Dr Tracy Romano, A Big Moment, and A Case of the Jitters at Yale
Dr. Tracy Romano
We are all thrilled to learn that Dr. Tracy Romano, Vice President of Research and Chief Scientist at Mystic Aquarium is being awarded an honorary degree from her alma mater, Saint Michael’s College in Winooski, Vermont, at their commencement ceremony in a few weeks.
Dr. Romano is greatly deserving of this high honor. She will be sharing the dais with an extraordinary small group of remarkable leaders. You can read more about Dr. Romano and the Saint Michael College commencement by linking to:
A Big Moment
On Thursday, after more than a year of preparation, a new integrated software program for admissions, membership, fund raising, reservations and retail sales was launched successfully. The system allows Mystic Aquarium to provide a much more advanced level of customer service and experience.
Guests can now download tickets at home after purchasing online and speed through the admissions gate. Transactions for food, beverage and other items will be much more efficient. We will also be able to analyze and understand our customer needs and key market areas more effectively.
Many people were involved in this massive project and I want to express my deep appreciation to all. At the same time, I would like to acknowledge in a special way, Jim Meyers, Director of Information Technology; Melanie Evans, Director of Guest Services; and Richard Darling, Controller, for their efforts in organizing this project and assuring that the launch was successful.
A Case of the Jitters at Yale
This past Wednesday, I was very pleased to be invited as the keynote speaker at an event organized by the Graduate Student and Professional Senate at Yale University. Entitled, “Inspiring Yale” the event honored 13 faculty members from each of the graduate schools at Yale.
The Faculty were selected by graduate students in each school for having brought inspiration to their particular field and to students through their teaching. Each faculty member gave a seven minute talk.
I asked the chairman of the event, Etienne Greenlee, why I was invited. He was kind enough to say that he is a fan of Mystic Aquarium. Another graduate student working the event asked me if I ever get nervous giving a talk… Just imagine sitting through 13 brilliant talks ranging from the Greek debt crisis, to Shakespeare and views on modern law…knowing that you are the last up at bat!
In any case, I had the privilege of paying tribute to my predecessor as president of Mystic Aquarium, Dr. Jerry Burrow and now would like to share it with you:
I am the youngest of five boys, so I am used to going last and being cut off.
The job tonight, I know, is to try to summarize all of the wonderful remarks that we have been privileged to hear from a remarkable group of faculty from 13 schools within the University. This should be a simple task.
I believe that a few messages that we heard tonight are most apropos. For example, stories matter. And stigma matters. Too often our stories are related to stigmas and those stigmas affect our health and the health of others.
We heard, too, that stories have power. Your stories have power. And we learned that everything in our world is connected from the microbial to viruses, to economic equations and how we view time and space.
Humbly, I suggest, that much of what we talked about tonight has to do with mental models. We each create, retain and then recreate mental models and if we seek to be inspired and to inspire, we must then establish a mental model that allows for our capacity to respond with hope.
Tonight I would like to share with you a little story about someone from Yale who continues to inspire me.
His name is Gerard, “Jerry” Burrow. Dr. Burrow was an endocrinologist who graduated from Yale Medical School in 1958, served on the faculty for many years, was an accomplished dean at several other medical schools and then returned as the 14th Dean of Yale Medical School.
I first met Jerry when he became President of Mystic Aquarium. He recruited me to help develop a national after-school and youth empowerment program for at-risk youth focusing on building science skills and conservation of local environments.
I could not for the life of me understand what an accomplished medical doctor was doing running an aquarium and talking about programs for at-risk youth, but it sounded exciting. Let me come back to my friend Jerry in just a moment.
To be sure, our world is always beset with seemingly insurmountable challenges that tug at our hearts, our souls and our sense of reason.
One group, The Millennium Project, has mapped 15 areas of crisis for policy makers in the world to consider. They range from global ethics to peace and conflict, health issues, democratization, energy and transnational organized crime, to name a few.
While these are all key issues, the sheer magnitude and complexity can quickly overwhelm us and bring our desire to help to a standstill. Today, I would like to suggest three interconnected concepts, or action areas, where even small steps can make a very big difference.
The areas are water, women and welfare. These are not slogans or oversimplifications of what is complex and daunting; these three W’s are powerful ways of organizing ourselves, our politics, our policies and our resources for profound and positive change in the world.
Water is our life. It covers 70% of earth’s surface. More than 60% of our bodies are water. Water keeps our blood flowing, our brains working, our cells reproducing, our bodies nourished.
