Centennial Story 39: George Pess (PhD, 2009)

George Pess
George Pess

I never thought I would be a student at the age of 39, but there I was in Tom Quinn’s office discussing what classes to take for the fall of 2004 at SAFS. I quickly realized after having met several of my cohorts that I was by far one of the older students if not the oldest. My guess at the time was about 10 to 15 years older than most. I thought to myself,“is this what I should be doing?” I already had a full-time job at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, and a family with two kids (at the time, ages 5 and 2).  Slightly overwhelmed was the definite feeling at the time.

My entire professional career, up to this point, pointed me towards SAFS. Growing up on the shores of Long Island Sound solidified my love and passion for all things aquatic and fish. Whether it was surf casting for bluefish and striped bass or learning how to fly fish for salmon and steelhead once I moved to the Pacific Northwest back in early 1990s, I could not satiate my desire to understand freshwater and marine ecosystems. My work is very much fish habitat oriented, but I was and still am in awe of the salmon life cycle and how these animals sustain across the Pacific Rim. How salmon colonized new habitats seemed to me the most important question I could pursue, and Tom was willing to work with me on this pursuit.

Neala Kendall conducting collecting sockeye salmon carcasses to extract otoliths on Happy Creek, Lake Aleknagik, Alaska
Neala Kendall conducting collecting sockeye salmon carcasses to extract otoliths on Happy Creek, Lake Aleknagik, Alaska

After starting the program at SAFS, it quickly became apparent that while the program was known for their excellent professors who helped me throughout this journey, including Tom Quinn, Daniel Schindler, Ray Hilborn, and Loveday Conquest, it was the students that truly make SAFS a special place. The individuals I met at the time included Jon Moore (PhD, Zoology, 2006), Peter Westley (MS, 2007), Donna Hauser (BS, 2002; MS, 2006; PhD, 2016), Neala Kendall (MS, 2007; PhD, 2011), Todd Seamons (PhD, 2005), Thomas Buehrens (MS, 2011), Joe Anderson (MS, 2006), Keith Denton (MS, 2008), Sue Johnson (PhD, 2011), Lauren Rogers (PhD, 2010), Stephanie Carlson (PhD, 2006), Harry Rich (MS, 2006), Chris Boatright (MS, 2003), Jackie Carter (MS, 2010), Jonny Armstrong (PhD, 2012), Gordon Holtgrieve (PhD, 2009), Matt Baker (PhD, 2011), and Tessa Francis (PhD, 2009) are all incredible people, and I was fortunate to know and work with them. My daughters Samantha and Olivia grew up with these people; some even babysat our girls. Many of these former students and faculty are still part of my life as friends and peers. Now I can tell stories in which my daughters babysat their children. And recently, my oldest, Samantha, was able to experience the wonders of Alaska as part of the Alaska Salmon Program, thanks to Daniel Schindler.

Sue Johnson and Jon Moore during a sockeye salmon spawner survey on Ice Creek, Lake Nerka, Alaska
Sue Johnson and Jon Moore during a sockeye salmon spawner survey on Ice Creek, Lake Nerka, Alaska

I am part of SAFS as an affiliate assistant professor, and I really cannot think of a better way to continue my connection. I am grateful for what I learned while a student at SAFS because I continue to apply it to my work on the Elwha dam removal. Thank you SAFS, and I hope to contribute a small portion of what I have gained over the last 14 years.

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