Reeling students into science field

Aquarium: Eighty-seven students will receive Henry Hall awards, which honor one of the National Aquarium in Baltimore's primary donors, tonight at the aquarium.

June 04, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

The wood-paneled, tank-lined basement where his clown knifefish and albino walking catfish navigated over colorful stones and shells was cleared out two decades ago.

The filled-in backyard pond, where goldfish once traversed an arena of rock and concrete, sprouts eggplant and tomatoes.

It's all gone, but Henry Hall, a boiler and air conditioning engineer from West Baltimore who died in 1979, is not forgotten, nor is his gift more than 20 years ago of 14 types of freshwater exotic fish to the campaign for the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Tonight, 87 middle and high school students, the largest group ever, will receive Henry Hall awards at an event starting at 7 p.m. at the aquarium's Lyn P. Meyerhoff Auditorium. Funding for the awards will come from the Henry Hall endowment fund, for which $100,000 was set aside a year after the aquarium opened in 1981, to provide educational opportunities in environmental and marine life sciences for Baltimore's schoolchildren.

Since it began, the Henry Hall Program has awarded $237,000 to more than 700 Baltimore public school students, some of whom have studied marine biology or environmental science in college.

Some of tonight's award recipients will attend an adventure camp at Tuckahoe State Park. Others will be taken on behind-the-scenes tours of the aquarium or travel to Pritchard's Island, S.C., to watch loggerhead sea turtles dig nests and lay eggs.

Aja M. Campbell, 18, a graduating senior at Polytechnic Institute, will receive a $1,000 college scholarship. As a high school sophomore, she learned about marine life on a sailing trip sponsored by the Hall program. Campbell will attend the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, where she might study desert mammals.

"It is mind-boggling when you know about all these different animals and what they can do about their courtship and how they work together," she said.

Gia M. Grier, 19, a 1998 Western High School graduate who was a Hall program student, received a $1,000 scholarship last year and will work at the aquarium this summer dressed as mascot Puffin, answering questions and mixing with visitors.

As a high school sophomore, Grier won a trip to Grassy Keys, Fla., and went swimming with dolphins. The trip fanned her desire to protect the environment and share it with others.

Grier plans to work for an environmental nonprofit organization as an educator after she graduates from Washington College in Chestertown.

"Before I went on the dolphin trip, I didn't think such a thing was possible," Grier said.

Aquarium officials hope to duplicate the experiences of Grier and Campbell.

"It's our hope that by awarding the scholarships, we spark an interest or nurture an interest in kids to pursue marine science," said I. Jacqueline Rone, co-chairwoman of the Henry Hall Committee. "We hope they will come back summer after summer and that someday, they will go into a science or math field where minorities are underrepresented."

Exposure is a big part of the Henry Hall program, Rone said. Many participants could not afford such experiences otherwise and might never learn about science careers, she said.

The program does not specifically target minorities.

Committee members select students based on written applications, interviews, and teacher recommendations. Some students send in elaborate portfolios in hopes of winning an award, Rone said. Applications are accepted annually until April.

Henry Hall, a brilliant and humble man, would have been proud of his legacy, said his niece Pauline H. Anderson, 79, who lives in Hall's house in the 400 block of Mosher St. in Madison Park.

Numerous electrical outlets line the dark basement room where Hall built his tanks and did the wiring to power filters and lights.

"The basement was just beautiful in those days," Anderson said. "There were pretty rocks and lights, and all kinds of fish, and he even had an alligator."

Hall was born in Anne Arundel County and moved to Baltimore as a child. He graduated from Douglass High School and started a career in stationary engineering with United Railroad and Electric Co. in 1913. He was chief engineer at Provident Hospital in West Baltimore from 1927 to 1952.

A fish aficionado since childhood, he started his collection after he retired and dedicated himself to it, Anderson said.

Hall donated his $10,000 collection, which included a freshwater shark and an electric eel, to the aquarium campaign in 1977 and acted as a consultant.

Friends of the aquarium say Hall's fish, which were displayed at the Maryland Science Center in the Inner Harbor, helped rally public support and spark fund-raising efforts five years before the aquarium opened.

"For some people, it was the first time they had seen such a large collection of fish," said Frank A. Gunther, 67, of Ocean City, founding chairman of the aquarium board. "Mr. Hall played a very large role in convincing people that [the aquarium] would be a fun place."

Hall was elected to the aquarium board but died, at age 83, before attending a meeting.

Hall's early support will be recognized with a dedication next year when the aquarium opens its Amazon River forest exhibit, said David M. Pittenger, executive director of the aquarium.

"He specialized in freshwater fish, and those are typically from South America, so it is appropriate that we recognize him with this exhibit," Pittenger said. "This is an opportunity to recognize his contributions early on to the aquarium and to the city."

Pittenger said Hall saw the aquarium as much more than a lure for economic development.

"He had a vision for the aquarium that I don't think related to tourism and economics, although I am sure he was all for that, but for him it was more about what an aquarium could do for the children of Baltimore," Pittenger said. "It is that vision that should be celebrated."

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