Donald J. Orth, the Thomas H. Jones Professor of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, has received the American Fisheries Society 2019 Award for Excellence in Public Outreach, which honors society members who share the value of fisheries science with the broader public through popular media and other communication channels.
Orth, who joined the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in 1980, is the creator of Virginia Tech Ichthyology, a blog he uses to share stories and news about fisheries research, education, and other issues.
“For the last 10 years I’ve been experimenting with public writing using different channels, one of which has been the blog,” Orth explained. “I originally thought it would be a place where students could place some of their writings, but in that process, I started writing more pieces for the general public to give my students models of how to write to a wider audience.”
Orth writes three or four articles a month for the blog, while also moderating a Twitter account with over 4,000 followers and a public Facebook group with almost 1,000 members. Recent articles have discussed the origins of overfishing, the earliest trout hatcheries in Virginia, and women and fishing. He has also prompted two of his graduate students to follow in his footsteps; they established Chesapeake Catfish, a blog devoted to issues related to nonnative catfish in the Chesapeake Bay region.
Orth views these articles as a crucial way to connect to the wider world and to honor the vision of service that guides Virginia Tech.
“Our university motto is Ut Prosim, That I May Serve,” Orth said. “I tell my students that they can’t serve without communicating with a broad audience. No matter their career path, many of them will have jobs in which they are required to communicate their research and expertise to a wider audience. To do that effectively, you have to develop a voice that is trusted and understandable.”
Orth, who grew up in Chicago, received his bachelor’s from Eastern Illinois University and his master’s and doctorate from Oklahoma State University. In 2016, he received the American Fisheries Society’s Excellence in Fisheries Education Award and was named a Fellow of the organization. He has also received several Virginia Tech teaching awards.
“I’m happy and humbled to receive this award,” said Orth, who was nominated by Aaron Bunch, a district fisheries biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. “The American Fisheries Society is a great organization, one that is always improving the services they provide for members, and I’m grateful for this recognition.”
Joel Snodgrass, head of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, said, “Don’s efforts to communicate an excitement for all things fishes is sparking the interest of a new generation of fisheries professionals and hobbyists. His willingness to employ modern methods of communication brings complex fisheries issues to a broad audience in ways that allow us all to understand the issues and engage in conversation.”
Orth received his award during the American Fisheries Society’s annual joint conference with The Wildlife Society, which took place in Reno, Nevada, this year.
— Written by David Fleming