Dr. Jeff Schell
Associate Professor, Oceanography
From childhood, Jeff Schell was intrigued by the ocean. But growing up in an Ohio farm town, he only imagined the sea, via a picture book of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea . "It seemed to be the great unknown. I had no frame of reference so my imagination ran wild. I associated adventure and mystery with oceanography," recalls Jeff, who didn’t experience the ocean until his mid-teens. "Even before I saw the ocean, I wanted to be an oceanographer. I magined Jacques Cousteau, a bunch of scuba diving in tropical locations."
Jeff, 35, did indeed become an oceanographer, learning along the way that scuba diving in tropical locales is usually not part of the job. At Holy Cross in Worcester , MA, where he was captain of the soccer team, Jeff stood out with his thesis on salamanders. "On the weekends, while everyone did something else, I collected salamanders in the marshes," says Jeff. "That was the closest I got to oceanography."
Jeff got closer still by earning a master’s in oceanography at Stony Brook, studying zooplankton distribution. At the same time, he worked as an assistant SEA scientist, doing 13 trips, his first in 1994. "Oddly enough, I wasn’t drawn because of the sailing, I was drawn because of the science, and the teaching model SEA ses," he says. "It is a wonderful environment to teach in."
At SEA, Jeff quickly became known as a stand-out teacher. "He provides so much to the program," says Academic Dean Paul Joyce, a chief scientist on cruises with Jeff. Says Captain Phil Sacks of S-192: "He is a constant ball of energy, enthusiastic about everything."
In 1997, Audrey Meyer, then the academic dean, gave Jeff an offer he never forgot. "She said to me, ‘If you just had your PhD, we’d sign you up to be our chief scientist," he says. So he earned his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin in an intense four years, studying freshwater zooplankton diversity. "As far as my goal to come back, it never wavered," he says.
In September, 2003, Jeff attained his goal. Hired as chief scientist, he turned in his dissertation and three hours later drove out to Woods Hole. The first song on the car radio was ‘Walking on Sunshine.’ "I discovered SEA in the early ’90s, and here I am, 10 years later and I felt like I was walking on sunshine, heading for Woods Hole," Jeff says. The trip wasn’t all sunshine, however, as his Blazer broke down three times along the way, eachbreakdown requiring a repair. "But eventually," he says, "I made it."
Jeff recently made another memorable trip. "There’s a hazing ceremony for sailors their first time across the equator, and all of the students chipped in to haze him," recalls Captain Sacks. "You had to crawl through a gauntlet of food and rotten fish on deck. He was laughing, he took it all in good fun."
While ashore, Jeff lives in Woods Hole and plays soccer in a competitive soccer league. An avid reader, his tastes range from fiction to essays on the environment. "For the longest time getting here was my goal. And then I found myself asking, ‘What’s next’?," says Jeff. "I now know I need to become the best teacher I can be. And that goal may be the more difficult to attain."