It is probably fair to say that the Rolex / Our World-Underwater Scholarship is the most prestigious diving scholarship in the world.
It is even better than winning the lottery. Although unlimited funds can allow you to buy all the toys and travel to far-flung destinations, lottery winners don't get the unprecedented access each OUWSS Rolex scholar is given to leading experts, divers and explorers throughout the world. These mentors carefully craft, shape and guide the scholar's year.
This year, it looks as though the 2016 /2017 North American scholar—Christopher Millbern—will be the 'Scientific American'.
Chris is from California. He was raised on ocean swims and thousands of viewings of National Geographic’s 'Really Wild Animals: Deep Sea Dive' VHS tape. (He's still got a precious copy today).
After studying Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), Chris became a concerned conservationist and backpacking guide. He combined his love of adventure sports, photography, and the biological sciences in any way possible.
He participated in studies involving Belizean crocodilian parasitology, the effects of anthropogenic noise on Nicaraguan spider monkeys, heavy metal poisoning in Arizona rattlesnakes, as well as earning the Santa Monica Audubon Society Research Award for his work on anticoagulant poisoning in local bobcat populations. He learned a deep appreciation for the importance of protecting our environment, but he also noticed the absence of the ocean in his life. His childhood 'Deep Sea Dive' dreams didn't seem possible.
A spontaneous Open Water class changed that perception. Chris realised just how much he was missing by just living on the surface. Over a two-year period, he trained and achieved his PADI Rescue Diver and AAUS Scientific Diver qualifications. Above water, he joined the UCLA Gonda Center for Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine as an EMT and Certified Hyperbaric Technologist.
Then hyperbaric medicine turned his head. Whilst working with patients undertaking theraputic chamber dives, Chris became enamored with hyperbaric medicine, taking every opportunity to talk about it. He has spoken at local dive shops, high school programs, visiting physicians, and even the 95th Aerospace Medical Squadron from Edwards Air Force Base.
“The underwater world has given me a sense of purpose and the community has given me a home. All I really want is to keep the environment safe, and the people who protect and enjoy it even safer.” Christopher K. Millbern
While working at the chamber, Chris became involved in a number of research initiatives focused on diver safety concerning transport of injured divers, nation-wide hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) availability, and emergency equipment testing.
Chris was also introduced to a problem facing artisanal fishermen in Mexico. These fishermen favor 'Hookah' or surface-supply diving. This is where divers breathe air or gas—via an umbilical—directly from the surface or a diving bell. Whilst military and saturation (commercial) divers tend to carefully maintain their equipment, and closely monitor the gas being pumped, these safe diving procedures are not followed by all divers.
The Mexican fishermen, having little understanding about decompression illness and carbon monoxide poisoning, were getting sick. Their air sources were contaminated with engine exhaust fumes, resulting in annual DCI rates exceeding 75% of the diving population. Chris' response was to help design and machine an effective snorkel that could elevate the air intake away from the exhaust fumes, drastically reducing carbon monoxide concentrations.
After raising the necessary funds, Chris and the UCLA Hyperbaric team travelled to the Yucatan and worked with community leaders to install these devices and measure their effectiveness. In addition, they taught safer diving practices and oxygen delivery for injured divers. Today, the design and lessons have spread to multiple cities and fishing cooperatives, and will hopefully continue to save lives for years to come. After seeing the enormous variance in diving practices and equipment, Chris continues to introduce safe diving practices to divers around the world.
Chris will no doubt embrace his scholarship year. He brings with him a fierce determination and passion to make a lasting contribution to the underwater world. You can follow his forthcoming adventures via the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society website.
Who can apply for an OWUSS Rolex Scholarship?
Scholarship Eligibility Requirements
Minimum age of 21 and maximum age of 26 at the time of the application deadline (31st December for North America & Europe, 31st January for Australasia)
Valid citizenship for the relevant Rolex Scholarship (North America, Europe, and Australasia)
Applicant has not yet earned a graduate degree by April 1st of the scholarship year and has not yet chosen a clearly defined career path
High academic standing
Fluency in English
Certification as a Rescue Diver or equivalent with a minimum of 25 dives logged in the past two years
Evidence of adequate health insurance for duration of scholarship year
Submission of a completed diving medical examination form which is found in the application
If you are chosen as a scholar, you will be required to pass a NOAA (or equivalent) physical.