Dr. Jacqueline Webb Awarded First Ever Endowed Chair Position in CELS

HeadshotGrowing up just blocks from Coney Island Beach and the New York Aquarium, Dr. Jacqueline Webb remembers having a singular focus on marine biology at a young age. “When I was in junior high school I knew I would do science,” recalls Webb, Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Rhode Island.

Decades later, Webb’s internationally recognized expertise on fish sensory systems, coordination of the URI Marine Biology program, and accomplishments as a professor and mentor earned her the George and Barbara G. Young Chair in Biology, the first endowed chair in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS).

“I am deeply appreciative of this recognition,” shares Webb of one of the highest honors bestowed on a professor. “I am doubly proud to represent CELS as the first endowed chair in the college.”

The Young Chair recognizes exceptional teaching and research by providing recipients with funds to support their research for a 5-year term. It was established through a planned gift donated by physician Dr. George Young ’25, and his wife Barbara of East Greenwich, Rhode Island.

Dr. John Kirby, Dean of CELS, notes that Webb represents a “model of achievement,” and says the Young Chair rewards her leadership and accomplishments. “Dr. Webb has been a strong leader and advocate for our students, for marine biology and for basic biological research,” praises Kirby.

Webb wasted no time utilizing funds from the Young Chair to help her explore research questions more deeply, establish new projects, and foster interdisciplinary collaboration. This past summer she used the funds to travel to the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts to examine sensory organs of deep-sea fish. Using a state-of-the-art electron microscope, Webb captured sophisticated images of fish sensory cells, opening the door to further research into the adaptive evolution of deep-sea fishes.  

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Photo by Nora Lewis

Recognized worldwide as one of the foremost experts in fish sensory biology, Webb has received more than $2 million in competitive national research grants. However, Webb says she is most proud of the success of the Marine Biology program at URI, which she has coordinated for ten years.

“I believe that the program is the best in New England if not beyond,” remarks Webb. Her passion and vision elevated URI’s Marine Biology program, drawing students from other maritime states such as Florida, California, and Hawaii, and from as far away as Mexico, Ireland and the Philippines.

After a decade of teaching and mentoring dozens of students, publishing over 30 scientific journal articles, and overseeing more than 200 undergraduates in the Marine Biology program each year, Webb has certainly made her mark at CELS. Reflecting on her legacy, Webb concludes that the Young Chair is more than an honor, it will “enhance my interactions with and contributions to the intellectual community,” for years to come.