From Nahant to the Galápagos: Northeastern Alum Gregory Lewbart’s Journey of Discovery

From a college student at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania to a fish veterinarian at North Carolina State University’s Veterinary School, Dr. Greg Lewbart credits his current success to Northeastern University’s Master’s program.

Greg Lewbart poses with a parrot on St. Vincent.

Since Lewbart was 14 years old, he wanted to pursue veterinary school. After volunteering for a local veterinarian, he went to school as a biology major at Gettysburg College. While he was not a stellar student in his first few years, Lewbart was at the top of his class in his senior year, an academic position he attributes to the teaching styles of Dr. Robert D. Barnes.

Barnes’ Invertebrate Zoology class shifted Lewbart’s interest to marine biology in record time.

“We went to Bermuda and I got to do all this snorkeling and marine biology. And I thought ‘This is it. This is what I want to do.’”

Because of his new interest in marine biology, Lewbart decided to apply to Northeastern University for graduate school as well as veterinary schools. He had come across a Northeastern flyer detailing available spots for graduate students at the Marine Science Institute, now known as the Marine Science Center, in Nahant, MA, started by Dr. Nathan “Doc” Riser. When he took on this opportunity, he met Dr. Patricia Morse.

Greg Lewbart and Tim Van Wey getting ready for dive at East Point in Nahant as graduate students at the Marine Science Center in 1982.

As Lewbart reminisces on his time at Nahant, he recalls a significant impact Riser and Morse had on finding his footing as a graduate student.

“When Dr. Patricia Morse found out I went to Gettysburg and I took Invert Zoo with Dr. Barnes who wrote one of the main textbooks on the subject, she kind of scooped me up to be a TA in her advanced class,” Lewbart said.

He felt grateful for the advantage that position put him in, as a graduate student assisting an advanced class. On top of this opportunity, Riser was his advisor with a mentorship style that especially inspired Lewbart.

“Doc was this sort of perfect combination of hands-off mentoring not micromanaging you but if you needed a correction to get you back in the lane, he was there for that. And that worked well for me.”

After his work at Nahant with Northeastern, he was accepted into UPenn’s veterinary program which led him to working in the ornamental fish industry in Philadelphia. Despite pursuing veterinary studies further in Pennsylvania, Lewbart brings his origins back to Northeastern.

“If it wasn’t for Northeastern and my time in Nahant, I’d be doing something else,” Lewbart said. Northeastern inspired a sense of seriousness in his studies out of him that he did not have before.

“Without my Northeastern experience, I don’t know how I was going to get into vet school because I needed to show the U Penn veterinary admissions committee that I could cut it academically, and I did.”

Now, Lewbart teaches veterinary medicine at North Carolina State University. Almost 30 years ago, UNC Chapel Hill researcher Kenneth Lohmann was in need of a veterinarian who could take care of his sick sea slugs: a perfect job for Lewbart. From then on, Lewbart occasionally took care of sea animals by taking blood, noting vital signs and so on for Lohmann when needed. In 2013, Lohmann invited Lewbart onto a project in the Galápagos Islands because UNC was building a science center on the islands.

Greg Lewbart teaches students how to draw blood.

“I started learning how to do work in a developing country with a different language and a different culture,” Lewbart said. “We got some productive work done, started publishing papers and it’s really been building. We initially started doing health assessments of different species like sea turtles, tortoises, marine iguanas, and sea lions.”

Lewbart’s work in the Galápagos is far from unnoticed. His work, which was accumulated from 28 visits so far, has been featured on BBC and in a 2023 PBS special titled “The Marine Iguanas’ Unusual Shrinking Adaptation.”

Studying at the Marine Science Center and going to veterinary school gave Lewbart an upper hand he was not expecting. From there, he’s additionally gotten the chance to work in the Turks and Caicos and other islands in the Caribbean. But on top of that it’s created a functional work environment between him and his colleagues.

Greg Lewbart operates on a 68 lbs catfish in the life support system area at a Bass Pro Shops in Concord, NC.

“When you’re a veterinarian that can work with wildlife and aquatic animals, you’re a little bit like, as I tell my students, a Swiss army knife,” Lewbart said. “You may not know as much about the animals or their natural history or the research, but you can do things that biologists can’t do, or aren’t used to doing.”

When asked about what advice he would like to give to graduate students, he’s honest with the reality of his original academic intentions. When he applied to graduate school, it was essentially a means to getting into veterinary school. But now with research projects around multiple foreign islands and marine life specials on air for all to watch, he thanks graduate school.

“Northeastern was life-changing for me and probably the best decision I ever made.”

Photos courtesy of Gregory Lewbart

Marine Science Center