National Fisheries Award recognizes retired TTU professor's contributions, legacy

A retired Tennessee Technological University professor whom colleagues call a "leader giant" in achieving cultural diversity has received a national award recognizing his contributions.

R. Don Estes, professor emeritus and former leader of the Tennessee Cooperative Fishery Research Unit at Tennessee Tech, has been selected as the 1996 recipient of the American Fisheries Society's Award for Mentoring for Professional Diversity in Fisheries.

In announcing the honor, selection committee member Mary Louise Keefe said Estes was chosen for exemplifying the "greatest demonstrated contribution" towards mentoring fisheries students and young fisheries professionals from underrepresented groups.

"A mentor," Keefe added, "guides and empowers a learning partner. A mentor helps to shape and promote a learning partner's career and is in a position to intervene on behalf of the learning partner. A mentor should provide help with networking and goal-setting, encouragement as well as challenge, emotional support as well as intellectual support, and acknowledgment of accomplishments. A mentor is genuinely concerned with the success of the whole person."

Former students and colleagues who nominated Estes for the award say he more than meets that description.

Lesa Madison, a research specialist with Tennessee Tech's fishery unit, credits Estes with recruiting her to the university, opening her eyes to the value of graduate study and the bright opportunities of a career in fisheries.

"Don's interest in my career has helped me reach my goals in my current position. His challenge to me that I could do better has definitely been rewarding, and I now have new goals to reach," the Crossville native said.

Others who joined with Madison in nominating Estes represent a veritable "Who's Who" in fisheries -- both by their reputations and the units they lead. All are quick to trace their success and that of others back to Estes.

"In all of my travels no matter where I go, when I mention Tennessee Tech, someone will say, 'Oh, you must know Don Estes,'" says Ted Coopwood, a fisheries unit alumnus now with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. "It is a simple fact that there is no one in the last 30-plus years who has done more for fisheries as a whole than Don Estes."

"Don's efforts to recruit women and minorities into the fields of fisheries and wildlife have been particularly inspiring," says Benjamin Tuggle, field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Chicago Field Office.

"He has long blazed trails in this area even when these activities were not popular. He has helped set the standard to ensure that fish and wildlife sciences have equal opportunity and representation for groups traditionally underrepresented. His efforts to push for diversity in our profession have been heartening if not Herculean."

Estes' legacy includes the pioneering Career Awareness Institute, which he established to attract women and minorities into fish and wildlife careers. Funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and later the National Biological Service, the institute began at Tennessee Tech in 1973 and continued until 1995, the year Estes retired, when it was relocated to the University of Maryland, Eastern Shores. Estes also promoted the development of the American Fisheries Society's J. Frances Allen Scholarship, given annually to a promising female Ph.D. student interested in fisheries research.

In the 1980s, Estes helped draft a position statement for the society that stated the organization's support for affirmative action and its recognition of the need for diversity in the fisheries profession. While the statement was ultimately voted down, the ideals that guided the work and those expressed in Estes' many other contributions have become part of the fabric of the fisheries research community in the U.S., smoothing the way for talented scientists to succeed irrespective of their gender or race.

"He is truly a leader giant among those that would profess to be experts in this effort and is wholly dedicated to the betterment of the individuals he has worked with," said W. Reid Goforth, chief of the Biological Resources Division's Cooperative Research Units.

Estes retired from Tennessee Tech in 1995, after 23 years of service. He lives in Putnam County with his wife, Myrna, former director of the Cookeville-Putnam Co. Clean Commission.