Joan Murrell Owens

I love profiles of incredible BIPOC environmentalists, scientist, and trailblazers. This is one that I wrote for our students at Gather. Reading & learning about Dr. Owens was so inspiring, I wanted to share her story in this space. I kept the story a learning tool. The children 3-6 were super engaged.


Once upon a time, on a warm sunny day in June - about 90 years ago, a brilliant and beautiful girl was born in Florida. She was the fourth daughter - she had three big sisters.


Her father was a dentist and fisherman - has anyone had ever fished? Her father would take her fishing. This is where she began to wonder about fish & bodies of water.

Who knows a few bodies of water?

When Joan was a teenager, she went to Fisk University. Has anyone heard of college?


This school didn't offer marine studies, so she studied fine art. She also learned a lot about mathematics and psychology.

She later went to school again (graduate study) at the University of Michigan for guidance counseling, emphasizing reading therapy.

Photo: Digital Howard at Howard University

When she was out of school, she became a teacher at a children's hospital & Howard University. She was such a good reading teacher; she even created ways to teach English (that later became the protocol for Upward Bound). Who knows any teachers?

But guess what? Even though she loved reading & teaching, she missed learning about fish, water, and algae.


Do we remember what algae are?

So what do you think she did?


Before the internet, people went to university when people wanted to know more. So she went to school where she learned geology.

NOTE: Geology is a branch of Earth science concerned with both the liquid and solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change over time.


Then she started TEACHING geology at Howard University and researching at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. She loved studying deep-sea animals, called coral. She investigated so much & was so brilliant that she even found and named a new species of coral.


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