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A Lifetime in Science

Scholarship fund will support hands-on learning

Bonnie McGregor Stubblefield, J64, was a “research newbie” when Professor James Hume asked her to work in his lab the summer before her senior year. Stubblefield ran lab experiments on sediments that Hume and his wife had collected along the Alaskan coast. They were testing the hypothesis that grains of sand can be picked up by waves and travel to new locations on the surface of the water. Stubblefield later helped compile all the data for publication. “I got to see the entire scientific process: from hypothesis, through fieldwork, testing, documentation, to publication,” she says. “It really set the stage for my career in research.”

Stubblefield recently donated $750,000 to ensure that other students in the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences have hands-on research opportunities like hers. The endowed McGregor Stubblefield Fund for Geological Advancement at the School of Arts and Sciences will support transformative educational and research experiences for Tufts students studying the geologic, earth, and ocean sciences.

Social and scientific transformation have been themes throughout Stubblefield’s life. When her mother told friends her teenaged daughter wanted to be an oceanographer, they asked, “What the heck is that?” “That’s how new the field was,” she says. When Stubblefield attended Tufts, she and her female classmates crossed the campus in jeans on their way to field trips, even though women were supposed to wear skirts on the Hill. When plate tectonics was considered a radical theory, her master’s thesis provided further evidence that the earth’s surface is made of shifting plates.

In 1993, after more than two decades conducting field research, Stubblefield became associate director of scientific programs for the U.S. Geologic Survey, and the first woman in a senior leadership position there. She put together teams to look at large-scale problems like how to maintain fresh water in the Everglades and how to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

Stubblefield retired in 2004 and lives with her husband, William, former director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Commissioned Corps, in a house overlooking the Potomac River. Both remain active in public service, with Stubblefield serving on the board of the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle. Looking ahead, she believes global change, which includes climate change, will be the pressing issue facing scientists. “All the disciplines need to work together on this,” she says. “It’s an exciting time scientifically.” Stubblefield is equally excited by the current emphasis on interdisciplinary thinking in the School of Arts and Sciences. “Looking at a problem through the lens of many different disciplines is a better way to frame and test a hypothesis.”