Friday, February 05, 2010
Contact: Dave Wellman, Director of Communications (304) 696-7153

Shelba Pew supports aquatic research in Marshall’s College of Science

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall University alumna Shelba Pew recently donated $50,000 to MU’s College of Science to be used in support of aquatic research. Pew made the donation in honor of her late father, William Cunningham Pew.

According to Dr. Charles Somerville, Dean of the College of Science, Pew’s donation will support the study of algal population dynamics in large rivers – an important first step in realizing the potential benefits of algae.

“It’s difficult to express the importance of Ms. Pew’s generosity to our work in this area,” Somerville said. “Working in large rivers requires equipment and supplies that are just not necessary in smaller streams, and that drives up the complexity and cost of the studies.  Still, you have to produce preliminary data in order to realistically compete for large external grants.  Ms. Pew’s donation will allow us to do the necessary preliminary work, and that will lead to extraordinary benefits for Marshall, the State of West Virginia, and all of the communities that depend on West Virginia water and energy.”

Pew, who spent her childhood walking by Marshall’s Huntington campus on her way to elementary school, is a 1936 graduate of Marshall College’s Teacher’s College program. She later earned a master’s degree at Duke University, then returned to West Virginia to teach science in the public school system until her retirement. Pew first taught biology, general science and a few math classes in Logan County and at Barboursville Junior High School.

She has spent much of her adult life helping future Marshall University students through her generosity.  Many students owe their degrees to the scholarships she has funded on a science teacher’s salary and family inheritance.

Pew has generously donated to Marshall University through various gifts to the College of Science and College of Education and Human Services. She is involved in many societies at Marshall University including: the President’s Circle, Heritage Society and John Marshall Society, and she has an Alumni lifetime membership.

Pew has served as a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy W.A.V.E.S. (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) which was initiated during World War II by President Franklin Roosevelt. 

Somerville summarized the need for the aquatics research Pew is supporting:

“Large segments of the U.S. population depend on West Virginia for both water and energy resources.  Coal produces more than half of the electricity generated in the United States, and West Virginia is the second largest coal producing state in the nation.  West Virginia, with more than 32,000 miles of rivers and streams, is also situated at the headwaters of both the Ohio and Potomac River drainage basins.

“The problems associated with developing necessary energy resources while conserving vital rivers and streams are large, but part of the solution may be found in the smallest of the state’s biota – the microscopic green algae, diatoms, and cyanobacteria that thrive in our surface waters.  These organisms grow and multiply by withdrawing CO2 from the environment.  They store energy in the form of oils, they complex soluble nitrogen and phosphorous into organic molecules and, depending on environmental conditions, they can either produce oxygen or contribute to anoxic dead zones in receiving waters.

“Knowing how to take advantage of these characteristics can allow us to manage some of our most pressing environmental issues.  For example, algal growth ‘sequesters’ CO2 and can be manipulated to offset CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels.  The uptake of nitrogen and phosphorous can be used to remove excess nutrients from farmland runoff and municipal wastewater treatment facilities that contribute to dead zone formation.

“Algal fats and oils can be used to produce biofuels, and their biomass can be used as soil additives, or to reduce the free oxygen in mine voids that leads to the production of acid mine drainage.  It is no exaggeration to say that the microscopic algae may be our biggest allies in the struggle to balance energy production and water conservation.”

Somerville said Pew has made other donations in support of aquatic research at Marshall University.  He said her continued generosity has inspired researchers in the College of Science to name one of their research boats the “R/V Shelba Pew” (the “R/V” designation standing for “Research Vessel”).

“We are really grateful to Ms. Shelba for her support,” Somerville said. “We think of her every time we go out on the water, and naming the boat in her honor insures that other people also think of her when they see Marshall students and faculty engaged in aquatic research projects.”

For more information, contact Somerville at 304-696-2424.


Photo: Shelba Pew made a gift to the College of Science to support aquatic research.

For further information, contact:  Office of University Communications
Marshall University | 213 Old Main | Huntington, WV 25755-1090
Fax: (304) 696-3197