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Meet Research Fishery Biologist, Dionne Hoskins-Brown

March 17, 2023

As part of the Faces of the Southeast Fisheries Science center Series, meet Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown.

Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown sitting next to an oyster reef. Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown at Savannah State University oyster reef. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Where did you grow up?

For the most part I grew up in Savannah, Georgia. Before that I was in Lexington, South Carolina; Detroit, Michigan; and Cleveland, Ohio; but was born in Virginia. Each location shaped a little bit of who I am. It was on our ranch in South Carolina that I learned what it was like to wander free in the woods for hours and hours. There I built tree forts and grew things with my dad. I foraged for berries and ate things from the woods that scared my mom to death. In Savannah, that wanderlust got wetted by the saltmarsh and shrimping with my mom. 

2 scientists in the water with waders on.
Dionne and an Undergraduate student, Qadree Jackson in the Wilmington River in Georgia. Credit: Jay Rosenzeig

Where did you go to school and in what subject did you get your degree(s)? 

I attended what was Savannah State College at the time and majored in Marine Biology. Now the degree program is called Marine Sciences. I got my Doctorate in Marine Science from the University of South Carolina. I do not have a master's degree. But, I have ideas ...  

How did you come to work at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center? 

Scientists standing together at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center.
Dr. Matthew Gilligan (left), Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown, Ms. Essie Coleman Duffy, and Dr. Bradford Brown at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center around 1995. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

I guess the answer to that is related to my first exposure to the center. When I was an undergraduate at Savannah State, my professor, Matthew Gilligan, took us on alternative spring breaks to Florida. We dotted down the coastline and visited marine labs. We started at what used to be called Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution and made our way further south to the center, then eventually to the Keys Marine Lab. The center director at that time was Dr. Brad Brown. He was a strong supporter of expanding opportunities in the ocean sciences for underrepresented groups. So each year during this annual visit he would appear in the lobby with his New England accent and dashiki and welcome us to a tour. I really felt like just one of many students in this group until years later when he checked on me in grad school. From then on he called about once a year. He told me about what used to be called the Student Career Experience Program that hired students to work for NOAA and I applied. My expertise is in benthic invertebrate ecology, so when I finished my Ph.D., I joined the former Fishery Ecology Branch in 2000 as part of another cooperative program with Savannah State. So, life and work have come full circle.  

What do you do at the science center? 

I conduct research on fisheries habitat with students at Savannah State University. This research forms the basis of student training and supports the mission of our branch.  Over the years, my research students and I have looked at the distribution of blue crab populations in Georgia tidal creeks, marsh dieback, and success in oyster reef restoration. We got interested in the human dimensions of fisheries, examined the prevalence of black gill in shrimp, and the perspective of shrimpers encountering the disease. This connection to the local community spread to more cultural work examining how Gullah Geechee communities participate in fisheries. Savannah State is also a Historically Black College and University (HBCU)and the only one with a partnership with NOAA Fisheries. I also liaise between the center, university, the agency, and other entities who want to emulate and recreate the effectiveness of this unique partnership.  

scientists out at sea sampling from the water
Dionne, Dr. Jolvan Terez Morris (former postdoc now with Northeast Fisheries Science Center), graduate student Shaneese Mackey, Captain Shawn Smith, and graduate student Tiffany Taubenheim sampling in the Wassaw Sound, Georgia. Photo Courtesy of Dionne Hoskins-Brown.

What do you like most about your position? 

What I like most about my work is also the most challenging component and that is the broad spectrum of activities that I am empowered to attempt that support fisheries. I am constantly stretched to be and do more for my branch as well as my students. I also get to work with some incredibly talented and committed people who make me a better scientist because I get to collaborate with them.

What advice would you have for someone interested in a career at NOAA Fisheries? 

I think few people who aspire to work for our agency really know the breadth of work that we do. I  suggest that someone who wants to be a NOAA Fisheries team member should come to us with a servant's heart and the spirit of a perpetual learner.  Fisheries staff leave it all on the field when it comes to doing their work and serving the agency. You need to be quick to pivot and slow to offend. Everyone is working their tail off. Be a critical, technical thinker, and a thoughtful team member. You can get just about anywhere in the agency with these traits.

What does the recognition of Black History / Women’s History mean to you?  

I have multiple opinions about special recognition months. I am so very thankful that the heritage of diversity gets acknowledged throughout the year and that the heritage of unsung marginalized groups is spotlighted. I appreciate that some celebrations like Black history, Women's history, and Pride months have become more mainstream. But I get a bit of a twinge when I feel like people are separating these kinds of celebrations from American history. During the year there are 18 diversity group months.  As an American, I'm not just one of these things in just one month. As a nation, we're all of these things and I'd love for people to recognize that all year. That's what real diversity appreciation is.

Dionne and students standing in front of water and boardwalk.
Dionne with a graduate student Davielle Drayton on Jekyll Island, Georgia. Photo courtesy of Dionne Hoskins-Brown.

Is there a book, quote, or person that influenced you to be the person that you are today? Tell us why. 

Sylvia Boorstein has a lot to do with the person I am today. She is a Jewish woman and Buddhist teacher who wrote It's Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness. Her approach to how we view suffering was illuminating for me. She tells a story about compassion that I share often. Someone in a hurry is behind another vehicle at a traffic light. The person in the front vehicle jumps out and starts fooling with something in the back seat after the light turns green. The impatient driver behind this person blares the horn, frustrated that the driver is not in their vehicle, moving forward, and wondering what they could possibly be fooling with that can't wait for them to pull over. The close of the story is that the front driver has leapt out to save a baby choking on a toy in the back seat. Boorstein tells us that in many situations in our lives there is something important affecting our experience, such as this “baby in the back seat,” and that we may not know about all the facts, so we should exercise patience and mindfulness.

What do you like to do outside of work? 

I garden and I make stuff. Sometimes I sew, sometimes it's ceramics, sometimes it's carpentry, sometimes it's cooking. Being a maker means every new skill is a puzzle to solve. This year I have my eye on hatmaking, so here I come millinery.

Contact Dionne

Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on April 25, 2023