As news of record-breaking ocean temperatures and rapidly dying coral reefs rattles scientists, one scholarship aims to invest in future solutions by helping fund the education of students studying marine biology.
On Thursday, University of South Florida College of Marine Science student Sarah Sullivan became the second recipient of the annual Walter C. Jaap Memorial Scholarship, during a ceremony at the Marine Sciences Laboratory.
“I was so excited when I found out,” said Sullivan. “This is actually the first scholarship I’ve ever received. The ocean is so important, and I’m so happy to be in a field that studies it and especially to have funding that encourages me to continue to pursue my education and do the research that is vitally important in our ever-changing climate.”
Jaap, a marine ecologist and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission retiree, dedicated his career to understanding and preserving coral reefs. He died in 2021.
To honor his memory, friends and family established the scholarship in his name to support passionate and driven students who share his vision of safeguarding our marine ecosystems.
“When I discovered the enormous number of people who made substantial contributions to the scholarship fund, I was absolutely floored,” said Karilyn Jaap, Walter’s wife of 47 years. “I knew that Walt had affected a lot of people’s lives because he was devoted to Florida’s coral reefs and to mentoring the USF marine science students. He felt that it was vitally important that not only the reef work but work oceanographic work, in general, be carried on to the next generation.”
Sullivan is pursuing her master’s degree in Oceanography at USF and will use the $2,000 scholarship award to continue her research on Sargassum, a macroalgae that has been blooming in excess since 2011.
“Sargassum has had a detrimental impact on coastal habitats, organisms, and communities around the world, but it’s affecting tourism communities really hard, including the Florida Keys and in the Caribbean,” said Sullivan. “It’s just another piece of our changing ocean, and seeing the blooms that are happening today that were not happening 20 years ago – it’s an entirely new event. So I’m looking forward to continuing learning how to deal with it and applying the newest technologies to our research.”
“When selecting a recipient, we look for students who emulate Walt’s life passions,” said Father Ryan Whitley of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, who came up with the idea to create the scholarship fund to honor Walter’s memory.
Students pursuing a degree in science at any Florida university can apply for the endowed scholarship, which is administered by the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. The scholarship award not only provides financial support but also serves as a platform to inspire others to join the cause of marine conservation. By investing in passionate and dedicated students like Sullivan, Walter Jaap’s loved ones hope to foster a future where marine ecosystems are understood, cherished, and protected for generations to come.
“He never thought in terms of legacy,” said Karilyn Jaap. “He was a scientist just doing what he loved. I think he would be really proud.”