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Derek Aday chosen to lead W&M’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science

  • Derek Aday
    Dean and director:  Derek Aday is head of the Department of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University, university director of the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, a fellow of the American Fisheries Society, and editor-in-chief of the society’s flagship journal.  Courtesy photo
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William & Mary has named nationally renowned ecologist Derek Aday as its next dean of the School of Marine Science and director of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).

Aday, who will begin in this role at VIMS Sept. 1, is head of the Department of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University, university director of the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, a fellow of the American Fisheries Society, and editor-in-chief of the society’s flagship journal. His selection follows a national search to succeed John Wells, who is retiring after 17 years at the VIMS helm.

“William & Mary welcomes warmly Dr. Aday to the university community,” said President Katherine A. Rowe. “Following the exceptional leadership of Dr. Wells, VIMS and the School of Marine Science are positioned to expand the university's reach globally in the coming decades. And for Virginia, VIMS is vital to ensuring the continued prosperity of the Commonwealth’s ecology, economy and coastal communities. Derek Aday’s talents and experiences perfectly match these challenges and opportunities.”

For his part, Aday said he embraces leading VIMS into the future and the continued interdisciplinary work required to solve complex problems facing the waters of the Commonwealth, the nation and the world.

“VIMS and William & Mary have incredible histories and traditions and I’m very much looking forward to becoming a part of the future of both organizations,” Aday said. “I’ve followed the great science and scientists at VIMS from afar for many years, and I’m humbled by the opportunity to join a community of talented scholars and educators that is making a real difference in the world.”

Provost Peggy Agouris said he’s been equally followed by VIMS scholars and students. Aday has written numerous articles in peer-reviewed publications on topics ranging from the ecology of fresh- and saltwater fishes to the impacts of mercury pollution on aquatic ecosystems.

“Dr. Aday is a remarkable scientist in marine science and ecology,” said Agouris, “and we are fortunate to have him lead VIMS and our School of Marine Science. He impresses on the academic and the leadership fronts, both of which are necessary to lead one of the most important and impactful marine science schools in the world. Under his leadership, I am confident that VIMS’s advisory, educational, and research arms will flourish.”

Aday’s 16-year career in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at NCSU has provided leadership experience in all three facets of VIMS’ mission of research, education and advisory service. He said he looks forward “to the opportunity to lead a cutting-edge marine research institute with a strong tradition of student education and a vibrant connection to an outstanding university.” He also relishes the challenge of guiding VIMS in its role as a technical advisor to the Commonwealth of Virginia for coastal and marine issues, across what he called “an impressive scale and breadth of disciplines.”

Carl Friedrichs, Glucksman Professor of Marine Science at VIMS and chair of the Dean & Director Search Committee, noted that Aday articulated an “inspiring vision for an innovative future for VIMS.”

“The search committee was struck by Derek’s proven leadership across a broad range of relevant roles,” Friedrichs said. “He cited ideas that built on, but also went beyond, our current strengths to enhance more ambitious, interdisciplinary research, advisory service and educational initiatives on issues such as climate change and coastal resilience.”

An interdisciplinary worldview has been central to Aday’s success, both in research and administration. He currently chairs an academic department he described as “interdisciplinary at its core,” with researchers exploring many of the same topics studied at VIMS, including aquatic ecology, biodiversity, conservation biology, fishery science and aquaculture, applied toxicology, and global change. 

Under his leadership, the department earned approximately $9 million in annual grant funding, created a unique outreach and engagement program and doubled the number of women and historically under-represented, tenure-track faculty members. He also played a leading role in strategic plans recently developed by both his department and college, an experience that will serve him well as VIMS initiated its latest strategic planning process just last year.

Aday also brings experience in managing the type of multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional partnerships that have long animated and strengthened the VIMS mission. As university director of the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, he led a consortium that included five academic institutions of higher education; federal collaborators from the U.S. Geological Survey; state climatologists and tribal partners from four nations. Aday’s leadership portfolio at VIMS will likewise include a wealth of institutional, state and federal partners.

Prior to his current position, Aday served as assistant dean of academic programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at NCSU, where he helped develop an innovative curriculum that combines rigorous coursework, independent research and study abroad.

At VIMS, he said he is excited to further strengthen connections between the School of Marine Science and W&M. “Students are at the core of all aspects of university life,” he said. “The shared traditions of educational excellence at VIMS and William & Mary provide a unique foundation, and I’m eager to explore collaborations with Arts & Sciences, the law school and the business school to integrate student training in marine and coastal studies with aspects of social science, policy, economics and other relevant disciplines.”

The Dean & Director Search Committee was particularly impressed by Aday’s track record in advancing under-represented researchers in the field of marine sciences, through HBCU partnerships and other efforts. As a department chair at NCSU, he helped develop training programs for more effective mentoring of under-represented students, and a new peer-to-peer network for incoming graduate students. “My commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is sincere, and I will be a tireless champion for diversity, in all its many forms, at VIMS and W&M,” Aday said.

Aday is excited to take the helm at VIMS later this summer. “I’m enthusiastic about working with a team of such impactful leaders,” he said. “Through the search process I was able to interact with President Rowe, Provost Agouris and members of her team, other deans at William & Mary and the associate deans and leadership team at VIMS. I’ve come away impressed and inspired by their dedication to enhancing the excellence of both institutions and their eagerness to forge an even stronger partnership through innovative new programs and initiatives.”

He also realizes he has big shoes to fill in succeeding current Dean and Director John Wells. “For nearly two decades, John has done an incredible job of ensuring VIMS meets the educational, advisory and research needs of the state, region and nation, while also positioning VIMS as one of the best marine science institutes in the country. I look forward to working with outstanding faculty, staff and students to build on that tradition of excellence, and to ensuring that VIMS remains a recognized leader in terms of solving the challenges of tomorrow.”    

For his part, Wells said he thinks Aday “will bring new energy and vision to VIMS, creating a path of excellence for the future. 

“Derek’s understanding of our history, culture and mission, together with his depth of administrative experience, provide a strong foundation for success,” said Wells, “and I take this opportunity to enthusiastically welcome him into the VIMS community as our next dean and director.”

Aday will be joined in Williamsburg by his wife, Erica, and his daughter, Caitlyn. His son, Conor, is attending college. Aday’s father, David Aday Jr., is professor emeritus of sociology and a distinguished member of the W&M community.