A professor of marine science and expert in science communication, Bill Dennison steps in as Interim President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science after serving as Vice President for Science Application since 2002. He has led the Integration and Application Network, responsible for the annual Chesapeake Bay report card and environmental assignments around the world, and has published hundreds of papers and books on coastal ecosystem ecology.
What is your research focus, and what gets you most excited?
My original and enduring research focus is marine plants, in particular, seagrasses. I love the way marine plants have adapted to life in the sea, and I have studied the ecophysiology and ecology of these unique plants throughout my career. When I was at the University of Queensland in Australia, I had the opportunity to research seagrasses, macroalgae, mangroves, corals, phytoplankton, benthic microalgae, marine bacteria and viruses in some fascinating locations including the Great Barrier Reef.
While in Australia I also became interested in science communication, environmental report cards, and science applications, including stakeholder engagement. When I joined UMCES in 2002, I expanded on these interests adding social science in support of science applications. For the past decade, my real passion is in using science in support of environmental management.
What do you see as UMCES’ role in Maryland and where the university is headed?
We are now in an era of unprecedented environmental change, and UMCES scientists have been at the forefront of developing research to understand the causes and implications of these changes. UMCES partners with multiple state agencies, other public universities in Maryland, and various non-governmental organizations and federal agencies to tackle the environmental challenges facing Maryland. Our role is increasingly to serve as a catalyst and connector to facilitate solutions.
We are now in an era of unprecedented environmental change, and UMCES scientists have been at the forefront of developing research to understand the causes and implications of these changes.
What is UMCES’ role in environmental education?
As Maryland’s graduate school for the environment, UMCES has several roles in environmental education, including teacher training, summer camps for kids, education research to understand how to engage learners, adult education through public seminars and docent programs, and leading efforts to develop citizen science programs. These programs are in addition to our long-standing tradition of training the next generation of scientists through our graduate education program.
What’s next? What are you most excited about in your role?
I am very excited about UMCES’ new think-and-do-tank, the Chesapeake Global Collaboratory, to accelerate environmental solutions. The Collaboratory will utilize innovative tools like artificial intelligence and machine learning, broaden participation with diverse voices, and develop novel approaches to create actionable science. We want to tackle the most important and vexing issues facing society, including developing climate change resilience, combatting biodiversity loss, and creating sustainable food systems. We held a very successful summit in my first week as Interim President and some great recommendations for ways to progress the Collaboratory. I see this as my major priority going forward to propel UMCES into its next hundred years.