Corbett looks to bring more teachers, students to research institute
Over the past two decades, coastal scientist Dr. Reide Corbett has developed a deep appreciation for the Outer Banks. Now, as he takes the reigns at the Coastal Studies Institute (CSI), he is looking to expand its reach and mission to include significantly more students, teachers and ongoing research.
In August, Corbett was named CSI executive director, as well as East Carolina University’s (ECU) dean of integrated coastal programs. Since 2014, East Carolina has overseen operations at CSI, as well as made administrative decisions in regard to the center. CSI’s other partner universities in the UNC system provide guidance as well as participate in carrying out the institute’s mission.
A lifelong waterman who grew up along the Neuse River and surfed the break at Atlantic Beach, Corbett, 47, earned his Ph.D. in chemical oceanography from Florida State University and was instrumental in developing ECU’s coastal resources management doctoral program. He joined CSI in 2012 as the head of CSI’s Coastal Processes program.
He says he’s drawn to the Outer Banks as both a scientist and a water lover. “I’ve been to every single continent doing research. I’ve worked on beaches around the world,” he says. “I don’t think there is any system that is quite like this.”
One major item on Corbett’s agenda is to better utilize the lonely-looking 52,000-square-foot CSI facility that sits off N.C. Highway 345 among pristine marshlands on the road that leads to Wanchese. He hopes to do this by bringing undergraduate and graduate courses to CSI, as well as increasing its research faculty. The institute, after operating out of a few small offices in downtown Manteo, opened its doors in 2013.
Corbett says CSI prides itself in the research it conducts locally. Still, he acknowledges that some people in the community are unfamiliar with what happens in that large open-air facility, which includes three classrooms, two wet labs, a seminar room, computer-teaching lab, design lab and catering kitchen.
“I think there are still some people who sort of wonder what we are doing, which just means the word’s not out there,” Corbett notes. “It’s important to reach as many people in the community as we can.”
Being a coastal science clearinghouse for the community is an important part of its mission, he adds. “It’s what we always sort of prided ourselves in, being good stewards of science and providing the science that’s needed when it’s needed. We aren’t trying to drive policy or decision-making. We want to make sure the community has the science needed to address the questions they have.”
Corbett mentions a number of CSI-led research projects that directly benefit Dare County, as well as a solid educational outreach program that includes field trips, school presentations and a robust summer camp program. Every fall, 10 to 15 Chapel Hill students come to CSI for a semester to focus on a project that impacts the local community as part of a program called the Outer Banks Field School.
In Corbett’s new position, he will not only focus on the management of CSI and the operations at the field facility, but also on bolstering the connections between faculty and staff at the ECU and CSI campuses.
“The dean position,” Corbett asserts, “is really trying to integrate across the entire campus and focus on coastal research and coastal education at ECU as a whole, which includes this incredible field location at the coast.”
The new director talks about hiring more faculty and offering more courses at the site. He anticipates bringing in four new faculty members at CSI in the next year, with the hope of increasing those numbers in the future.
“My vision is that we would have ten to fifteen research faculty at CSI full time, doing research and teaching. It’s important to look for ways to link the two campuses [of CSI and ECU] and…get faculty back and forth.” That also includes attracting more ECU students to the facility.
“One of the things we will be doing is developing more undergraduate and graduate programs to get more students out to our campus,” Corbett says. “In order to get there, we need to increase the number of scientists we have out here.”
He notes that housing will be a key obstacle, but says CSI has begun discussions with local leaders about the issue.
“I think we do a good job at handling [housing for] fifteen to twenty students for a semester or short-term field trips, but we have to think about getting forty students out here for a semester,” Corbett offers. “That is the kind of growth I want to see, so we have to think about how we are going to attack that.”
Corbett notes that CSI stands apart from other marine science centers in North Carolina because of the area’s unique environment.
“Whether you look at the social aspects or the geological aspects, it’s a different sort of coastline compared to the Emerald Coast or Wilmington,” he says. “From that aspect, having a marine center up here makes sense because it’s more isolated and it does have very quick access to the Gulf Stream.”
He points to the miles of undeveloped coastline, and the fact that the Outer Banks is home to the second largest estuarine system in the country, as a few of the reasons it’s a special place: “We also have very complicated connections through our inlets. It’s an incredible place to work from a research standpoint, and I think that is what makes people excited to be here.”