Robert W. Corell

1998 Edward A. Flinn III Award Winner

Robert W. Corell was awarded the 1998 Edward A. Flinn III Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, which was held on December 8, 1998, in San Francisco, California. The award recognizes individuals who personify the Union’s motto “unselfish cooperation in research” through their facilitating, coordinating, and implementing activities.


“I am deeply honored and profoundly pleased to present to you my colleague and friend Robert W. Corell, recipient of the 1998 Edward A. Flinn III Award of the American Geophysical Union. This award is for a different type of contribution to our field–a contribution of distinguished service and dedication, to be sure, but one that is characterized by ‘. . .unselfish cooperation in research through their facilitating, coordinating and implementing activities. . ..’ I can think of no one in my experience who better represents this cooperative spirit in such “activities” than Bob Corell.

“In preparing this citation, I have borrowed wholesale from the letters of nomination and support by Robert M. White, Richard E. Hallgren, and William J. Merrill. We all had the same sentiments. While it is my pleasure to offer the words, and I put much of it in the first person, it is ‘our’ citation, not mine alone.

“Dr. Corell’s contribution to environmental affairs spans four decades. In the 1960s and early 1970s, as an ocean engineer developing digital computation and control systems for oceanographic research, he founded a new laboratory that has a world-class reputation for autonomous underwater systems. In the mid-1970s and early 1980s, he applied his skills to the fisheries industry with an emphasis on preserving the ocean environment. In his spare time, he was founder and first Director of the Marine and Sea Grant Programs at the University of New Hampshire. In the 1980s, as a science administrator, he established one of the world’s first interdisciplinary Earth science institutions, the Institute for the Study of Earth, Ocean and Space at the University of New Hampshire. During the last decade, as a public administrator at the National Science Foundation, he led the conception, formulation, and implementation of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which involves 20 U.S. departments, agencies, and offices, to study the Earth’s system and to ascertain the influence of humans on the system. He also has become a statesman, developing international programs on global environmental issues and new partnerships and arrangements, such as the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research, to encourage data sharing and joint science programs among developing and developed nations.

“Among all of those, perhaps the best example of his leadership and of those skills cited in the Flinn Award is his exceptional success, over the last decade, in leading the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). He was there at its inception and has developed it, within the United States and internationally, as the premier effort to understand the Earth’s interacting physical systems. I’ll dwell on this example.

I was one of a small cadre of federal officials who helped the scientific community hatch the idea. However, when Dr. Corell came to the government in the early 1980s, he turned an idea into a model program. While the planning and performance of this program involved thousands of international scientists, I believe–and it is widely accepted–that no single person has made a contribution close to that of Bob Corell. He did this not only with scientific leadership but also by reaching out to others in the scientific community and to agencies around the world, and by creating institutional arrangements that will continue this open and inclusive approach. I can think of no greater feat of ‘unselfish cooperation’ nor of facilitation of important scientific research in recent decades.

“Nationally and internationally, the Global Change Research Program has involved dozens of departments, agencies, and offices. More than an administrator, Dr. Corell proved a statesman both among agencies and among nations. The interagency and international management of the USGCRP is perhaps the most universally accepted modern model for effective government support of complex scientific programs. Most remarkable has been his ability to hold the program together when so many forces naturally work to pull it apart.

“Our community, in fact the world, is lucky that Bob Corell was in the right place at the right time. I honestly believe that no one else could have led the program as he has done. Bob continues to serve as Chair of the interagency coordination committee of the National Council for Science and Technology and therefore as the federal government’s primary spokesperson for global change research. In this role, he continues tirelessly in his promotion of research on global change.

“Of course, Dr. Corell’s contribution to environmental affairs is not limited to this last decade or this one example. As an individual investigator, he made a significant contribution to autonomous undersea systems and founded a world-class laboratory and then applied his facilitation skills and his lab’s expertise to the fisheries industry, well known for its individuality and its independent operators. He was one of the prime movers for the successful national Sea Grant Program that has some real impact on our coastal states. It was from this already successful platform that he became the outstanding science administrator at the National Science Foundation, and especially of the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

“Bob Corell and I grew up about 4 miles from each other in the working-class western suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. Except for the accident of a town boundary, we would have known each other in high school. Bob went on to get a Ph.D. in engineering from Case Institute and then to an academic career in ocean engineering. It was some 20 years after we both left Cleveland that I first encountered Bob in his laboratory at the University of New Hampshire. My lasting impression of that encounter was of his boundless energy and enthusiasm. It was not until another batch of years had passed, and Bob came to Washington, D.C., that I had the pleasure of really getting to know him in several professional roles–as a developer of cutting-edge science programs, a scientific leader of major interinstitutional programs, and one of the very best scientific program administrators of recent decades. In all of these activities, he has been unselfishly inclusive of others in the scientific community, of other agencies and institutions, and of other nations. He has exhibited tremendous enthusiasm, enormous openness, and real and exemplary leadership. His credibility is immense, his impact has been just as large.

“Most recently, I had the distinct pleasure of being chair of Dr. Corell’s advisory committee–the “Advisory Committee on Geosciences” for the NSF. In that position, I had an unimpeded view as Dr. Corell set out to again lead our community of atmospheric, oceanic, and Earth scientists to plan our NSF programs for the next century. He reached out to the community in his usual manner with town meetings, open discussions, careful analysis of the budget situation, a clear acceptance of all good ideas, and an immense optimism. The result was a realistic and yet expansive approach for NSF support for the geosciences that will, I believe, sustain us through the current difficult budget times. Bob Corell really used his advisors, and he worked us intensely. He helped our community make a difference in the NSF program that is so important to us.

“I have observed no more balanced combination of leadership, scientific understanding, humane approach, sense for duty, organizational skills, determination, and sustained energy in a public administrator–or anyone else, for that matter–than that of Bob Corell. Dr. Corell not only clearly believes in his mission of understanding and protecting the Earth’s natural system, but he personifies the basis for the Edward A. Flinn III Award–a supremely successful scientific facilitator who lives the motto of ‘unselfish cooperation in research.’ The description of the Edward A. Flinn III Award observes that ‘it is likely that the fruits of the work of a nominee . . . will be far more widely known and recognized than the individual.’ I am not sure that this remains true in Bob’s case, but I am certain that those of you who know him well, and those of you who now know him slightly from these remarks, will join me in congratulating Dr. Robert W. Corell in this richly deserved recognition.”

—WILLIAM P. BISHOP, Desert Research Institute, Tucson, Ariz.