CMU Alumna Dr. Dee Boersma wins coveted Godman-Salvin Prize

Over 50 years of groundbreaking research on penguins

| Author: Jason Fielder | Media Contact: Jason Fielder

CMU Alumna Dr. Dee Boersma ’69 has been named the 2024 winner of the Godman-Salvin Prize by the British Ornithological Union. Since 1922, the BOU Council has awarded the prestigious honor to an individual for distinguished ornithological work. Boersma is one of very few women to have received it.

“It’s a big honor,” Dr. Boersma said. “It’s a British award so I was especially honored. It’s not very often that Americans get it. It’s like a lifetime achievement award for people in my job.”

It’s the latest of many awards and distinctions Boersma has earned for teaching and her contributions to science. In 2006, she received the Distinguished Service Award from the Society for Conservation Biology, and in 2009, she won a Heinz Environmental Award. Other honors include being chosen as a Pew Fellow in Conservation and the Environment, a Leopold Fellow, AAAS Fellow, a Fulbright Senior Fellowship to the University of Otago, New Zealand, the Pacific Seabird Group Lifetime Achievement Award, a Lifelong Learning Award from the University of Washington, and election to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2021.

Many awards and honors stem from her 50-plus years of work researching and protecting penguins. Some call her the “Jane Goodall of penguins,” a distinction Boersma takes pride in.

“Who wouldn’t want to be compared to Jane Goodall?” Dr. Boersma said. “She’s amazing! And she’s still at it.”

In 2013, Dr. Boersma co-edited the groundbreaking book Penguins: Natural History and Conservation. Since 1970, she has traveled to the Galapagos Islands to study penguins. Her most recent visit was in December 2023, and she plans to return in July 2024.

Dr. Boersma explains why she has dedicated so much of her life to studying and preserving penguins.

“They’re equals,” Boersma said. “I don’t know anyone who thinks they’re ugly. I found them really interesting, and I was particularly interested in the Galapagos Islands and (the) penguins there.”

Dr. Boersma received her B.Sc. Honors from Central Michigan University in 1969 and her Ph.D. in Zoology from Ohio State University in 1974. Her thesis was titled: The Galapagos Penguin: A Study of Adaptations for Life in an Unpredictable Environment."

She holds the Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Science at the University of Washington, and since 1998 has been a professor of Biology and an adjunct faculty member in the Women Studies Department. 

From 1970 through 1974, Dr. Boersma served on CMU's Board of Trustees. At the time, she was the youngest member of any of Michigan's higher education boards. 

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