CORPUS CHRISTI — Robert Vega’s career as a marine biologist along the Gulf of Mexico has been coasting.
With a family, a job and no access to advanced education in his field, Vega’s hopes for a doctoral degree were an ocean away.
But a new agreement between the Corpus Christi and College Station campuses of Texas A&M University will make a 230-mile connection for people like Vega who want an advanced degree but can’t leave careers and move families to attend graduate school.
Beginning this spring, the universities will allow people in Corpus Christi to work on a doctoral program in Texas A&M’s wildlife and fisheries sciences department. The plan will draw on professors from both campuses and courses taught either traditionally or by video conferences and specially arranged field trips. Corpus Christi students, however, will do research in their own backyards — along the Gulf coast.
“This is a wave of the future in education,” said Dr. Bob Brown, Texas A&M wildlife and fisheries sciences department head. “Often people who have master’s degrees can’t leave for the period of time it would take to get a doctorate elsewhere. And, it makes economic sense to taxpayers to use the best from each campus instead of duplicating facilities all over the state.”
Dr. Wes Tunnell, a marine biologist and director of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s Center for Coastal Studies, said the university has produced about 80 master’s of biology degrees since 1975. A new master of environmental sciences degree begun in 1992 promises to outdo the biology program, he said.
“So we have two pools of students that could benefit from this agreement,” said Tunnell, one of four Corpus Christi researchers given visiting professor status at Texas A&M-College Station to oversee the doctoral candidates. He expects five to 10 doctoral students a year.
Tunnell said because the Texas gulf has many regions and habitats — such as the wind tidal flats behind the barrier islands — that have not been studied in detail, the doctoral programs will produce much new, beneficial information about the environment.
Doctoral students still will have to come to College Station for two semesters, Brown said. Some course work and all the research can be done in Corpus Christi through co- advisers from both campuses, he said.
Brown said similar arrangements are being pursued with other campuses of the Texas A&M University System. He cited, for example, a joint doctorate under development with Texas A&M-Kingsville where the emphasis is on wildlife.
For Vega, director of marine enhancement for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the agreement extends the opportunity he has wanted for almost 10 years since obtaining his master’s.
“This will help me develop self-confidence in my field, to be an authority in marine fish hatcheries,” he said. “I’m of the mind frame that you should never stop learning. I’d be foolish not to take advantage of this.”