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Awards & Honors

Veteran Marine Biologist Named
Cal State Fullerton Outstanding Professor


May 6, 2003 :: No. 226

Steven Murray being named Outstanding Professor of the year
CSUF President Milton A. Gordon, far right, and Vice President of Academic Affairs Ephraim Smith, third from right, awarding Steven N. Murray, seated center, the Outstanding Professor Award.

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Steven N. Murray, a longtime researcher of marine life in coastal waters, particularly in Orange County, is this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Professor Award, Cal State Fullerton’s highest faculty honor.

Murray, a professor of biological science who has taught at the university for more than three decades, is recognized as one of the world’s authorities in the field of phycology (the study of marine plants), intertidal ecology and coastal marine conservation. The Placentia resident is sought after by students across the country who come to Fullerton to pursue graduate studies in marine biology.

Murray received news of the honor in the midst of his Thursday night seminar class on the human impact on coastal marine environments. President Milton A. Gordon and university officials made a surprise visit to his class, with balloons, a plaque and a sculpture of a dolphin that was presented to Murray amid cheers and applause by his students.

“You were selected for this award because you embody the finest qualities of our university’s faculty and that of the California State University faculty,” Gordon told Murray. “You set a standard for the rest of the faculty that is exemplary and one that should serve as a model for everyone to emulate.”

Instrumental in ongoing processes to create an improved system of marine reserves in California, Murray has been nominated to serve on the newly created National Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee, which provides advice and recommendations to the secretaries of commerce and the interior on marine protected areas.

He is one of only two Californians nominated to the committee.

“I have relied on Dr. Murray’s research and advice for more than 20 years in conducting my own research and in guiding national park stewardship in California,” noted Gary E. Davis, visiting chief scientist of the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. “He is recognized nationally and internationally as an outstanding marine ecologist and as a leader in developing, interpreting and applying science to major policy issues.”

Over the years, Murray has been awarded more than $1 million in research grants from such federal agencies as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, largely through the USC Sea Grant Program, and the Minerals Management Service of the U.S. Department of Interior.

Steven N. Murray
Graduate marine biology student Aimee Bullard, left, and senior Nicolle Panos, chat about seaweed with Steve Murray, professor of biological science, who is an expert on marine plants. He is holding a sample of Pterocladiella capillacea. Murray’s research involving a variety of seaweed known as the “killer algae” led to a ban of certain species of this plant in California.

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“He is well known around the world as a phycologist, ecologist, naturalist and conservation biologist,” said Paul Dayton of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “Even as I sit here, I can think of people from at least six countries who have sung his praise to me. His papers are heavily cited and very highly regarded. Scientifically, he is a star.”

On campus, Murray has mentored numerous graduate and undergraduate students over the years and has held various administrative posts, including acting director of athletics in 1994, acting associate dean of the then School of Mathematics, Science and Engineering in the early 1980s and chair of the Biological Science Department in the mid ’80s. He is a member of the Cal State Fullerton Foundation Board of Directors and has served on many campus committees. A past president of the Phycological Society of America, he is active in various professional organizations.

As a former softball and Little League baseball coach, Murray has assisted students on the playing field as well as in the laboratory. One of the players on a West Placentia Little League team that he co-managed was Phil Nevin, who won the 1992 Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top amateur baseball player as a member of the Titan baseball squad and is now with the San Diego Padres.

Murray has authored or co-authored more than 100 articles in scientific journals and produced more than 125 papers and posters, which have been presented at scientific conferences in the United States and internationally. He also has received numerous awards, in recognition of his scholarly activities and teaching excellence.

In efforts to identify how to improve coastal management, Murray has been working closely with officials from Orange County, the Ocean Institute at Dana Point, state parks and the city of Newport Beach.

One of his other major research projects involves non-native seaweeds that have invaded local coastal waters, particularly the seaweed known as the “killer algae” Caulerpa taxifolia. This green feather-like seaweed native to Australia is popular with salt-water aquarium enthusiasts because the plant is hardy and attractive. In summer 2000, the species appeared in waters near San Diego and Huntington Harbour, possibly as the result of aquarium owners emptying the contents of their aquariums into the sea.

Murray’s research and findings with his student Susan Frisch supported a bill passed by the Legislature that banned the sale and possession of several species of the seaweed, because of fears that these species could also spread rapidly and create large changes in marine bottom communities, like the “killer algae” C. taxifolia.

Murray’s associates praise his teaching and research activities. “He has consistently demonstrated excellence in teaching and mentoring students, has maintained an externally funded and very active laboratory and has published the results of his research in peer-reviewed publications, often with student co-authors,” stated C. Eugene Jones Jr., professor and chair of biological science, in a nomination letter for Murray that was co-signed by four veteran professors in the department.

“I am inspired by his diverse accomplishments, aided by his many contributions and reassured by his warm and sensible collegiality,” noted Michael H. Horn, a 30-year colleague of Murray’s and a fellow Outstanding Professor. “Steve excels as a teacher, scientist, university academician and global citizen.”

The succinct reply offered by Aimee Bullard, a graduate student in Murray’s lab who will be speaking next week before the Southern California Academy of Sciences, typifies the high esteem students have for the marine biologist. When the Long Beach resident was asked why she’s attending Cal State Fullerton instead of CSULB, she replied: “Steve Murray.”

In a letter to the selection committee, Bullard noted: “Murray uses his vast experiences out in the field to enhance his teaching. His is very approachable and willing to share his vast knowledge with his students. It is exciting to take a seminar from him on marine reserve science knowing that he is the top in his field and that this is cutting-edge research.”

The honoree holds a doctorate from UCI, as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UC Santa Barbara.

His selection for the Outstanding Professor Award was recommended to Gordon by a 12-member committee chaired by John Olmsted, emeritus professor of chemistry and biochemistry and recipient of the 1997-98 Outstanding Professor Award. Established in 1963, the honor includes a $4,000 cash award from the President’s Associates.

Murray will be recognized formally at the university’s May 30 Honors Convocation, held in conjunction with commencement ceremonies. The convocation is set for 7 p.m. in Portola Pavilion of the Titan Student Union. As part of the award, Murray will have the honor of leading the academic procession at commencement. In addition, he will give an Outstanding Professor Lecture next spring.

Media Contacts: Steven N. Murray, professor of biological science, at 657-278-7291 or smurray@fullerton.edu
Dave Reid, Public Affairs, at 657-278-4855 or dreid@fullerton.edu

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