Morley Medal: Dr. Andre Clewell '52
|Dr. Andre Clewell '52, left, receives the Morley Science Medal Award from Charles Mullins '65, a member of the Morley Medal committee.|
Dr. Andre Clewell ’52 is a problem solver.
And because of that, the world is a better place.
Clewell, a practitioner and one of the foremost scholars of ecological restoration, is the recipient of the 2012 Edward W. Morley Science Medal, presented during the Celebration of Excellence program during Reunion Weekend. The award honors someone who has made a significant contribution to a field of basic or applied science, or to the application of science, technology or engineering for the improvement of the human condition.
A self-employed consultant, Clewell is a research associate with the Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy organization near Tallahassee, Fla. In addition, he is an adjunct scientist, specializing in tidal marsh ecology, at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla.
Since the 1970s, he has worked to restore a variety of ecosystems that were damaged by mining operations and other kinds of impairment. One such project involved working with The Nature Conservancy in Mississippi to rebuild ecosystems following Hurricane Katrina.
“Some ecological restoration started in the 1930s, but by the 1970s it was an idea whose time had come,” Clewell said. “At that point I had been on the faculty at Florida State University for 17 years and it didn’t take much to get me working on the front lines of conservation rather than just talking about it in the classroom. We work to recreate an environment that plants can thrive in and, if the plants take hold, then nature can recreate itself.
“Restoration is open-ended because nature is open-ended. These systems are changing all the time so we have to restore an ecosystem for the future, not just rebuild it the way it was.”
The restoration efforts bring a variety of benefits, Clewell said.
“We depend on nature for so many things – oxygen, clean water and habitats for wildlife,” he said. “In developing countries there is a real need for natural materials that ecosystems provide, like firewood and thatch. This is also very serious economic work in the affluent world like restoring ecosystem to detail potential flood waters. We are restoring our ecosystems to restores ourselves psychologically and reinitiating our contacts with nature.
“There are also cultural benefits to this work. I spend time on restoration sites with students and there is no better way to learn about natural history than to work on a restoration site.”
Clewell traces his love of history to his childhood growing up on the WRA campus and his time as a student. His father, Ralph, was head of WRA’s Music Department and his mother, Beulah, was the secretary in the Music Department. In addition, his sister-in-law, Peggy, worked in the campus bookstore for several years. “For 80 years someone from my immediate family was on the Academy payroll,” Clewell said with a chuckle.
“I was into cracking rocks open to find fossils, bird watching and star gazing,” Clewell said. “Dr. Howard Williams, a faculty member, was responsible for the lens on the Morley telescope, and a couple of times a year I would borrow it to look at the rings of Saturn and other things. I had a diversity of interests as a student and WRA was a place where I could either do it on my own or have support from faculty members when I needed it.
“The formative work for me at WRA was with Jiggs Reardon – he was a superb English teacher. I was introduced to literature here and Sam Husat was also very important to me; we really connected and learning Spanish served me well as I have spent a number of years in Spanish-speaking countries.
“I never would have gotten anywhere in my professional life without a WRA background, both in education and in name recognition of the school.”
Clewell has traveled the world speaking and working on ecological issues. In 2009, he spent a month in Australia, where he presented two papers at the World Conference on Ecological Restoration in Perth, planted trees in New South Wales, and gave the keynote address at a restoration conference in Sydney. In 2002, he spoke at the European Restoration Conference in Budapest. The day before receiving the Morley Medal, he presented the keynote address to an international restoration workshop in Colorado.
A prolific writer, Clewell has authored two books, Ecological Restoration: Principles, Values and Structure of an Emerging Profession and Guide to the Vascular Plants of the Florida Panhandle. He has written several book chapters, numerous journal articles, as well as government and research station reports.
“I travel to spread the message and work to bring professionals together,” he said. “I traveled recently to southern Chile to speak at a university where they have been using one of my books for the past five years. The best projects are driven at the local level by people who understand the work and really want to do it. South Africa and Brazil, for example, are some of the best places in the world for restoration projects because they have stable governments that support the work.”
As he eyes his next project, Clewell still carries with him the lessons he learned 60 years ago at WRA.
“You learn how to think, how to write, how to use logic and how to perceive what is going on around you at WRA,” he said. “Once you have that, you can identify problems and then start working on solutions.”
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