Island University Hosts Alumni Shrimp Boil, Honors Three Leaders in College of Science

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – There was plenty of sunshine and great company to enjoy at the Seventh Annual Alumni Shrimp Boil on Oct. 22, which was hosted by the College of Science (COS) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Each year the college recognizes the contributions of a member of its community at the event. Due to the pandemic, this was the first held in three years.

COS alumni, faculty, and staff gathered to honor three members of the Islander community – Dr. Blair Sterba-Boatwright, former Associate Dean of the College of Science and Engineering (2020 honoree), Dr. Kim Withers, TAMU-CC Associate Professor of Life Sciences (2021), and Dr. Frank Pezold, former Dean of the College of Science and Engineering (2022).

During the shrimp boil, guests are taken to the Laguna Madre Field Station by boat. The facility, built on a dredge material island, has been leased since the mid-1970s from the Texas General Land Office under a unique Educational Facility Lease.

Sterba-Boatwright joined TAMU-CC in 1989, and since then has been recognized as an Outstanding Online Educator and has received a Teaching Excellence Award from the Texas A&M University System. He served as associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering from 2019 to 2020; prior to that appointment, he was chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics from 2006 to 2009 and 2018-2019.

Although he retired at the end of 2020, Sterba-Boatwright, whose flowing salt-and-pepper beard is well-known to many, remains active in the Islander community as an adjunct instructor, teaching graduate courses in statistics.

“When I got here to what was then called Corpus Christi State in 1989, I was 30 years old, and the average student at the time was 33,” Sterba-Boatwright said. “It’s safe to say the university has changed a bit in that time. I appreciate this recognition. I’ve grown as the university has grown as well.”

Withers ’85, an alumna, joined the Island University as a research scientist at the Center for Coastal Studies in 1995. She later took up a faculty position in the Department of Life Sciences in 2012 as assistant department chair before being appointed coordinator of the master’s degree program in biology. She is a coastal ecologist who has participated in the research of flora and fauna at coastal habitats along the western Gulf of Mexico and Mexican Caribbean for over 20 years.

“I’ve spent most of my adult life on campus, and that is no exaggeration,” Withers said. “This place is dear to me.”

Jace Tunnell ’98, ’01 expressed how Withers was instrumental in a career path change early on in his collegiate career – a change that would lead to not only a B.S and M.S. in Biology but to his present position as Reserve Director for the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) in Port Aransas.

“I was going to be a journalist. I wanted to write for a newspaper and then go out and talk about anything else besides science. But after I took Kim’s class, Biology 101, in 1995 – it ended up changing my entire career,” Tunnell said. “Kim was on my graduate committee and my wife Katherine’s graduate committee. For many of our friends who are now higher ups in local and state agencies, Kim Withers was on their graduate advisory committee. She’s had a huge impact.”

Pezold stepped down as dean of the College of Science and Engineering in 2021 and retired earlier this year. Under his 16 years of leadership, the college showed a dramatic growth in enrollment, amplified research opportunities, and employee morale improved. His emphasis on expanding research at the Island University was not only groundbreaking, but it also enabled others to make contributions with new and broader directions with their research.

Pezold told the audience he saw the potential of the Island University on his first visit to campus.

“When I came here to interview, I could see there were resources and talent here. Just as important, there was a community that was really invested in seeing this university develop,” Pezold said. “Corpus Christi has a vision for growth that feeds the college and university. If you don't believe me, go live someplace else and come back. This was the most rewarding job I ever had.”