Mystic Aquarium/Sea Research Foundation President and CEO Stephen M. Coan (C) and University of Rhode Island graduate student Justin Richard (L), who is doing his research at Mystic Aquarium, accept the National Medal for Museum and Library Service from First Lady Michelle Obama, May 8, 2014, at the White House in Washington, D.C. (contributed photo)
MYSTIC, CT - At a White House ceremony hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama on Thursday, The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) honored Mystic Aquarium as the only aquarium or zoo nationwide to receive its National Medal for Museum and Library Service for 2014.
Dr. Stephen M. Coan, President and CEO of Sea Research Foundation, the parent of Mystic Aquarium, who accepted the National Medal from Mrs. Obama, said: “We are honored to receive this prestigious award. We are committed to our educational and public engagement programs that make Mystic Aquarium not only an enjoyable family destination, but also a research facility dedicated to protecting our oceans and its aquatic creatures.”
Mystic Aquarium was one of four Connecticut finalists considered for the National Medal, along with the Hartford Public Library, Mattatuck Museum and Otis Library. A total of 30 institutions across the country were finalists, from which ten winners were ultimately chosen.
The National Medal is the nation’s highest honor conferred on museums and libraries for service to their communities. The Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent agency of the U.S. government with the mission to create strong libraries and museums that connect people with information and ideas, is celebrating its 20th year of saluting institutions that make a difference for individuals, families and communities.
A major criterion for the award is the institution’s impact on members of its local community. One who has felt the positive influence of Mystic Aquarium is Justin Richard, who visited the Aquarium as a child. He volunteered at the Aquarium when he was an undergraduate at Connecticut College in New London and went on to pursue a graduate degree in integrative and evolutionary biology at University of Rhode Island. Justin attended the White House ceremony with Dr. Coan.
“I got to interact with so many people - little kids all the way up to adults,” Richard says. “I’ve been lucky enough to work with the kids who come to the aquarium from Point Lay, Alaska. It really solidified my gut feeling that I wanted to teach, and was the motivation for me to go back to graduate school.”
“I’ve gained the opportunity to learn more about these animals and become involved in the research. It’s definitely helped shape who I am as a person and how I can contribute.”
The work of Mystic Aquarium was brought to the attention of Susan H. Hildreth, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, by some of Connecticut’s most prominent cultural, education and government leaders. Rodney A. Butler, Mystic Aquarium Trustee and Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, nominated the Aquarium for the National Medal, noting the pivotal role the Aquarium plays with its education and cultural exchange program for Native American high school students from the village of Point Lay, Alaska, and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in southeastern Connecticut.
Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) and Christopher Murphy (D-Conn) supported the nomination along with Stonington Public Schools, which cited the Aquarium’s exemplary work with young people with intellectual disabilities. Michael Cotela, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of Stamford extolled the Aquarium’s critical educational programming for underserved communities.
Senator Blumenthal said: “The aquarium has brought so much joy and enrichment to not only my family, but families across the state. This award is monumental recognition of the tremendous work of the aquarium to promote lifelong appreciation and understanding of our oceans and natural environment.”
Senator Murphy said: “Mystic Aquarium is a true State treasure. Its commitment to educating the community and visitors about ocean life and exploration, as well as the importance of preserving and protecting our natural resources, has made a hugely positive impact on the country.”
The Aquarium urges its supporters to visit the IMLS Facebook page www.facebook.com/USIMLS to share their stories.