Al Beulig retires — sort of — after four decades at New College
Setting the record straight: There is no truth to the rumor that the Natural Sciences division had a special chalk budget just for Dr. Al Beulig.
It is true, however, that one could assess Beulig’s passion for a particular topic by glancing about the classroom and noting the amount of chalk shrapnel on the floor. His students marveled at Beulig’s ability to spell out the concepts of evolution or taxonomy — in a full lecture or even in a five-minute miniclass — by wildly scribbling notes on the chalkboard, burning through pieces of chalk and often flinging pieces blindly over his shoulder if they fractured — or if he suspected his audience needed a jolt.
Students and chalk are safer now, though, as Beulig’s 42-year New College teaching career ended, sort of, in May. That career began in true Novo form, well before he even knew what that meant, via happenstance and a touch of spontaneity.
He was in the doctoral program at the City College of the City University of New York when a mentor recommended he study sharks at Mote Marine Laboratory. Having focused on freshwater biology, he knew nothing about sharks, but he took the leap anyway.
Beulig defended his Ph.D. dissertation on sharks at Mote in 1975, and it was the perfect time to be an expert on the creatures—the movie “Jaws” had just been released. The studies at Mote led him across Sarasota Bay to New College and a faculty position asr a vertebrate biologist.
During his years at New College, Beulig sponsored 178 student theses, directed countless tutorials and Independent Study Projects (ISPs), and traveled internationally with students to pursue biological research.
That began with a trip to American Samoa with three students and continued with trips to Belize, Honduras, and most recently, Costa Rica and Panama. In the beginning, he said, funding was so scarce that he quite literally “mortgaged his farm” to pay for his students’ travel and research.
In the early years, he said, many of the academic opportunities he and his students pursued stemmed from personal connections made in bars over a drink. “I love making connections like that,” he says, “If you keep your mind open and your heart open, good things will happen.”
As New College grew and Beulig continued to build his personal network, opportunities for research became even more readily available. In 1997, Beulig co-founded The Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (ITEC) in Bocas Del Toro, Panama. Now celebrating its 21st year, Beulig remains on the faculty at ITEC, focusing on coral reef ecology and animal behavior.
In addition to opportunities for research and travel, the course offerings Beulig brought to New College’s campus were diverse, to say the least. Topics ranged from marine animal behavior, to the theory of locomotion and fluid dynamics as it pertains to sailing. “That is why I really love New College,” Beulig says, “There is nowhere else I could pursue such unconventional and valuable learning experiences with students.”
And that ultimately proved to align with his ideals.
“I always wanted a career where everything I did was worth my time. I was never interested in selling my soul on an installment plan. It’s about ful llment, and I value that New College has given me that.”
Now Beulig is on to his next set of adventures. Building seaplanes and learning to y, continuing the never-ending cycle of work on his many sailboats, and venturing back to ITEC.
Don’t be too quick to say goodbye, though. Beulig cannot quite call it quits, and plans on returning to New College to teach his popular Coral Reef Ecology course the earliest that he is allowed — Mod 2 of spring 2018.