This article appeared in "Arising: The Research Journal of Savannah State University." Story by Amy Pine.
Dionne Hoskins-Brown, Ph.D., is a change maker. When she was approached about a need for a summer pre-college experience for students interested in marine sciences, she created Coast Camp. When she saw that Savannah-area students weren’t as prepared as they could be when entering college, she sought a position on the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) Board. And most recently, when she realized how strong the connection was between her beloved field of marine sciences and local coastal African-American communities, she joined the National Park Service’s Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission.
“What I would like for my journey to illustrate for students is that you can have a myriad of interests that can converge,” says Hoskins-Brown, director of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sponsored Programs at Savannah State University and an associate professor in the marine and environmental sciences department.
Hoskins-Brown’s interest in marine life began as a child in a cove of the Forest River on Savannah’s south side.
“I was always fascinated with what we would pull up (from the river),” Hoskins-Brown reminisces. “We pulled up pipe fish, (which) blew my mind, (and also) crabs and shrimp and all kinds of fish that I had never seen before.”
Her curiosity took her across town to Savannah State, where she graduated in 1992 with a bachelor of science degree in marine biology. She continued to pursue her passion after graduation, receiving a Ph.D. in marine science from the University of South Carolina in 1999.
While Hoskins-Brown was working toward her doctorate, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was in the process of expanding its cooperative research programs to HBCUs around the country. Savannah State was one of those institutions, and when a position opened in 1999 for a post-doctoral fellow to serve at the university, she was recruited for the job.
“I thought it would be a short postdoc,” Hoskins Brown says. “And (then) during that time, the NOAA matured its cooperative program and created funding for a position that would be a NOAA scientist.”
Hoskins-Brown accepted the full-time role and has remained in the position ever since. Now, it is the only remaining program of its kind in the country. Today she oversees a number of successful NOAA initiatives on campus, including the Living Marine Resources Cooperative Science Center (LMRCSC). Currently in its 17th year of funding at SSU, the LMRCSC—a partnership between lead institution University of Maryland Eastern Shore and six colleges around the country—seeks to train underrepresented communities in marine and fisheries sciences and prepare them for careers in the field. At Savannah State, the LMRCSC funding enabled the university to support a master of science degree program in marine sciences in 2001 and continues to aid students through scholarships, fellowships and other opportunities for advanced study in the field.
In addition, Hoskins-Brown oversees the National Ocean Science Bowl competition for the Georgia and South Carolina region and Coast Camp, a popular summer program for middle and high school students in the Savannah area.
Though Hoskins-Brown has spent the better part of two decades affecting change on the Savannah State campus, she has devoted an equal amount of time seeking to influence the community around her.
In 2011 when SCCPSS Board District 2 Representative Floyd Adams stepped down to run for mayor of Savannah, she was appointed to take his place. It was a natural progression for Hoskins-Brown, who had sought opportunities for engagement with the local public school system over the years. When her appointed term ended in 2012, she successfully ran for the position and is currently serving her second consecutive term.
In 2017, Hoskins-Brown’s interest in the local Gullah and Geechee communities—which populate coastal areas from Florida to North Carolina—led her to join the Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, where she currently serves as chairman.
“Being interested in the Gullah Geechee (community) and working as a proponent for preserving that culture doesn’t have to sound aberrant for a marine scientist,” Hoskins-Brown explains. “There are human dimensions to many science questions in our community, and one of those dimensions is how do communities of low-lying areas respond to sea-level rise and what is their coastal resilience to the implications of climate change. How are coastal communities dependent upon fish and fisheries and healthy habitats?”
Hoskins-Brown hopes that her involvement with the commission will help answer some of those questions and also inspire her students to consider the broader implications of their academic studies.
“I want students to know that you can have diverse interests and strengths and you can channel those characteristics of yourself into positive, productive activities for the common good,” Hoskins-Brown says. “It takes work and you may sometimes be misunderstood, but when it comes together it’s immensely satisfying.”
Established in 1890, Savannah State University is the oldest public historically black college or university in Georgia and the oldest institution of higher learning in the city of Savannah. The university's 4,100 students select majors from 30 undergraduate and six graduate programs in four colleges ‐ Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Business Administration, Sciences and Technology, and Education.
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CREDIT: Savannah State University