College of LAS « Illinois

Land and Air

Alumna picked to lead prominent oceanographic institute.

Susan Avery, who was recently named the president and director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, received U of I's first doctorate in atmospheric sciences. (Photo by Thompson-McClellan.)
Susan Avery, who was recently named the president and director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, received U of I's first doctorate in atmospheric sciences. (Photo by Thompson-McClellan.)

Susan Avery has spent years dealing with land and air. Now, she says, it's time to think some more about water.

Avery, the first person to receive a doctorate in atmospheric sciences from the University of Illinois, in 1978, has been named the next president and director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), a private, Massachusetts-based organization for marine research, engineering and higher education.

In February the accomplished scientist, engineer, and administrator will take the reigns of the organization that works to understand oceans and their impact, including that on the global climate. WHOI was formed in 1930 upon a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences.

The not-for-profit corporation consists of about 1,000 scientists, staff, and graduate students, and it operates a fleet of four research ships and additional underwater vessels on the Atlantic Ocean.

Avery will leave her position at University of Colorado, where she has worked since 1982. Her most recent titles there include professor of computer and electrical engineering, and also interim dean of the graduate school and vice chancellor for research.

She had been weighing several job offers before she accepted the offer at WHOI, where she will become the first woman to hold the title of director. Known for her ability to bridge gaps between disciplines, she expects part of her job will involve broadening interactions between WHOI and other institutions.

"It's a big decision but a big opportunity and I'm looking forward to it," Avery says. "It keeps me close to science and the science I love."

Avery, who received the 2005 Alumni Achievement Award from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, earned her master's degree in physics from the U of I in 1974 before following it with her PhD. In 1982 she joined the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a leader in innovative earth systems research.

As part of that organization she invented a small, portable meteor radar system that allowed researchers to gather upper atmosphere data in remote regions. She became CIRES director in 1994, and she developed interdisciplinary research programs and a center to analyze how public policy and science affect each other. She also created an innovative research fund that paid for projects such as one that combined the oral history of the Inuit tribe of Greenland with data on weather conditions.

WHOI praised her leadership, administrative, and planning abilities, and it looks forward to the U of I graduate leading them to the future.

"Susan Avery is an atmospheric scientist and an engineer with a reputation as an effective leader and spokesperson for the geosciences," says Newton Merrill, chairman of the WHOI Board of Trustees. "She is renowned for her skill in bringing together researchers from different backgrounds to approach scientific problems in new ways."

Dave Evensen
12/1/2007

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