University of South Florida

USF College of Marine Science


At the CMS, Scientists can be Artists, too

Tracing on the mural

Tracing on the mural

Written by: Makenzie Kerr, Breitbart Lab Manager & Outreach Coordinator

We do incredible science at the College of Marine Science, but our fun doesn’t stop there. One aspect of our culture that I’ve always enjoyed is that you, as a student, can make it as rich as you’d like. We work hard to ensure our culture is open, encouraging, and reflective of student interests. For example, in 2019, when I was still a master’s degree student, I created the “Shine on CMS Art Committee.” (I now work as Breitbart Lab Manager & Outreach Coordinator.)   

While giving tours, I noticed outdated photos, posters, and blank walls in the hallways of the two signature buildings that comprise our College of Marine Science: the Marine Science Laboratory (MSL) and Knight Oceanographic Research Center (KRC). After talking with other students, I decided to form a committee that had one mission: to beautify the College of Marine Science.

We worked up a goals list and outlined a budget that we brought to then Dean Jackie Dixon, PhD, who loved our enthusiasm and funded the committee. We started by installing beautiful paintings inspired by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, thanks to Ben Pruitt, laser cut maps of the Tampa Bay area, courtesy of Island Laser Design, and deep-sea creature photography, from the DEEPEND Consortium, in both buildings. Progress! 

But, the fun was just beginning.

Mural, Mural, On the Wall?!

Then came our signature project. The Art Committee decided to paint its very own mural. In part, we wanted to leave our mark on campus.

Natalie Sawaya, PhD Candidate puts first paint on the wall

Natalie Sawaya, PhD Candidate puts first paint on the wall

Enter Graduate student Natalie Sawaya. She was inspired by pop art, where the same image is often rendered in different color schemes. In this case, Natalie applied this art style to the four disciplines of marine science: physical, chemical, biological, and geological oceanography. She imaged how each discipline would view the globes through their own lens:

  • The physical oceanography globe shows a map of the ocean currents
  • The chemical oceanography globe shows salinity measurements
  • The biological oceanography globe shows chlorophyl measurements, and
  • The geological oceanography globe shows sediment types of the ocean floor

In July of 2019, the Art Committee put the first paint on the wall. First, the background was painted dark grey, then the white globes were added, and the details were traced up using a projector. Think of it as a giant paint-by-numbers, with each color hand mixed by the painters. All of the painting was done voluntarily during weekends and weeknights by the students.

The mural was almost completed at the beginning of 2020 but was abruptly stopped when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

Mural progression

Mural progression

The Finale

When approved to safely go back to campus, masked, distanced, and alone, I put the final paint on the wall during off-hours. After about 100 hours of painting, the mural was completed in January of 2021. It is located in the middle of the MSL hallway where anyone visiting campus can see it.

Special thanks to the 2019 Shine on CMS Art Committee for following through with our big plans and Dean Jackie Dixon for believing in our dream and funding the supplies. Additional thanks to Joe Donnelly for help with logistics and planning.

Final Mural

Final Mural


Mural Designed by: Natalie Sawaya, PhD Candidate

Mural Painting led by: Makenzie Kerr & Natalie Sawaya

2019 Shine on CMS Art Committee:

Brent Summers
Brianna Michaud
Carey Schafer
Chelsea Chase
Kema Malki
Kyle Amergian
Makenzie Kerr
Michael Schram
Natalie Sawaya 

View Time-lapse on CMS Instagram

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Mission Statement

Our blue planet faces a suite of challenges and opportunities for understanding and innovation. Our mission is to advance understanding of the interconnectivity of ocean systems and human-ocean interactions using a cross-disciplinary approach, to empower the next workforce of the blue economy with a world-class education experience, and to share our passion for a healthy environment and science-informed decision-making with community audiences near and far.