Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris, pictured in front of a pond on the MSU campus
Photo by Jonah Holland

Jonathan Harris, a marine geophysicist/oceanographer, has navigated a remarkable path from the depths of the oil and gas industry to the world of marine education.

Nowadays, one can find Harris on the shores of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, facilitating experiences that ignite students' passion for science. His journey is a testament to the power of experiential learning, where the real-world application of knowledge transformed not only his life but also the lives of countless students and educators.

Born into an oil industry family, Harris grew up traveling the world, and began his professional journey in oil and gas exploration. The lucrative geophysics industry influenced him to join his father, but the volatile nature of the oil industry, characterized by waves of activity and downturns, prompted him to eventually explore other avenues.

During one such downturn, he found himself at Mississippi State University as a geology student, contemplating teaching. This fortuitous moment led to a 10-year stint as a geosciences instructor where he blended his field experience in the oil and gas industry with academic expertise, enabling him to bridge the gap between theory and practice for his students. His real-world insights resonated with students, and he discovered his passion for teaching.

However, his teaching career took a backseat when the allure of lucrative opportunities in the oil field beckoned. After seven years overseas, the call of education once again drew him back, leading him to pursue a master’s in education and a career as a high school teacher. Still, his true calling lay in inspiring college-age students.

A serendipitous call from a former colleague and the associate director of the Northern Gulf Institute presented him with a unique opportunity. A new outreach and education position at NGI, a NOAA cooperative institute, required someone with Harris’s educational background, scientific knowledge and geosciences experience.

In 2016, he joined NGI as an outreach and education program director, which exposes middle, high school and college students to the wonders of marine science, technology and exploration. Through the NGI outreach programs, students can experience science outside of textbooks, like the MSU-Science and Education at Sea (SEAS) Program that turns the state’s Gulf Coast into an outdoor laboratory, giving students new knowledge and appreciation for their connection with marine life and the environment.

“These students are the future of our workforce and getting them involved in science from an early age is pivotal. Experiential learning offered through NGI’s outreach programs introduces students to the world of science and opens the door to incredible opportunities, adventures and careers.”

As he nears completion of his Ph.D. in education, Harris’s story is a testament to the transformative power of experiential learning. It showcases the immense impact that a passionate educator can have on the future workforce, guiding students toward fulfilling careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. As he continues to inspire the next generation, Harris’s journey serves as a beacon of hope, proving that with the right experiences and mentorship, anyone can reach new heights.

Jonathan Harris, pictured on a boat with the ocean in the background