Ariana Grande, the European Union, Jurassic Park and Intel’s Pentium Processor all have one thing in common – they all share a 25th birthday with the Southeast Environmental Research Center (SERC)!
Twenty-eighteen marks the year that SERC turns 25 years old. Last week on September 21st, the Center (now a critical part of the young FIU preeminent program, the Institute of Water and Environment) proudly celebrated their unprecedented success over the past quarter-century. The event reunited SERC scientists and researcher, activists, environmentalists, students, faculty and staff who all contributed to the center in some way over the last 25 years. More than 100 current and past SERC affiliates joined in on the ceremony, which was held at the FIU MMC campus in the SASC building. There have been a number of incredible accomplishments achieved by the Center over the years, including publishing about 1000 articles in prestigious peer-reviewed journals, garnering over $112 million in grant funding, and supporting more than 100 students (undergraduates, graduates and post-docs) every year.
SERC has worked diligently to promote understanding, protection and restoration of the water resources and natural ecosystems in the southeastern United States and the Caribbean. Specifically, the Center places emphasis on Biscayne Bay, Everglades National Park, Florida Bay and the Florida Keys. One of SERC’s main goals is to serve as a resource center providing accurate, detailed and unbiased scientific information to those who must make decisions affecting the sustainability of our fragile natural ecosystems.
The 25-year anniversary kicked off with welcoming remarks from the current SERC Director, Dr. Piero Gardinali. Gardinali has been with SERC for the majority of the 25 years and has witnessed the success of the Center first-hand. He spoke about the incredible connections he has made with others at SERC and the lasting positive impact they, together, have made on the environment, as well as on the university and wider community.
Next up, FIU Provost, Dr. Kenneth Furton, recalled a time when SERC was only an idea waiting to be developed. He pointed to the growth of the Center over the years and extended his congratulations to Center members and partners for an excellent track record in sound and impactful science. Drs. William Cooper and Tom Breslin took the podium after Furton, illustrating the history of the Center, which began as the Drinking Water Research Center in 1993. Cooper, who founded the Drinking Water Research Center, explained the evolution of SERC and the impressive journey that made the center what it is today. Breslin remarked on the very beginning of the Center’s creation – underlining how, despite the numerous obstacles the Center was faced with at first, it was the dedication of its people and their passion for the environment that lifted SERC into such high regard. Former SERC Director, Dr. Rudolf Jaffé, then took the stand to give an important overview of the behind-the-scenes movement that led to SERC’s success.
The Center would not be where it is today without the unwavering support of its numerous partners. Six incredibly important partners spoke to describe their relationship with SERC over the years. Speakers included the Dean of the FIU College of Arts, Sciences and Education – Dr. Michael Heithaus, the Director of the South Florida Natural Resources Center with the National Park Service – Dr. Robert Johnson, the CEO of the Everglades Foundation – Dr. Eric Eikenberg, the Science Coordinator for Everglades National Park – Dr. David Rudnick, Senior Scientist with the EPA – Dr. Peter Kalla, and Regional Science Advisor for USGS – Dr. Nick Aumen. Each partner described the specific contributions that SERC and SERC scientists have made towards the environmental protection of our South Florida region and beyond. Partners emphasized the effectiveness and importance of the Center’s work and the unmatched excellence of Center research.
Once the sustaining partners had spoken, each of the former Directors, including the center’s very first director, Dr. Ron Jones (1998-2003), plus Jaffé (2003-2009), Dr. Joe Boyer (2009-2012), Dr. Len Scinto (2012-2014), Dr. Todd Crowl (2014-2018) and Gardinalli (2018-Present), took a moment to recall their terms as Director and share their most unforgettable memories.
Jones took the crowd back to a time when George Barley, champion of the Everglades with an insatiable passion for nature and wildlife, sat down with him for a meal as they discussed the future of the national park. Jones and Barley disagreed on a few points and Jones left the meeting believing he would never have another chance to sit with Barley again. To his surprise, Barley sought him out shortly thereafter and the start of a strong friendship was afoot. Together, they began planning the survival of the Everglades. Sadly, Barley would not make it long enough to see the incredible success he and Jones initiated. But Mary Barley, his wife who was sitting in the audience as Jones remembered her late-husband, would take up his cause and help to nurture support for what is now an unmatched program for the protection, conservation and ultimate survival of her husband’s cherished national park. Since then, as many of the former Directors who spoke after Jones mentioned, the Center has flourished into a hub of strong, sound scientific research that addresses the threats to our natural water and environmental resources.
As the former Directors finished reminiscing about their years heading the Center, the ceremony was turned over to Crowl and Mary Barley as they announced the new Barley Chair. The Chair, formerly held by Jaffé who is retiring this year, was presented to Dr. Evelyn Gaiser. Gaiser has worked tirelessly and diligently on ensuring that the Everglades survives and thrives. As Crowl expressed, “there is no one better suited for the position of Barley Chair than the woman who has become the ‘Face of the Everglades’.”
The celebration was brought to an end with small bites, catching up with old friends, and ice cream! We thank all of those who attended the ceremony and those who have made SERC what it is today. We look forward to another 25 years (and more) of continued success!
For more information about the Southeast Environmental Research Center, please contact current Center Director, Dr. Piero Gardinali.