Water regulates our body temperature and keeps the globe from burning up. Water is a primary provider of food and protein. One fifth of the world’s population depends exclusively on water sourced food.
Yet we take water for granted. We pollute it with our sewage and refuse. We fish with abandon. We overbuild our coastlines and minimize the threat of flooding to our security.
Access to clean water is increasingly the cause of conflict in our nation and globally. Famine, food shortages and lack of access to energy are less significant in terms of human impact than water shortages.
Today, 20 million people in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yeman are endangered because their access to water is diminishing as a result of drought. In the United States, we see the devastating impact of water problems in Flint, Michigan but it is also a problem in other areas.
In fact, 1.2 billion people around the world lack access to clean water. This reality is the cause of intense poverty, war, starvation or malnourishment, serious disease, impaired economic development, child mortality, birth defects and many other social, economic and political problems.
When we think of women’s issues, we tend to jump towards particular aspects of the challenge such as equal pay, glass ceilings or reproductive issues. The overarching challenge, however, is empowering women globally.
Women continue to be subjugated throughout the world. The condition of women globally is appalling. 60% of the world’s chronic hungry are women and the majority of illiterate people in the world are women because women are systematically excluded from primary education in many parts of the world.
Yet women, their health, education and welfare, hold the key to solving most of our world’s vexing issues. This is not some slogan for a bumper sticker; it is a practical and indisputable reality.
Every instance of empowering women brings us closer to closing a gaping hole that has been sloganized and perhaps trivialized as the “Gender Gap”.
In fact, empowering women is key to ending violence which is overwhelmingly perpetrated against women, increasing child survival rates, increasing food production and therefore reducing hunger and increasing sustainability, just to name a few advantages.
The third W concerns one of the most maligned terms in our culture, Welfare. The very concept of the well-being of the general public has been reduced to the notion of “hand-outs” or in the United States, polarization around social programs.
Yet one of the pillars of the Constitution of the United States of America, in the Preamble, is that in attempting to form a “more perfect union” we seek to “promote the general welfare.”
We, you and I, need to decide what promoting the general welfare means. In the United States, 20% of our children live in abject poverty. More than 25% of African Americans and 22% of Hispanics are poor, and those rates are rising even as the overall poverty rate remains relatively flat at 14% of the nation’s population.
In our world, 767 million people live in extreme poverty and 328 million of them are children. We know that wealth is increasingly concentrated in fewer nations and people.
As with water, and perhaps even women, we can easily overlook the general welfare as being a core value and building block of civilized society. The very concept has become trivialized and is talked about with disdain. Few policy ideas have emerged in recent years from the left, right or center to address the general welfare, excepting of course , the national debate on health care in the United States.
In my office I keep a copy of a speech delivered by Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel on the occasion of being presented the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement by President Ronald Reagan in 1985.
President Reagan was about to embark on a trip to Germany where he planned to visit Bitburg Military Cemetery, where 47 SS officers of the German Elite Guard are buried. The President’s visit to Bitburg was insulting to many Jews and Eli Wiesel had a difficult task in accepting an award from President Reagan under the circumstances.
He chose dialog that day. He chose also to use the opportunity to speak not in bold criticism but in words of inspirational hope. He said,
“I have learned the danger of indifference, the crime of indifference. For the opposite of love, I have learned, is not hate, but indifference.”
I started with a tribute to Dr. Jerry Burrow, my predecessor as president of Mystic Aquarium. Dr. Burrow understood the complexity of the world and its myriad issues.
Yet he also saw the importance of focusing his energy. He bridged the world of Yale Medical School with Mystic Aquarium, because he saw the need to engage people in conservation to promote human health.
He was devoted to promoting the use of iodine in salt around the world, flying to remote parts of the world to make this a reality because iodine deficiency is the leading cause of delayed or impaired mental development.
I asked him once why he did this and how he saw all of his many interests coming together. He noted that iodine deficiency is directly linked to clean water, women’s health, and the welfare and well-being of people, particularly in developing nations.
You see I learned the importance of the three W’s from Jerry. He made a difference by refusing to become indifferent, by being in dialog and seeing the intrinsic link between his acts and the greater good.
In my lifetime I have seen much progress on issues like racism, women’s rights, pollution control and the life expectancy of people throughout the world.
As we heard tonight, knowledge emerges in the most unexpected ways and when we question and loosen the boundaries of knowledge, we advance knowledge. Such advancement has consequences, and let us hope that one consequence is to overcome some of what we now see as vexing issues of our own time and place.
See you all soon!