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SC Aquarium Conservation Gala Secures Over $454,000 For Landmark Animal Care Sustainers Fund



Press Release

On Saturday, December 4, 2021 the South Carolina Aquarium hosted its largest annual fundraising event, the Conservation Gala, with an evening dedicated to honoring environmental stewards and recognizing those that have made positive impacts on the community. Walter E. Massey, Ph.D, President of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, received the Environmental Stewardship Award; Google received the Community Impact Award; and Jaime Thom, School Programs Manager at the South Carolina Aquarium, received the Victor Samra, Jr. Leadership Award.

The dinner and awards program took place on Liberty Square, and the primary fundraising of the evening was through live ask investments and donations. Through the sponsorships, donations, the live ask and more, a total of $454,000 was secured for the South Carolina Aquarium. All funds raised at the 2021 Conservation Gala will be applied to the Landmark Animal Care Sustainers Fund, providing critical financial support for the Aquarium’s world-class animal care operations, which lie at the heart of every facet of their mission.

Following the decision to cancel this event in 2020, the return of the Conservation Gala was made possible by the generosity of community volunteer co-chairs Valerie Howell, Jordana Snider and Emily Swanson and the evening’s sponsors, The InterTech Group, Mary and Mason Holland, The Neely Family Foundation, Ingevity, Wells Fargo, Motley Rice Attorneys and Emily and Steve Swanson.

About the Awards

The Environmental Stewardship Award

Each year, the South Carolina Aquarium presents the Environmental Stewardship Award to an individual or company whose work inspires others to conserve our natural world. In recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the field of science and his tireless work to ensure that all people enjoy access to STEM education, the South Carolina Aquarium is honored to present Walter E. Massey, Ph.D with the 2021 Environmental Stewardship Award.

Massey is a remarkable leader and a highly acclaimed physicist who has long championed racial equality, social justice and inclusive STEM education. In his distinguished career, he has served as director of the National Science Foundation, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, director of the Argonne National Laboratory, chair of the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board, and board member of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. He served as board chair of Bank of America, and also served on the boards for McDonald’s, BP, Motorola, the Mellon Foundation, the Rand Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Smithsonian and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

The Community Impact Award

As South Carolina continues to grow economically, attracting diverse industries, the impact of corporate philanthropy in our region is increasingly valuable and visible. The inaugural Community Impact Award is presented to Google, whose commitment to education, equity and sustainability in the tri-county region, particularly Berkeley County, serves as an impressive example of innovative philanthropy that is generating lasting and positive impacts for South Carolina residents.

Through community wi-fi enhancements and support for interactive virtual learning programs, Google provided critical support that enabled the continued delivery of high-quality STEM education programs to students in South Carolina. Dedicated to innovative distance learning techniques, Google also funded the Aquarium’s first roaming robotic virtual learning device, the “Aquabot”, which has enabled Aquarium educators to deliver interactive video-interface programming to classrooms around the globe.

The Victor Samra, Jr. Leadership Award

This award is given in honor of the commitment to leadership and staff development by our beloved director emeritus, the late Victor Samra, Jr. His namesake award promotes the optimization of individual talents and overall organization effectiveness at the Aquarium, and is given annually to an outstanding employee who demonstrates high potential and high performance within the organization.

This year, the Aquarium celebrates the remarkable work of Jaime Thom, and the extraordinary impact of her work as School Programs Manager. Jaime’s leadership and tireless creativity have helped elevate the Aquarium’s education impact to that of a truly indispensable force in core standards-based education. Arguably the most critical informal STEM program in the state of South Carolina, Dominion Energy School Programs not only cements natural science themes, but reveals how the leaders of tomorrow can support conservation efforts that will change the future of our region.

Without donor support, the South Carolina Aquarium would be unable to carry forward the award-winning education programs that reach more that 30,000 students each year, and the innovative experiences and animal care programs that bring delight to more than 450,000 guests annually.

To learn more about supporting the critical conservation work of the Aquarium, visit or contact Nicole Principe at

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