Ruth McMullin was teaching a group of children at the UGA Aquarium and Marine Education Center when technology failed.
So, she went to plan B: Ask the children what was the most interesting thing they had learned that day?
The hands shot up in the air.
“Miss Ruth, when you told me about the flounder’s eye,” one young camper said.
“Miss Ruth, Miss Ruth, ” the rest beckoned.
“I asked if any of them wanted to be a marine scientist,” McMullin recalled. “Every hand went up.”
“I get excited when kids learn something.”
For the past 18 years, since she moved to Savannah from Boston in 1997, McMullin has volunteered at the aquarium and marine education center on Skidaway Island.
She first visited the aquarium to learn more about the Georgia coast. While there, she noticed they sometimes had multiple large groups visit the aquarium at one time and needed help herding school groups and summer camp participants. It was easy to want to help.
“I feel like I’m part of the family,” McMullin said. “The educators, staff and volunteers are so knowledgable, so kind, and so much fun.”
Volunteers like McMullin are vital for Marine Extension to fulfill its mission, said Anne Lindsay, associate director for marine education. About 30 volunteers from nearby communities give their time regularly to the aquarium and marine education center, helping employees feed the animals and clean their tanks, monitor water quality, survey plankton populations in the Skidaway River, assist with events at the aquarium, and, of course, teach marine science programs to children in pre-K through fourth grade.
“Their work allows us to do ours,” Lindsay said. “We are inspired daily by their dedication to our work and to giving back to the community.”
McMullin is at the aquarium usually two mornings a week from February to April, when the schedule is filled with school groups from across the state, and she helps with weekly summer camps during June and July.
She also interacts with the Georgia Sea Grant interns, college graduates who spend a year at Skidaway learning about marine science and the Georgia coast.
“It’s so much fun to watch them grow over the year,” she said.
McMullin spent most of her life in New England, earning her bachelor’s degree from Connecticut College and her MBA from the Yale University School of Management. She remains on Yale School of Management Foundation Board of Advisors.
“The School of Management changed my life,” she said. “I am determined to make sure it continues to help others.”
Her professional career included senior positions with major companies, including John Wiley and Sons publishing company, where she was at first executive vice president/chief operating officer and later president and CEO; and then Harvard Business School Publishing Company, where she was president and CEO.
When she and her husband Tom retired, they moved to Savannah, where the marsh reminded her of childhood summers spent on the Maryland coast. The Landings community on Skidaway Island, where they live, is next door to the aquarium and marine education center, so it’s a short commute.
“The Georgia coast is so important to the rest of the state,” McMullin said. “I’m lucky to have found volunteer work that is so rewarding and so important.”