Women on the Working Waterfront

Dr. Clarice Yentsch: Research scientist, educator, author, humanitarian

Thu, 05/05/2022 - 10:00am

On the anniversary of the 60th year celebrating Windjammers Days and maritime history, we pay homage to our founder, Captain Marion Dash for her contribution as a female role model in our maritime community. It is her legacy that has inspired us to celebrate the women who are working on the waterfront today who in turn inspire young girls and future maritime generations to come.

Dr. Clarice Yentsch received her Ph.D. from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In her class of 21 students, she was one of four women. It is there that she met her husband, Charles. After marriage, the couple moved to Massachusetts to pursue positions at the University of Massachusetts only to discover that the university had a policy that would not allow Charles and Clarice to work at the same institution.

Determined to work together, Charles and Clarice heard about the closing of the National Marine Fisheries Lab on McKown Point in Boothbay Harbor. They met with close friend Spencer Apollonio, then Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources.  Clarice reflects on that time, “Spencer was the inspiration for Charlie and me to move to Maine. He put the package together with then Governor Ken Curtis.” 

They established a research foundation and took up residence at the site which would eventually become the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. Wanting to treat their team the way they wished to be treated, Clarice made it their mission to put people first. Deborah Bronk, current President and CEO of Bigelow Laboratory has described it best, "The lab was the brain child of two rebel oceanographers who were sick of people telling them what to do."

Dr. Yentsch's contributions as a research scientist at Bigelow cultivated a whole new field of oceanographic research. She pioneered the use of a flow cytometer in ocean science creating the first one used in aquatic science research. Always making the scientific community a priority Clarice remarked on the discovery, "When a new tool is developed, you realize you can go back and ask research questions again in a different way. Suddenly you're able to look at the world, the ocean, or single cells in a totally new way, and everyone's research leaps forward." Today Bigelow Laboratory, known internationally for its outstanding work in ocean science, is home to the Single Cell Genomic Center, the world's first research and service center with the primary focus on the single cell genomics of microorganisms.

Dr. Yentsch co-authored two books during her scientific career.  The first titled, “The Woman Scientist: Meeting the Challenges for a Successful Career,” is an in-depth look at the hidden prejudices against women in the scientific fields and how to overcome them. She also co-authored “The Sea is All About Us,” a treasured guide to the ecology of northern New England waters which inspires the reader to love and protect the sea. After her 20 years at Bigelow, Clarice turned her attention to education reform where she won several awards for her leadership and mentoring in Maine.

Always a humanitarian, Dr. Yentsch resides in Florida where she founded the Waypoint Foundation of Key Largo which celebrates human creativity with a focus on education, exhibition and collaboration to address unmet needs in the Florida Keys. The organization has a wide reach providing dental resources for disadvantaged children, supporting a residency program for artists, scientists, and authors, and serving as an ambassador for traveling exhibitions from around the world.

Clarice believes that mentoring, learning and teaching are all interwoven and she has dedicated her life to sharing her discoveries with the world around her - the ripple effects of which are far and wide and still carry on at the expanded Bigelow labs now located in East Boothbay.