It was an honor she never expected to get, but something she is thrilled to be a part of.
Bridgewater resident, and Rutgers University professor, Bonnie McCay has been elected into the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest science honors in the United States.
The academy was established in 1863 for scientists and engineers dedicated to the furthering of science and its use for the general public.
“As a member, I will be expected to participate in the academy’s efforts to improve science education and the contributions of science to public policy,” she said, adding that there are 30 other faculty members at Rutgers who are members of the academy.
McCay was told of the honor May 1, and was among 83 new members elected this year in recognition of their continuing achievements in original research.
As for her work, McCay is being recognized for her work on the human dimensions of marine resources, and her goal to provide a better understanding of the conditions that allow for sustainable marine fisheries around the world.
“My research has focused on how people manage and mismanage ‘the commons,’ that is places and things that are shared and can be abused from too much use, like parks, state and national forests, rivers, fishing grounds, the atmosphere, even, I suppose, the Bridgewater Commons,” she said.
“I study the way people actually do come together to care for resources they use in common, particularly marine fisheries and how efforts to manage the fisheries affect the lives and communities of the fisherfolk,” she added.
McCay said her research has taken place mostly in New Jersey, in marine fishing communities like Belford, Point Pleasant and Cape May. But, she said, her research has also taken her to Newfoundland, Canada and Baja California, Mexico.
According to a release about the award, McCay has collaborated with scientists from all over the United States, and through Mexican institutions, agencies and others connected with the fishing industry there.
“With this honor, Dr. McCay joins a very select group of individuals who represent the very best scientists in the country,” said William K. Hallman, professor and chair of the Department of Human Ecology, in the release. “It also affirms the important role that social science and research on human behavior must necessarily play in creating effective environmental and natural resources policies.”
Although she now lives in Bridgewater, McCay grew up in Southern California and graduated from Portland State University in Oregon, before getting her doctorate in anthropology from Columbia University.
And since 1974, McCay said, she has been working as a professor at Rutgers University.
“I was hired into the Department of Human Ecology in what used to be called Cook College, which was founded by my husband Dick Merritt and others in 1973,” she said. “It is now the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.”
There, McCay said, she teaches classes in the Environmental Policy, Institutions and Behavior major, with focuses on natural resource policy, marine fisheries policy and human dimensions of environmental change.
McCay said she loves the teaching experience, and has been at Rutgers for 38 years.
“It is always an adventure, and most often a pleasure, to meet and work with undergraduate and graduate students,” she said.
But despite growing up on the west coast, McCay has made Bridgewater her home since 1976, when she married her husband, who has been a resident since 1962.
“I enjoy the suburban pleasures of Bridgewater and greatly appreciate the township’s investments in farm and woodlands as open spaces,” she said.
As for her new award, McCay said there will be a reception at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences in New Brunswick sometime in June.
But she is thrilled to have this opportunity.
“I was bowled over when I learned that I was elected," she said. "It was a complete surprise, something I had never imagined."