In 1996, President Bill Clinton commissioned the National Science and Technology Council to create an award celebrating emerging researchers in the fields of science and technology at the outset of their careers.
The result was the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. The PECASE award is given annually to a group of researchers who “show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge during the twenty-first century.”
While working on a story that appears in the upcoming issue of NC State magazine on NC State’s Center for Marine Sciences and Technology in Morehead City, N.C., we discovered that three Wolfpack alumni now working in various departments at the neighboring National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration‘s lab in Beaufort have been honored with the award. Each was cited for his award and attended an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., the following year. We caught up with the winners to tell us about their research, their award experience and what their honors say about NC State.
Kyle Shertzer ’97 MR, ’01 PHD works in stock assessment at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center. He was given the PECASE award in 2003 for his research on evolution and population dynamics of fisheries. Shertzer studies how populations of certain species of fish change over time, focusing his work on how fishing can affect the biology of fish, which can, in turn, affect the optimal rates at which fishermen can pull fish from the sea.
What sticks out about the awards ceremony…You go to the White House to receive the award at a banquet. Being versed in that is not my normal routine. …It was during the fall of 2004. [George W. Bush] was busy campaigning, so he didn’t show up. That part was disappointing, but his science adviser was there.
What the award says about NC State…It makes the case that the graduate programs there are strong. People coming out of those programs are competitive at the national and international levels. The programs are top-notch in the country. (Photo by Marc Hall)
Chris Taylor ’99 MS, ’04 PHD is a research ecologist at the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. He received the PECASE award in 2009 for his work in using underwater sonar to better understand fish and their ecosystems. “We’re trying to get a picture of fish under water,” he says.
His feelings the day of the awards ceremony…We started off with a brunch that just was with members of NOAA and the Department of Commerce. It was then that I realized there were some very intelligent people who won the award. And I was surprised I was one of them.
The moment that sticks out the most…The most special moment was standing there on the bleachers, joking around with everybody until the Secret Service walked in. And President Obama walked in and you could feel everyone leaning toward him, like flowers toward the sun. It was very magnetic. (Photo Courtesy of the National Ocean Service)
James Morris ’09 PHD is an ecologist at the Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research. He grew up in Carteret County, N.C., a son of a six-generation fishing family. He was honored with the PECASE award in 2010 for his research on the biology and ecological impacts of lionfish invasions in the southeast United States and the Caribbean.
Remembering President Obama’s remarks…He spoke to us a while about picking winners, that we need to pick winners. We’ve led the world in space exploration. In the future, we’re going to have to pick winners. He addressed how, in the room, there was a significant amount of capital.
What the award means to Morris…I don’t get to claim credit for this by myself. There are so many professors, mentors and family members who’ve helped me. …It was a rewarding and unique experience. I couldn’t help but think what my grandfather would have thought, the same little boy who was out on a shrimp boat with him was shaking the president’s hand because of his accomplishments in marine science. (Photo courtesy of the National Ocean Service)