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Generations of students and colleagues revere professor emeritus Don Kelso.

Chris Powell, BS Biology ’73, MS ’77, Dr. Kelso’s very first advisee, took every Kelso course he could. He marvels at how his favorite professor put a “tremendous amount of time and effort into field trips,” from Martha’s Vineyard to Jamaica to the Eastern Shore.

As a member of “Kelso’s Krew,” Powell helped assess aquatic life in Fairfax streams, ready the boat R/V Gunston, and build Kelso’s field program. In return, the professor provided him many free books, “a solid foundation for a career in fisheries and marine science,” and lifelong mentorship.

“All these experiences increased my desire to become a marine biologist,” Powell says. “I would truly credit the success of my career as a marine and fisheries biologist to Don’s encouragement, influence, and guidance.” For my part, Dr. Kelso introduced me to unimagined aquatic life: the winged sea robin, actually a featherless fish, that breached the waves trying to escape our trawl net, and an 18-inch mantis shrimp, its vorpal claws a blur, slicing everything in its bucket into sashimi. He taught me how to do boat-based research and showed me that the seaweed on Virginia beaches was actually edible laver.

Many students loved Kelso’s signature estuarine ecology class. The friendships we forged on our field trips to the Chesapeake Bay and Delmarva’s Atlantic lagoons are sustained a quarter century later, thanks largely to Dr. Kelso’s inviting every student to be an equal partner of his crew and research team. Powell has spent years championing the creation of a Don Kelso Learning Pier at Mason’s Potomac Science Center. He now leads our alumni effort to raise support to build the pier. Co-chairs include Mason graduates Cheryl Bright, Gary Johnston, Chuck Parker, Mike Cooke, and me.

College of Science dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm has resourced the feasibility study. Dr. Kelso’s former crewman Sean Gagnon, BS Earth Science ’10, is doing the civil engineering and environmental work.

Before lifting anchor, Gagnon wrote to me, “I’ll be out on a boat counting [submerged aquatic vegetation], just like the good ol’ days.” Gagnon spent the summer of 2006 counting aquatic wildlife aboard one of Dr. Kelso’s boats.

Modest, wise, resourceful, and kind, Dr. Kelso embodies so much of what we cherish in learning and discovery at Mason. In describing him, our colleague and Mason professor Chris Parsons even suggested a new title for our friend: “the Mr. Rogers of estuarine ecology.” So, it was no surprise that it has been all hands on deck as we gathered twice this year to pay tribute to one who has selflessly provided so much to so many.


Cover of the Spring 1985 issue of George Mason magazine featuring Don Kelso.

Dann Sklarew, PhD Environmental Science and Public Policy ’00, is now a professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy. If you would like to know more about the learning pier or the new Mason Environmental Alumni Network, you can contact him at dsklarew@gmu.edu.

To see coverage of the Kelso tribute, visit bit.ly/kelsokrew.

Do you fondly remember certain places within the Mason community that exemplified the “college experience”? Did a specific Mason professor or mentor influence your life and career? If so, tell us about it. Send your submission to spirit@gmu.edu. Please keep submissions to a maximum of 500 words.

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GET OUT THE VOTE—“Your vote is an expression of your voice, and we should never support anything that would stifle somebody’s voice or take their power,” Vice President Kamala Harris told students when she appeared on Mason’s Fairfax Campus September 29 to commemorate National Voter Registration Day. Photos by Ron Aira