JSU alum named Knauss Marine Policy Fellow, strives to uplift vulnerable communities

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A large part of Lyon’s professional impetus is the ability to establish holistic legislative policies that encompass the real experiences and needs of the most vulnerable population(s).

Jackson State University alumnus Willis Lyons, a native of Philadelphia, Mississippi, was selected as a finalist in the 2023 John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship program, one of the most distinguished U.S. fellowships in the field of marine policy.

Lyons credits his passion for marine study to the early foundation established at JSU, along with several professors who assisted in shaping his future career trajectory.

“I began school at Jackson State University as a biology major with a minor in chemistry, and my focus was to go to medical school because I’ve always wanted to heal those around me, whether spiritually, mentally, physically, or emotionally,” said Lyons.

After attaining his undergraduate degree, Lyons pursued getting a master’s degree in environmental science from JSU, where he began to centralize his research focus on water chemistry under the instruction of Ibrahim Farah, Ph.D., professor of biology.

“It is always rewarding to contribute to bright young minds passionate about addressing today’s current issues and reshaping our tomorrow,” said Farah. “Willis’ commitment to establishing human-conscious policies at the federal level sets an exemplary model of Jackson State’s mission to challenge minds and change lives exponentially, mutually beneficial.”

During this time and shortly thereafter, Lyons dedicated himself to nurturing and educating Jackson’s most vulnerable populations, youth and young adults. He found himself in the classroom pouring forth knowledge, and in return, Lyons said he received a deeper understanding of the community he represents.

For one year, Lyons taught chemistry and biomedical research at Murrah High School and delivered several biology lab night courses at Belhaven University, where he piloted the institution’s first environmental science course.

“The students really challenged me and taught me a lot about myself and what importance being honorable has in pushing someone to desire more out of life and how integrity plays a role in shaping the younger generations,” said Lyons

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Eric Gulledge, left, Taimei Harris, Dr. Timothy Turner and Willis Lyons at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Miss.

Tenacious in his professional pursuit to improve the material conditions of vulnerable communities, Lyons continued to shape his goals and journey around what he envisioned his impact to be in the field of environmental science. Ultimately, this led him to Florida A&M University, where his passion, knowledge and dedication afforded him a full-ride scholarship into the environmental science Ph.D. program.

 ”I’ve been learning policy and environmental law and all those studies that makeup how humans perceive things and then how we make decisions that impact our cultural, health, and social outcomes,” said Lyons.

Since 1979, Sea Grant has provided one-year Knauss fellowships to more than 1,550 early career professionals to work in federal government offices in Washington, D.C. Knauss fellows bring their diverse perspectives to positions in the executive and legislative branches of government.

A large part of Lyon’s professional impetus is the ability to establish holistic legislative policies that encompass the real experiences and needs of the most vulnerable population(s) in spaces where decisions can drastically shift every aspect of their wellbeing.

“It is a tremendous honor and privilege to represent JSU and my community at a national level,” said Lyons. “It has been my lifelong goal to educate, inform, and heal others through scientific research and humanitarian values.”

Media Contact: Kyle.d.kidd-buckner@jsums.edu