Ferguson, director of the National Geographic Society Education and Outreach Program, and Ann Judge, director of the Society's travel office, were accompanying the three teacher-student pairs on an educational trip to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary near Santa Barbara, CA, as part of a society-funded marine research project known as Sustainable Seas Expeditions. Earlier, in 1999, the expedition spent two weeks exploring Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.
"The staff at Gray's Reef felt it was important to name the vessel in Joe's honor in recognition of all he has done to educate students about the marine environment and America's ocean treasures," said Reed Bohne, then manager of Gray's Reef.
The students and their teachers, all from Washington D.C., had been selected to participate in the program by National Geographic. Teacher James Debeuneure and student Rodney Dickens were representing Ketcham Elementary School; teacher Sarah Clark and student Asia Cottom were from Backus Elementary School; and teacher Hilda Taylor and student Bernard Brown were from Leckie Elementary School. All the students were 11-year-old sixth graders.
Ferguson, a native of Mississippi, completed a master's degree in geography at Ohio University and joined National Geographic in 1987 as one of the first full-time employees of the Geography Education Outreach Program.
Strongly committed to improving geography education in America's classrooms, he won the affection of teachers who participated in a wide range of professional development activities sponsored by the Society. His long-time service in the program made him the widely acknowledged as the "institutional memory" of the department, according to his National Geographic colleagues.
Click here to view National Geographic remembrances on September 11, 2011 of staff colleagues Ann Judge and Joe Ferguson, and the teachers and children who traveled with them, on September 11, 2001.
In 2009, the first R/V Joe Ferguson, a 41-foot ship originally belonging to the U.S. Coast Guard, was retired. A new vessel, a 41-foot catamaran, now bears the name R/V Joe Ferguson.
With thanks to The National Geographic Society