If you want to know about FIU Professor Emeritus Walter M. Goldberg’s distinguished academic career, you should first dial your time machine to the 1960s, throw on your wetsuit and head to the Pentagon. It might sound strange now to take scuba lessons at the headquarters of the Department of Defense, but that was where Goldberg, then an undergraduate at American University in Washington, D.C., and his then girlfriend-now-wife, Rosalie, learned to dive.
Those lessons led in 1966 to a scuba- diving vacation in the Florida Keys. It was there that his fascination with marine environments — and corals in particular — was cemented.
“On my first dive, when all the bubbles cleared, I was on a reef. I thought, ‘What is this?’ It was fascinating,” he remembers. “It was an underwater art museum, but I had no idea what these things were. That’s when I really became interested in my field.”
His growing interest in corals led him back to Florida for graduate school, where he completed a master’s degree at Florida Atlantic University and a Ph.D. at the University of Miami. Soon after, Miami’s brand-new public university came calling, and Goldberg signed on as one of its youngest professors.
In many ways, Goldberg grew up alongside the university. He remembers the early days of teaching just 10 to 15 students in a class and carving out a small research nook for himself because, in those resource-poor early days, only the head of the department was given lab space.
During his 39-year career, Goldberg taught courses in general biology, oceanography and zoology and served a term as department chair. While he is now retired, Goldberg still makes the weekly four-hour round trip from his home in Stuart, Florida, to MMC to teach a scientific writing course for honors students in the Department of Biological Sciences.
“I’ve learned a lot on my way to retirement. I’ve seen the department grow,” he says. “As the department developed and expanded, it had to broaden its representation of all that the biological sciences has become, and in turn, I became more appreciative of that scientific diversity.”
“[For example], we have huge issues with habitat loss,” says the marine biologist, who specialized in coral biology. “When the habitat disappears, there go the species. We have an emergency that is global in scope.”
So, when it came time to consider where he and his wife might establish a legacy, he naturally thought of FIU. Together, the couple recently established the Walter and Rosalie Goldberg Professorship in Tropical Ecology in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education. It is open to anyone who studies any form of tropical ecology. The university will use the new position to attract someone interested in working to solve the many challenges facing ecosystems across the world.
In addition to researching and advancing potential solutions for tropical ecology’s biggest issues, the person who fills the professorship will act as the spokesperson for these issues at FIU.
With nearly four decades invested in FIU, Goldberg understood full well that a gift to Miami’s public research university has the potential to make a bigger impact than elsewhere and that he and his wife could make a meaningful difference.
“I want to see our profile elevated. That’s very important,” he says. “We are on our way to doing it. We are a respected department. I’m hoping that the [professorship] will serve that goal.”
Thanks to Walter and Rosalie Goldberg, you won’t need a time machine to see the future of tropical ecology studies at FIU. It is already shining that much brighter. ♦