A recent Towson High School graduate's passion for marine biology has netted him a little extra scholarship money for college from the Maryland Saltwater Sportfisherman's Association.
And when he begins classes in the fall at the University of Miami, Jonathan Peake will be able to immerse himself in a field he's pursued even in landlocked Towson.
"I've always kind of been interested in the outdoors, but my parents took me to Sea World when I was 6, and that's when I said, 'yup, that's it,' " Peake, 18, said.
"Just seeing everything underwater, the abundance of life, it struck me how amazing it is," he said.
Since then, Peake has explored his interest in a variety of ways. He became SCUBA certified and earned a small boat sailing merit badge at Boy Scout camp. He has also traveled to Hawaii to take an oceanography course through the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University, and most recently, has worked at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
"I used to volunteer there, but now I sell memberships," Peake said. "It's not the most glamorous job, but I get to go to the aquarium all I want."
It was through that student summer volunteer program that Peake settled on what his future held for him.
"I'm going to double major in marine science and biology," he said. "I want to be a research professor. When I did volunteering at the aquarium … I was the person at the exhibits who would teach people about what was in the exhibit. I had always wanted to do some kind of research, but that kind of geared me toward wanting to be a professor."
Through the advanced placement science classes he took at Towson High — both biology and chemistry — Peake was able to apply what he learned in all of those areas, though he lamented that Towson didn't offer marine biology classes like some other area schools.
Coupled with his academic record, Peake was tailor made for the Maryland Saltwater Sportfisherman's Association scholarship. The group was scheduled to award him $4,000 during a ceremony and social gathering this week near Middle River.
Peter Abbott, president of the MSSA Scholarship Foundation, said the foundation's origins came from the MSSA's commitment to the sustainability of the species they like to fish for, and the places they inhabit.
Winners can plan to study marine biology, natural resource management, or anything else related to the field.
"His background is very, very well matched to that mission," Abbott said. "Jonathan clearly is an outstanding student. His record, as we were able to observe it and view it through his application, and the comments made by his references, all indicate that this is an exceptional young man who has extraordinary academic skills."
Because he had the highest test scores of the 39 applicants, Peake, also a National Merit Scholar finalist, received the William G. Huppert Award, named for the former scholarship foundation president and continuing member.
"We're very selective," Huppert said. "We look for kids who are going to do some good in the environmental field some day.
Between his academic endeavors and his recent Eagle Scout project — he turned a vacant lot near the Royal Farms on the corner of West Seminary Avenue and Greenspring Lane into a park — Peake said he hasn't had much time for fishing lately, save for a few recent trips with his friends once school let out.
But thanks to his achievements, and interests, Peake is able to attend a school where that shouldn't be a problem.
According to Huppert, additional winners include Alyssa Goheen, a John Carroll High School graduate who will also attend the University of Miami; Samantha Moxey, an incoming freshman at Washington University in Chestertown; and Morgan Mullaney, a rising senior at Towson University.