VIMS professor recognized with prestigious award

  • Graves Award   President Taylor Reveley (R) introduces VIMS professor and Graves Award winner John Graves (L) during commencement at William & Mary.   © E. Freyer/WM.
  • SCHEV Award   Then governor Mark Warner (R) and Dr. John Graves during presentation of the SCHEV outstanding faculty awards in 2004.  
  • Fish Tagging   VIMS professor John Graves with a tagged cobia.  
Photo - of -
William & Mary honors Graves during commencement

Dr. John Graves, Chancellor Professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, was honored with the Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr. Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching during William & Mary’s commencement ceremony on Saturday.

The annual award—named for the 23rd president of the college—recognizes professors who display a strong commitment to the education of students and service to the university. W&M President Taylor Reveley chooses the recipients from nominations submitted by each of the academic deans. In addition to Graves, W&M History Professor Philip Daileader was also honored with the award during the college's 323rd commencement ceremony.

John Graves (L) receives the Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr. Award from W&M President Taylor Reveley (R). ©S. Salpukas/W&M.Graves, chair of the Fisheries Science Department at VIMS, began his service to the institute in 1990. In the ensuing years he has mentored 36 doctoral and master’s students in W&M’s School of Marine Science at VIMS, with many now providing their own high-level contributions to research and service in fishery institutions around the world. He also teaches a number of challenging and popular courses, including Fundamentals of Marine Fisheries Science and Marine Molecular Genetics, the latter his particular area of expertise.

On the research and service front, Graves is an internationally recognized fisheries geneticist and a world-class scholar with more than 90 peer-reviewed publications in leading scientific journals such as Fishery Bulletin, ICES Journal of Marine Science, Molecular Ecology, and Science. He provides national and international leadership through service on key commissions, panels, and boards, including his role as U.S. chair of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas and the National Marine Fisheries Service’s advisory panel for highly migratory species.

In announcing the award during W&M commencement, Reveley called Graves “an innovative and highly effective educator, a world-class fisheries scientist, and a stellar public servant of William & Mary and the School of Marine Science.”

When asked his thoughts on receiving the award, Graves says “As a department chair, I’m very much aware of the high quality of classroom teaching and student mentorship at VIMS and the College as a whole. William & Mary is recognized for excellence in education, and that really makes receiving the Graves Award special to me.” On a lighter note, he adds “I admit there might be a perception of nepotism, but for the record, I am not related to Thomas Ashley Graves.”

Dr. John Wells, VIMS Dean and Director, says “John is an outstanding member of our faculty. He has and continues to make major contributions to our programs through teaching, mentoring, and academic leadership, and plays an important role in supporting the overall mission of VIMS and the College.”

Professor Linda Schaffner, Associate Dean of Academic Studies at VIMS and a long-time colleague, adds “John very intentionally built his impressive record by intertwining research with education. His research and advisory efforts don’t take away from the education or training of his students, but instead provide valuable opportunities for their professional and personal development.”

Graves (R) with graduate student Dan Dutton and a pair of mahi mahi caught off the coast of Venezuela.Graves agrees: “I know that my research and advisory service experiences have enriched my classroom teaching and provided unique opportunities for my graduate students. There is a real educational synergism that results from VIMS' tripartite mission and I believe the Graves Award recognizes that synergy.”

During just the last few years, students under Graves’ mentorship have collected tissue samples from billfish in the open waters of the Atlantic, attached satellite tracking tags to tuna off Venezuela, sampled snails from a Turkish fishing village on the Black Sea, and gathered squid from a Japanese fishing vessel in the middle of the Pacific.

Professor Roger Mann, a longtime Fisheries colleague and former Associate Dean of Research and Advisory Service at VIMS, says that Graves also involves his students in policymaking. “Fisheries management organizations draw on John’s scientific knowledge, policy expertise, and skills in diplomacy to effect better management of the world’s tuna and billfish. It’s also not unusual for his students to end up at an international regulatory meeting interpreting data from their thesis or dissertation research in a resource-management context that has global fisheries impact.”

Ana Veríssimo, a former PhD student who is now a post-doctoral scholar at the Research Center in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources in Portugal, echoes these assessments, saying she greatly appreciated Graves’ mentoring strategy.

“John was supportive of my PhD plans from the start and stood by me all the way,” says Veríssimo. “He made me think critically about my results and their implications, supported me in taking advantage of opportunities to meet and collaborate with others outside VIMS, and highlighted the importance of science outreach. My overall experience at VIMS was life-changing, personally and professionally, and John was certainly part of it.”

In addition to the Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr. Award from W&M, Graves’ research and teaching accomplishments have been recognized with a number of other prestigious honors, including Sport Fishing magazine's "Making a Difference" Award (2011), the International Game Fish Association’s Individual Conservation Award (2007), NOAA Fisheries Service Special Recognition Award (2006), an Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (2004), and W&M’s Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award (1995).