UH Marine Option Program finds new host
By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer
With a move to a different college and a more secure base of financing, the Marine Option Program at the University of Hawai'i has found itself on solid ground for the first time in years.
The well-known interdisciplinary program had been struggling to stay afloat as staff positions were cut, money dried up and students stopped enrolling because of its uncertain future.
Now, the program is moving from the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology into the College of Natural Sciences. And while the $130,000 in financing isn't what it once was, it is enough to keep the Marine Option Program operating, said director Sherwood Maynard.
"I'm in much better spirits than this time last year," he said.
The program, known at UH as MOP, allows students to study topics from ocean policy to archaeology or history. At UH, it is the only program that allows undergraduates to have a hands-on study of the ocean. The 12-credit certificate that students receive is similar to a minor degree.
The program also has been widely praised for inspiring a generation of high school students by taking them sailing to study the ocean and marine life.
But years of deep budget cuts at UH caught up with the program in early 2000 when $1.5 million in state financing was cut from the budget of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.
Unlike most other programs and departments within SOEST, the MOP brought in no money, but cost about $150,000 a year to operate. Other programs in the school generate $4 in research grants for every $1 they cost the state.
Maynard was told to look outside the university for his basic budget needs and warned that the program would eventually have to leave the college.
Offers of help began to come in, but it was not enough to completely pay for the program.
Officials at UH-Hilo had offered to house the program there, which would have taken the MOP out of Manoa entirely, and a group of alumni and supporters in the marine industry raised $30,000 last year in a rescue effort.
Then Chuck Hayes, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, agreed to provide $50,000 in financing last year. This year, he added $35,000 more and offered to house the program in his college. Other financing will come from grants, SOEST and the Marine Bioproducts Engineering Center.
Hayes said he has been impressed by the creativity of the program, as well as the enthusiasm of former students and those in the marine industry. The program has been a good link between the university and the community, he said.
Natural Sciences also has been given permission to develop the campus' first marine biology major for undergraduates.
"Since MOP is such a wonderful program, it should be in an area where a marine biology program would be offered," Hayes said. "The whole thing is motivated by our focus at the University of Hawai'i of having programs that are the best for our student population."
In the past few years, participation in MOP has fallen from around 180 students to about 50 right now, Maynard said.
"We're building back up again. It was difficult last year because of the uncertainty of the program," he said. "Students were driven away. Now we have a full calendar of events."
Reach Jennifer Hiller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8084.