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Outstanding Alumni

College of Arts and Sciences

Donald B. Olson - 2011 Outstanding Alumnus

Bachelor of Science - 1974 - Physics

Professor Donald B. Olson is an internationally renowned scientist who has made important contributions to the study of ocean circulation dynamics, large-scale turbulence, and marine ecology.

A Wyoming Native, Olson grew up on the family farm in Greybull at the heart of the Big Horn basin. “Greybull was surrounded by Mesozoic sea floor fossils that I was enthralled by,” explains Olson. “As I grew older, I started irrigating fields and became interested in water flows.” In 1974, Olson earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Wyoming, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. He received both a master’s degree and Ph.D. in oceanography at Texas A&M University.

Olson established himself as a lead researcher in oceanography and has had a long distinguished career with the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. Recently, his research has focused on human impacts on ecosystem science, including harvesting in agriculture and marine-protected areas. Olson has published more than one hundred peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and conference proceedings. He was editor of Geophysical Research Letters-Ocean’s Section and associate editor of the Journal of Marine Research. He has served on several national and international committees, including the United States World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE) steering committee and the Global Ocean Ecosystem program steering committee.

Widely known as a respected and dedicated educator, Olson was a leader in developing undergraduate programs for the University of Miami in two areas: marine and atmospheric science and ecosystem science and policy, two of the university’s most successful interdisciplinary programs. “The most rewarding aspect of the teacher/student relationship is when the student suddenly goes well beyond my understanding of a problem or comes up with a new insight to a problem I have been working on for a long time,” says Olson. An active member of Christ Congregational United Church of Christ, Olson extends his love of teaching by offering adult religious education classes. 

Olson’s sweetest memories at UW are taking beautiful Wyoming autumn walks with his wife-to-be and working in research labs in physics and mechanical engineering. He and his wife, Margaret Wanner Olson, also a UW graduate, have four children.

Olson is most proud of his dozen Ph.D. students and their continued careers, as well as the many other fine students he has had the opportunity to encounter. He has been characterized by his colleagues as “a renaissance man whose interests are both broad and deep.” Whether he’s teaching at his church, judging at local school science fairs, or offering courses on ocean circulation dynamics, Olson’s love of education is helping to prepare the next generation for complete living.

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