Dr. Diane R. Nelson

Dr. Diane R. Nelson
2005 Honorary Alumni

As an internationally known marine biologist, Dr. Diane Roddy Nelson has studied giant whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez, sand tilefishes in Belize, gobies in the Red Sea, and ocean triggerfish and convict fish in the Solomon Islands and Papua, New Guinea. Perhaps because of her many globe-trotting adventures, her love of science and her enthusiasm for teaching and learning continue to grow.

After graduating from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville with a B.S. in Natural Science (Secondary Education) in 1966, then an M.S. in Zoology in 1968, Nelson began teaching in the Biological Sciences Department at East Tennessee State University. While teaching full time at ETSU, she pursued her Ph.D. at UT-K, completing her degree in 1973 with a dissertation on the tardigrades (“water bears”) of Roan Mountain. Yet, when a love of scuba diving developed in 1976, her focus broadened to include marine biology and underwater photography. She enrolled in courses at the Bermuda Biological Station for Research and other marine biological stations in Puerto Rico, Texas, and Georgia in order to build her skills. She progressed to the point of teaching her own workshops in Bermuda and at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Ft. Pierce, Florida.

Working with her husband Dr. Jack L. Nelson, a retired chemical engineer from Eastman Chemical Company, she has created an extensive collection of images of marine life. Nelson initially used these photographs to show her students the wonders she found on her research trips. Soon thereafter, her photos became features in biology textbooks, lab manuals, and award-winning calendars. Her tireless work even brought her to the attention of Southern Living. In August 2003, she was featured as “Diving Diva … A Spitfire in Scuba Gear” on the cover of the magazine’s special “Tennessee Living” center section.

Nelson has shown her devotion to her students by heading field trips to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Bermuda, and the Bahamas and Bonaire in the Caribbean. In 1993 she received the ETSU Distinguished Faculty Award, the university’s most prestigious award recognizing combined achievements in teaching, research, and service. She also received the 2000 Meritorious Teaching Award from the Association of Southeastern Biologists. She continues to teach, giving special presentations to elementary, middle, and high schools in the area, in addition to ETSU’s Institute for Continued Learning.

Although she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, Nelson is now cancer-free. Neither her recovery regimen nor her retirement from ETSU in 2003 have dampened her adventurous spirit, for there are always new underwater wonders to explore and record. She and her husband continue to work on videos showcasing the calm underwater world they have come to love. The Nelsons hope these tranquil images will be soothing to other patients with cancer.