Straddling the Land and the Sea

Marion McClary, Professor of Biological Sciences

Marion McClary, a professor of biological sciences at FDU’s Metropolitan Campus, stands in the Hackensack River that runs through campus in his waders, holding a grab sampler, which is used to collect mud and animal life from the bottom of the river. (Photo: Bill Cardoni)
By Julie Kayzerman

In a high school biology class, a young, shy Marion McClary dissected a clam.

“When you’re shy, you’re kind of in your shell,” he says. “So here you’re dissecting an animal that has its own shell, and I thought it was neat because if it wanted to stay to itself, it could just close its shell, but if it wanted to interact, it could open up. I kind of saw myself as this clam, and that’s how I really knew I wanted to be in marine biology.”

Thirty-five years later, McClary, professor of biological sciences at FDU’s Metropolitan Campus, is anything but shy.

It fact, he’s become known as a mover and shaker during his 18-year tenure at the University, where his contagious energy and passion drive him to embrace the many hats he wears in addition to being a professor — co-director of the School of Natural Sciences, NCAA faculty athletic representative and coordinator of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation at FDU.

“I just want to be helpful, involved and concerned about things that I have the ability to change,” McClary says. “If I can do something, I’ll bend over backward to do it.”

The always-animated professor makes an active effort to be an approachable resource for students, whether they need personal or academic advice.

But it’s the research he conducts alongside students that excites him the most.

Currently, he is working with three Metropolitan Campus students — senior biology major Emily Pinto, sophomore biology major Justin Rymut and junior marine biology major Olivia Berkner — on research projects. McClary and Pinto are examining the biological rhythm of fiddler crabs and the effects that venlafaxine, an antidepressant that sometimes leaks into the environment, has on their activity. Rymut’s project investigates the effects of nitric oxide on two species of crayfish, and Berkner is studying the possible reasons why Hawksbill sea turtles have become endangered.

Although research has consistently been a focus for McClary — he did his PhD on barnacles — he didn’t always aspire to be a professor.

“Barnacles filter salt water and that can help with water clarity,” says Marion McClary, professor of biological sciences.
Barnacles are hermaphroditic. “They don’t spawn, they actually copulate like we do. A barnacle can be a male and then switch to a female and then switch back to a male. They know which gender to be based on barnacles near them,” says McClary. (Photo: Getty Images)

“When I was younger, I wanted to be a marine animal,” says McClary, laughing. “It’s funny, but it’s true!”

More specifically, the marine life-loving preteen wanted to become a sea otter, thinking that it would be easier to morph into one with their human-like features and a lack of gills, rather than a fish.

Although his dreams of turning into a sea otter faded, his love of the creature never swayed. It’s why he’s got a collection of stuffed sea otters, beavers, penguins and hermit crabs — just to name a few — piled on top of a bookshelf in his office.

Hidden between the plush toys and barnacle fossils is a plaque that reads: “Students don’t care how much you know as a teacher until they know how much you care about them” — a fitting sentiment to match McClary’s legacy as a professor who would never turn a student away.

Ed. note: A version of this article first appeared in the Winter/Spring 2019 edition of FDU Magazine.