Dawn Wright ("Deep-Sea Dawn"): PhD Geographer-Oceanographer and GIS Chief Scientist
- Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
- Steinbach Visiting Scholar (At-Large), MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography/Applied Ocean Science & Engineering
- Randolph W. “Bill” and Cecile T. Bromery Award for Minorities, Geological Society of America
- PhD in Geography-Ocean Science from University of California Santa Barbara
- Distinguished Teaching Honors, Association of American Geographers (now the American Association of Geographers)
- Professor of Geography, Oregon State University, Corvallis
- Chief Scientist, ESRI Redlands, CA
The ship is gently rocking as the island’s coast comes into view. There are some clouds clinging to the tops of the higher areas. We see interesting splashes and commotion along the rocky beach still a mile off. Our excursion boats, then bring us close to see a wild-world of exotic creatures, some types that live only here many hundreds of miles from other land. The volcanic origin of this and its sister islands, is obvious from the rugged black basalt cooled over a million years ago.
If you just consider our thoughts during grade-school years, little can be guessed about the kind of significance someone’s life may have. So many possibilities and opportunities come along. We will make decisions on future directions, and ideally with hope and prayer that we can be special in changing the world?
My journey has been exceptional and beyond all imaginings in pre-college dreams. This is not given as a standard for all Christian students. My story should however, provide a real illustration of what could happen and that you the student, should never underestimate your potential. Dreaming of being known for making the world a better, more livable and healthy place, is a wonderful virtue, not selfish and not extravagant. If those dreams are solely of becoming famous, rich, or powerful, then there is a problem, pushing us away from the will of God. Too many either want the wrong things or don’t seek to stretch themselves into better challenges. Too many become limited by their circumstances of financial status, gender, race, or location. These are mostly false limitations.
A young, minority, emerging adult, whether female, African American, Native American, Hispanic-Latino/Latina, etc., probably have more opportunities available in selecting a scientific vocation than they perceive. We have supporting organizations to help offer excellent choices and chances to those underrepresented in the world of science. This is also true for Christians, who may feel alienated by our modern culture. I am an example of success that came to someone not among the “expected” candidates for science leadership. Each person needs to learn about potential support for their vocation and then to apply all their God-given qualities, including hard work, to achieve schooling and employment befitting their potential.
A THRILLING VOYAGE
After a serious period of academic preparation, I completed undergraduate college and entered the world of post-graduate study. My chosen college major was Geology, and that alone was a path less taken by a women and minority students. I learned to love the things of God’s good Creation and was drawn to seek these are objects of Kingdom service. I always knew that I wanted oceanography as a terminal degree, and in the U.S. most oceanographers are still only fully trained at the doctoral level. My college’s summer field coursework spiritually provided a wonderful foundation for respecting what I see and try to decipher in nature. God is the author of it all but gives us a profound ability to seek out the details of HOW it came to be, and how the Earth works in the present day. We can know God not only through His Son, through people made in His image, and through the Scriptures, but through Creation as well.
My undergrad years at a Christian college including equipping to be “as wise as a serpent” and yet “as innocent as a dove” (Matthew 10:16), first while serving Him on secular university campuses and now in an information technology company. I learned to be sensitive to life in the current culture as well as among fellow Christ followers. It is essential to engage all people and situations with the Mind of Christ. Praise the Lord for that integration of faith, learning and life!
As I moved beyond graduate training, at Texas A&M University and then The University of California-Santa Barbara for my PhD, the zeal for serving via science grew exponentially. I have a broad background of scholarship themes, with the geographical aspect of oceanography as primary. The Lord’s vocation-calling to me has led to expeditions across many seas and to many nations. My professional expertise includes surveying the oceans’ floors with sophisticated remote-sensing technology. The data collected is processed to produce detailed maps and cross-sections of spectacular features never before known or seen at any scale. The evolving technology of GIS (Geographic Information Systems, or Geographic Information Science) has grown with my experience and become a major tool for my research and in my teaching. I am now the Lead Scientist for the world’s foremost GIS corporation, ESRI, after several years as Marine-Geography faculty member at Oregon State University in Corvallis. My career has extended into high-level consultation with other scientists, industries, government agencies, and diverse organizations that utilize spatial data. I have had the opportunity to write many articles and author-edit books related to this vocation. My love for God’s Creation goes well together with my love for helping others appreciate the science and what’s behind it.
By far most of my publications and presentations have been for “secular” audiences, including the group categories above. I have also enjoyed sharing this wealth with fellow Christians. Among some outreach efforts for the Church, are service with my undergrad alma mater on their Board of Visitors (advisors), lecturing in classes there, speaking before congregational groups, contributing “EARTH BELOW” to a grade-school book from the Association of Christian Schools International, and a presentation, “DISCOVERIES OF SEAFLOOR EXPLORATION”, for the Christian organization, American Scientific Affiliation. From my doctoral-study days, I exercised faith-generated outreach serving a meals program for the homeless. I continue to reach out, taking opportunities to help mentor young minority and women students in their own scientific-vocational journeys. The desire to increase the diversity among practicing scientists and science teachers continues to direct my activities (such as this profile!).
I refer to some of my personal heroes below. There is the musician, Bono from U2, who has taken his fame and used it as a platform in uplifting “the least of these”, as in the extremely poor, those with HIV-AIDS, and animals driven toward extinction. I am also a big fan of the late, Billy Graham, as a person with single-minded drive to bring Good News-Gospel of Jesus to the World. I also include two favorite quotes to help express our vocation-calling as disciples.
“You are free in our time to say God does not exist; you are free to say that He would like to exist if He could. You may talk of God as a metaphor or mystification; you may water Him down with gallons of long words, or boil Him to the rags of metaphysics; and it is not merely that nobody punishes, but nobody protests. But if you speak of God as a fact, as a thing like a tiger, as a reason for changing one's conduct, then the modern world will stop you somehow if it can. We are long past talking about whether an unbeliever should be punished for being irreverent. It is now thought irreverent to be a believer.”
-- G.K. Chesterson in George Bernard Shaw
“Don't waste time waiting for big things to do for God. You will not have the readiness to say yes to the great things if you do not train yourself to say yes to the thousand and one occasions of obedience that come your way throughout the day. Don't look for big things, just do small things with great love.”
-- Mother Theresa