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DeWitt Davies (PhD, 1990)

DeWitt Davies being interviewed about Lee Kopppelman

As a native Long Islander and a self-proclaimed “guinea pig” studying at the Marine Sciences Research Center (MSRC), now the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, for his graduate degree, Dr. Dewitt Davies started learning under and working for Dr. Koppelman in the fall of 1970. Prior to his studies at the MSRC, Davies had a head start at understanding the local marine environment as someone who grew up on the South Shore fishing, working, digging clams, and hunting. Though he left to further his education at Dartmouth College from 1966 to 1970, Davies soon returned to Long Island for his Master of Science. To him, the connection with the surrounding land and sea was personal, and the MSRC provided an avenue that could reinforce that connection.

Diving into the MSRC's projects, which were funded by the Nassau-Suffolk Regional Planning Board, Davies quantified both the natural and human-induced processes affecting the North Shore. This research ultimately contributed to his masters thesis, resulting in Lee Koppelman's recognition of Davies’ capabilities and consequently the inclusion of Davies’ reports in his book The Urban Sea: Long Island Sound. Throughout this experience, Koppelman’s communication skills remained an integral part of Davies' career path, which, in combination with Koppelman’s high level of respect for and “great interest in his students,” made him a valued mentor to Davies. Koppelman valued Davies as well ― after Davies built relationships within the planning office and various committees Lee had established, Koppelman hired him in 1972 when the planning director created new positions for marine scientists and geologists to expand the scope of his projects. This began Davies’ 50-year career at Suffolk County Planning.

Davies’ career would continue to weave together planning and marine sciences for many years. After twenty years of serving with the department, Davies returned to school for his Ph.D. Although this meant his focus would return to marine sciences, he was still met with Dr. Koppelman’s full support during a time when employers did not often promote employees to further their educational experience. Koppelman laid the foundations of his studies on expert knowledge and wanted to have credible counsel, so he only saw merit in encouraging education. Because of this, he “was always supportive of students, always supportive of people involved in research, and studies”. Davies returned after his doctoral studies and transitioned from scientific research to a more policy-based focus as the Chief Environmental Analyst for the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning, a position he kept until retirement. 

DeWitt helped tell the story of Lee Koppelman in the SoMAS student-created documentary Koppelman and attended the film's premiere on September 20, 2019.