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CCU Atheneum: Dan Abel, marine science professor aboard a research vessel to catch and tag sharks.
Dan Abel, marine science professor aboard a research vessel to catch and tag sharks.

First Distinguished Honors Faculty Fellow is Dan Abel

by Nicole Pippo
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Dan Abel, marine science professor and founding director of the Campus and Community Sustainability Initiative at Coastal Carolina University, has been named the first Distinguished Honors Faculty Fellow of the HTC Honors College and Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at CCU.

One of the goals of the new HTC Honors College, established last year, is to provide opportunities for faculty from across campus to innovate and explore new teaching methods and research strategies, develop experiential learning opportunities, and encourage boundary-defying learning. As the Distinguished Honors Fellow in the Honors College, a two-year appointment, Abel will participate in and cultivate the growth of the Honors College.

“It is his commitment to interdisciplinarity and experiential teaching and the profound impact that he has had on his students that inspired us to select him as the Distinguished Honors Fellow,” said Sara Hottinger, dean of the Honors College and professor of women’s and gender studies.

Established on Oct. 12, 2018, the HTC Honors College and Center for Interdisciplinary Studies (formerly University College) will welcome its inaugural incoming class in Fall 2019 and debut several new initiatives, including the Distinguished Honors Faculty Fellowship. The college’s missions are to exemplify CCU’s commitment to high-quality teaching and engaged learning, and create a student body in both local and global communities who strive to build a better world for all.

“I have become re-energized and reinvigorated about teaching,” said Abel. “This is exciting because it’s an effort to unite segments of institutions that are often separate and don’t overlap, and to integrate faculty members from those specialties into a broader approach in the Honors College.”

Abel will develop innovative new courses, work on honors initiatives, and offer students unique honors experiences.
“Not only will Dr. Abel be teaching our honors marine science students, but he will also be developing interdisciplinary, hands-on courses in sustainability and conservation biology,” said Hottinger.

While he will have to reduce the number of courses he teaches in the marine science department for the length of the fellowship – August 2019 until August 2021 – Abel will be teaching in both the College of Science and the Honors College.

“I am not abandoning marine science majors. I enjoy every minute of being in the marine science department, and I’m glad that I can continue to work with marine science students,” Abel explains. “It’s more like sharing me between two departments.”

“By inviting a new faculty member into the HTC Honors College community every two years, we challenge ourselves to consider honors education from different perspectives,” Hottinger said. “One of our primary goals is to establish strong ties with academic departments across campus and this initiative is one way we are working to do that.”

The faculty of the HTC Honors College and Center for Interdisciplinary Studies consists of seasoned professors from several programs who support students enrolled in the Honors Program; interdisciplinary studies majors, who build their own innovative academic course of study; as well as undeclared first-year students.

The marine science major is the biggest contributor to the Honors College. There are currently 118 marine science students in the Honors College out of approximately 750 total honors students, according to Hottinger.

In Fall 2019, Abel plans to offer a biology of sharks class and lab course, and one honors seminar. In Spring 2020, he will teach an honors seminar and a marine science introductory course for marine science majors who are honors students.

The honors seminar that will be offered to students enrolled in the Honors College program is called “Special Topics in Environmental Studies.” In this interdisciplinary course, Abel will enrich students’ knowledge of a wide range of environmental topics such as biodiversity, sustainability, conservation, pollution, climate change and human ecology.

“My goal for the class is to have the students make connections between our daily lives and the environmental impact we have on the world,” he said. Originally Abel wanted to call the course something along the lines of “How to live a reasonable life” and enlighten students on why he thinks everyone should care about the environment. He has always wished that he could devote more time to teaching these principles to his marine science students.

“Being in the Honors College gives me freedom because it’s about being creative with the curriculum and experimenting beyond the list of science courses that marine science majors are required to take,” said Abel. “It allows me to work in two different disciplines. One of my passions is marine biology, specifically studying sharks. But the other hat I’ve always worn is environmental scientist, sustainability specialist and scientifically informed tree hugger.”

Abel joined the Coastal Carolina University faculty in 1994. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the College of Charleston in 1978 and 1981, respectively, and a Ph.D. in marine biology from the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography in 1986. He was a postdoctoral fellow in marine bio-medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. Abel has co-authored three environmental science textbooks: Environmental Issues in Oceanography, Environmental Issues: An Introduction to Sustainability and Environmental Geology. Abel is co-authoring two additional books, Biology of Sharks and Apex Predators of the World, which will be published in 2020. His research interests include surveys of stingrays and sharks along the southeast coast, particularly in nearby Winyah Bay. Abel is an expert in shark biology and ecology, stingray biology and ecology, environmental issues, and sustainability.

“I hope [the courses I teach in the Honors College] will go beyond students’ comfort zones – that’s what education is about,” Abel said.

He has significant international teaching experience, which includes his annual biology of sharks course held at the Bimini Biological Field Station (BBFS) in the Bahamas. Abel has made this trip more than 20 times since 1996.

The Maymester course consists of a few lectures, but primarily involves field-oriented work, such as swimming in the water with several species of large, actively feeding sharks in their natural habitat. The combination of lectures and fieldwork introduces students to research techniques used at CCU and BBFS. Many students volunteer, intern or get jobs at the Bimini Biological Field Station lab after graduating.

In spring of 2010, Abel experienced his first Semester-at-Sea (SAS). SAS is a university on a ship, sponsored by Colorado State University in partnership with the Institute for Shipboard Education, a nonprofit academic association that tours more than 10 countries twice a year. Every semester, approximately 700 students from 270 colleges and universities sign up for this unique academic adventure, which is led by 30 handpicked faculty from around the world. Abel has taught Biology of Sharks, marine biology, oceanography and environmental issues aboard SAS.

Abel has made a profound impact on not only CCU students, but students around the world through SAS. Will Mitchell, who was a student at Pennsylvania State University at the time, worked with Abel during the 2010 spring semester.

In a letter to Abel, Mitchell had this to say about what the SAS experience meant to him: “I learned from you what I want to become. I of course enjoyed everything we learned about in class, about plate tectonics, sharks and currents, but I really enjoyed seeing someone who still genuinely cared about the outcome of the world, its people and animals. You hadn’t given up, or lost your sense of helpfulness or ability. I want to be like that when I grow up. [You had] a genuine and wholehearted curiosity and sense of wonder so many people seem to be losing. Basically, I wanted to let you know what a spectacular role model you were for me.”

After the Honors College Fellowship ends in 2021, Abel and his wife of 40 years, Mary, will most likely board an SAS ship for the fifth time.

In addition to serving as a key professor in the marine science department for years, Abel has also made significant contributions to CCU as a whole. In 2005, he was instrumental in creating the Campus and Community Sustainability Initiative to transform CCU into an environmentally sustainable university, to incorporate sustainability into the curriculum, and to serve as a resource on sustainability to Horry and Georgetown counties. He served as director from 2005-2012.

Abel’s formal two-year appointment begins on Aug. 16, 2019.

“Coastal Carolina University is very lucky to have a faculty member like Dr. Abel who inspires his students to make the world a better place,” said Hottinger, “and we are excited to work with him for the next two years.”

Hottinger said the Distinguished Honors Faculty Fellowship is supported through the student achievement funding initiative. Through this funding, the Honors College is able to provide Abel’s home department of marine science the funds necessary to hire a visiting assistant professor to cover departmental needs during two-year period.

The search for a visiting assistant professor or a teaching post-doctoral fellow began in October 2018 and is still underway. The visiting assistant professor’s duties will also begin on Aug. 16, 2019.

 

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