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Speaking for the oceans

||Makenna Christensen|Makenna Christensen|Richard Hyman ’77 as a Furman student during his independent study with Cousteau.||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Last updated August 5, 2020

By Kelley Bruss

Richard Hyman’s affinity for the ocean can be traced to the 1970s, when he had opportunities to work with famed French explorer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau. Today, through his nonprofit organization Future Frogmen, Hyman ’77 is passing that affinity on to a new generation of Furman students.

“I loved the opportunity to work with him,” said Makenna Christensen ’21, Future Frogmen’s first Furman intern. Diane Iseminger, Furman’s internship program director, connected Christensen with the organization.

Future Frogmen works to educate and fuel action on climate change, plastic pollution and species survival. While COVID-19 derailed academic plans around the world, in this case it actually paved the way: Moving everything online positioned Hyman to recruit interns from around the country, not just the region near Westport, Conn., where he’s located.

Through the summer, Christensen worked from her home outside Charlotte to produce blog posts for the organization.

Hyman first worked with Cousteau while in high school, the connection made possible through his father, whose career was in educational publishing and television. Hyman transferred to Furman as a sophomore and studied economics and business administration. One of his terms was spent at sea with Cousteau, in independent study.

Richard Hyman ’77 as a Furman student.

His career was in telecommunications and technology, a choice that didn’t require him to be gone from his family for months at a time. But about 10 years ago, a local school system asked him to mentor students, drawing in part on his earlier conservation and exploration experiences.

“It evolved into what is now Future Frogmen,” Hyman said.

In 2017, he was building connections with local and regional universities and began mentoring older students and inviting their help with the blog he started.

Future Frogmen was formally designated a nonprofit and public charity in fall 2019. Hyman had half a dozen local interns helping at the time. By this summer he had almost 20 nationwide, along with two volunteer manager-mentors.

Eliza Graham, who manages and mentors the Future Frogmen’s writers group, Richard Hyman ’77, chairman and president of Future Frogmen, and Makenna Christensen ’21, participate in a Zoom meeting.

The team produces a website, a blog, a podcast and video conversations. Hyman uses a multi-disciplinary approach that is science-based but also includes health, public policy, business and arts, such as writing and photography.

His objectives are education, communication, leadership development and, ultimately, action.

“We’ve bitten off a lot, but we’re doing it,” he said. Christensen loved that the internship allowed her to exercise both her earth-science minor and her English literature and philosophy major. She is interested in ecocriticism, which studies environmentalism through representation in literary works.

Makenna Christensen ’21.

One of her blog posts, timed for World Oceans Week in June, was about sea level rise and its implications for the Florida Everglades. Christensen said she wants to help people see that environmental action is not only about the environment itself – there are direct lines to the impact on human living conditions.

“Words are so powerful, and if you can use that in the right way, you can definitely influence a large group of people,” she said.

She got feedback on her writing from a mentor and then had a chance to revise before each piece went to Hyman for final review. They weren’t hard on her, she said, but they pushed her.

“It’s been really good prep work for what you might be seeing in your workplace,” she said. The experience has been so positive on both sides that Christensen and Hyman are working on a plan for her to continue writing for the organization into the school year.

Hyman’s dream is to expand into offering scholarships or fellowships and then into expeditions.

“Our home run is when we can get into exploration,” he said.

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