ST. PETERSBURG — The new dean of the University of South Florida's College of Marine Sciences is someone who's used to tackling hot subjects.
Dr. Jacqueline Dixon of the University of Miami is an expert on volcanos, specifically on the geochemistry of magmatic gases. She will take over USF's marine sciences college — which made headlines for its scientists' work on the Deepwater Horizon disaster — on Jan. 3.
Dixon said she was "very impressed with the college's rapid response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The fact that they were in the forefront of discovering and analyzing these undersea plumes of oil really put the spotlight on them."
Dixon, 51, is serving as the interim dean of the University of Miami's College of Arts and Sciences. She earned her Ph.D. in geochemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1992.
For Dixon, this will be something of a homecoming. She said her mother, Joan Hillegass, has lived in St. Petersburg for 30 years and ran the Aloha Shop at John's Pass.
Her husband, Tim, will likely be taking a position in USF's geology department. He is an expert on earthquakes. Their 21-year-old son is studying architecture at the University of Miami.
She said her hobbies include canoeing, hiking and "climbing active volcanoes."
Dixon will replace William Hogarth, a former National Marine Fisheries Service official who agreed to serve as dean only on a temporary basis in 2007, when Peter Betzer retired after 14 years in the position.
At the time, USF administrators had searched without success for a permanent hire for months. They had negotiated with two highly regarded candidates but couldn't come to terms with either one, and the faculty blamed a lack of money.
USF executive vice president Ralph Wilcox said he was "extremely taken by her impressive scholarly credentials; her prior accomplishments in higher education leadership; her strong interpersonal, communication and consensus building skills."
Nine years ago, when Dixon was helping to lead a scientific cruise to Hawaii to take sea floor samples of basaltic glass, she was asked what she liked best about doing such research.
"I love being at sea," she said. "I love being a part of a team that is excited and dedicated to making the cruise a success."