The Florida Academy of Sciences today named UCF Biology Professor Linda Walters its 2021 Medalist during its annual conference.

The Academy, which is an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, honors one Floridian each year based on the nominee’s contributions to the advancement of science and outstanding efforts to share that knowledge with the public. Walters joins a small club of 52 recipients.

The academy is recognizing what Volusia County has known since 2011, when officials there declared Nov. 6 as Dr. Linda Walters Day. The resolution noted Walters’ passion for teaching students, engaging in hands-on learning experiences and “her influence beyond the academic setting.”

“Not many people have the kind of impact that Linda does,” says Timothy Hawthorne, a UCF GIS professor who has collaborated with Walters since 2016. “She so deserves this.”

The duo worked with other UCF researchers on a National Science Foundation project looking at what makes natural systems and human interaction projects a success.

“She is a tireless advocate for science with broader impact. Her work extends beyond the walls of UCF and goes well beyond the impressive collection of scientific publications she and her lab have contributed over the years. But at the end of the day what I think of most when I think about her impact on science is her deep commitment to supporting and inspiring the next generation of science.”

A Life Dedicated to the Water

For the past several decades, Walters has investigated a variety of problems impacting Florida’s coastal waterways, from runoff to microplastics, which impacts everything from tourism to the fishing industry. Much of her work has focused on the Indian River Lagoon system in East Central Florida. Along the way she has run citizen-science projects to look at lagoon water quality and has received assistance from more than 55,000 volunteers for oyster reef restoration and living shoreline stabilization efforts. She’s also educated thousands of students who are now biologists throughout the world.

She’s penned nine children’s books and staged hands-on learning opportunities to help even the youngest among us understand the huma impact on marine environments. Walters has even raised her son in the field, taking him along on countless mangrove planting and oyster restoration events during the years that have contributed to her research studies and his own. Josh is now pursing his doctorate in chemical oceanography at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“I nominated Linda because I’ve seen the clear commitment she has to her students, to involving the public in research and conservation, and to fostering the careers of women in science,” said Holly Sweat, a marine ecologist at the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce.

Sweat met Walters about 12 years ago while she was in graduate school at the Florida Institute of Technology. They worked with many of the same people through their shared commitment to research on the Indian River Lagoon. And this past year, Sweat began collaborating with Walters on a study to characterize microbes on microplastics in the lagoon with funding from the EPA.

“I was completely caught off-guard by this honor and I am very grateful to Dr. Sweat for the nomination and to the Academy to selecting me as the 2021 recipient,” Walters says. “I have spent my career at UCF trying to balance research with community engagement, while ensuring my undergraduate and graduate students at UCF have high impact experiences that gets them to their dream jobs and to personal lives post-graduation that make them happy and fulfilled. I thank everyone who has been part of this journey so far.”

Frequently in the News

Walters joined UCF in 1997 and was named a Pegasus Professor in 2012. She’s received more than $14 million in grant funding and published more than 90 peer-reviewed journal articles. She is frequently featured in the news for her research, most recently in the Orlando Sentinel for mangrove takeovers of oyster reefs due to warming winters. In 2011,

Toyota and Field & Stream magazine selected her as one of its 10 national “Heroes of Conservation.”  The Walt Disney Company named Walters and her oyster restoration colleagues as Disney International Heroes of Conservation Heroes in 2013.  She has additionally received two national awards for excellence in teaching – from the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation and the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology.

Other UCF recipients of the academy award are optics Professor Peter Delfyett honored in 2014 and former chemistry Professor Christian A. Clausen, honored in 2003 and who passed away in 2018.