come to research with a fresh perspective and new ideas. It takes funds to try out new ideas, methods or approaches to see if they have merit. Private support can give students that chance.
Being a researcher today means you are on a treadmill where, before you finish one project, you have to be writing the proposal for the next one. The end result is we rarely have time to publish all the work we do in one area before we have to go on to the next expedition or study. Private support provides the breathing room faculty members need to extract everything we can learn from the experiments we conduct. As a taxpayer, this aspect of giving really appeals to me. Why not provide the extra funding to get the most bang for the buck we have already spent?
Why do you think the For the Bold campaign is critical to advancing the mission of the university?
Universities are where the future is formed through the passion and creativity of the students, faculty and staff. Ideas and innovation require support to flourish. For the Bold will assure that financial resources are available to train staff to stay at the cutting edge, for faculty on the verge of a big breakthrough and to assist students who will change the world.
What is your favorite experience as a faculty member at VIMS?
Last summer, I had a new graduate student join my lab. She arrived at VIMS the week before classes started and promptly left with me and the rest of my lab group for a month-long research expedition aboard a ship in the Arctic. By the end of the cruise she was a key member of the team and on her way to becoming a real oceanographer. It was a fabulous transition to watch!