‘Out there making a difference’
Lifetime Achievement Award for Research and Creative Activity
Professor, Department of Biology Thomas Harriot College of Arts & Sciences
Senior Scientist, Institute for Coastal Science and Policy
Student influence highlights career
When Roger Rulifson has meetings with members of federal agencies, he doesn’t see strangers anymore. He sees his former students—a testimony of just how far he’s come in 30 years of fisheries research and the difference he’s made.
That’s one of the many reasons that Rulifson, a professor in the Department of Biology and senior scientist for the Institute of Coastal Science and Policy, is this year’s recipient of the 2012-13 Lifetime Achievement for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity Award, one of the most prestigious awards given by East Carolina University. It’s an honor well deserved by someone who is now seeing his former students interview and hire his more current students.
“It’s starting to sink in that I’ve been around a long time and that the work that I do and the students that have been produced by ECU and by my lab are out there making a difference,” Rulifson said. “So I guess this lifetime achievement award is like the crown jewel of that.”
Rulifson received bachelor’s degrees in biology and French from the University of Dubuque in Iowa as well as three degrees from N.C. State University: a master’s. in marine science, a doctorate in marine science and engineering and a postdoctorate in federal management planning with a focus on anadromous fish, which migrate from saltwater to freshwater for spawning. Internationally known for his work in fisheries along the Atlantic, Rulifson came to ECU in 1983 as an adjunct assistant professor in the biology department and an assistant scientist for the Institute for Coastal and Marine Resources.
The author of more than 70 technical and policy reports to fisheries and environmental agencies, Rulifson has secured more than $6.3 million in research funding, including more than $700,000 to tag and investigate striped bass. He has also been heavily engaged in the American Fisheries Society, including serving as president from 2008-10.
Rulifson and his students study migratory patterns and population sizes of species such as striped bass, American and hickory shads and Atlantic sturgeon. He’s also studied and tagged 40,000 spiny dogfish sharks, which have traveled as near as Wilmington and as far as Iceland. His research can have a positive impact on environmental conservation and economic development. If researchers like Rulifson know where species travel, then they can try to ensure that oil and gas developers or the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management don’t build in those areas.
Spiny dogfish sharks are also in demand in Europe and could be put on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora list. If that happens, then the sharks can only be collected and sold by fisheries that have been certified as sustainable. That’s a good economic opportunity for American fishermen and shows why information such as migratory patterns could prove beneficial.
“If that were to happen, it would protect the populations of spiny dogfish in Europe because they’re really overfished, but it would also allow any fishery that was certified as sustainable to sell to Europe,” Rulifson said. “And the United States has the only certified fishery for them.”
Rulifson has also mentored 50 graduate students, who have gone on to work for organizations such as federal agencies and are even starting to hire some of his more current students. He encourages his students to network with potential contacts and guides them in their careers. When one of them gets a job interview, he’ll ask that student questions about what the hiring agency was looking for in their candidates.
“I get all those questions answered and then I put that into my fisheries techniques class and focus on those things that I know state agencies and federal agencies want in a person when they come in to interview,” he said.
Rulifson’s former and current students can’t seem to speak highly enough of his influence. In her letter nominating Rulifson for the award, Jennifer Cudney, a doctoral candidate in coastal resources management, said working in his lab “teaches us how to work successfully with folks from all walks of life, how to understand alternative perspectives, and provides exposure to real-world problems in fisheries management.”
Joshua Murauskas, a senior fish biologist, considers Rulifson a mentor as well as a professor. In his nomination letter, he wrote, “Ask around at the local North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries office, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the editors of the world’s premier fisher publications, or even biologists working in the hub of renewable energy and salmon conservation in the Pacific Northwest: Dr. Rulifson’s mentorship has changed the landscape in natural resource management throughout the country.”