Former and current colleagues, local and state dignitaries, family and friends packed the Institute of Marine & Environmental Technology on Thursday, June 1, to celebrate 27 years of environmental leadership of outgoing University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science President Don Boesch.
Boesch announced in the fall he would step down as president later this summer though he plans to continue at UMCES as faculty.
Sheilah Kast, host of WYPR’s “On the Record,” served as the emcee for the evening that welcomed about 250 guests under the tent at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
Through the celebration, several speakers praised Boesch’s work from the podium. University of Maryland System Board of Regents Chairman Jim Brady said Boesch built up UMCES as a place of expertise that made it "the go-to player for environmental advice." Adding to the sentiment, USM Chancellor Robert Caret said serving as a president often means becoming a logo for the institution over which you preside and Boesch represented UMCES well every time he walked in a room.
Maryland Sen. Paul Pinsky said Boesch himself was a respected player in state discussions in Annapolis because of his vast knowledge and true environmental integrity.
Boesch’s unique abilities to speak truth to power and break down complex sciences so it could be understood by government leaders and non-scientists were echoed in several of the evening’s speeches and video testimonies.
“It’s not just good enough to do your science, you have to tell the story,” said Denise Reed, Vice President for Strategic Research Initiatives at the Water Institute of the Gulf, sharing a lesson she had to learn and Boesch knew well.
Many praised Boesch also for his role in on-going restoration efforts in Chesapeake Bay.
Ben Grumbles said met Boesch before he became Maryland Department of the Environmental secretary and learned much of what he needed to know about the Bay from the dedicated scientist. He called Boesch tough, fair and true, and thanked him for helping keep a strong focus on the Bay.
Will Baker, Chesapeake Bay Foundation president, spoke of when the Foundation was developing its strategy to ensure Bay restoration goals were fully met by the 2025 deadline. They were calling it “A Moment in Time,” but Boesch, Baker recalled, called it “the moment” because he recognized the value of their work.
The decision today was on the wrong side of history, but it’s also on the wrong side of physics, the wrong side of chemistry, the wrong side of biology, geology and economics. So what it means for me we have more work to do, all of us.
The evening’s keynote speaker, Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, opened her speech with a term Boesch has used to explain a summer phenomenon in the Bay: dead zone.
It refers to an area of no to low oxygen that can kill fish and other marine life. It was coined when Boesch was doing research in the Gulf of Mexico, but thanks to Boesch, earned broader reach and eventually became understood in Maryland as a problem also happening in Chesapeake Bay.
“Don's arrival on the scene could not have been more timely nor his efforts better placed,” McNutt said.
She concluded her speech in gratitude to Boesch: “Thank you for a career well executed. We owe you a great debt.”
David Secor, a fisheries scientist at UMCES’ Chesapeake Biological Laboratory and faculty senate chairman, introduced the scientist of the evening to the podium and presented an engraved chair as a gift.
Boesch thanked a long list of colleagues and friends from over his tenure. He also thanked his family members for their support because it not only enabled him to fulfill his duties as president, but also it motivated his work “to make sure they have a livable planet.”
He lauded the government officials who took the time to learn and help turn scientific findings into valuable policies. That kind of partnership is unique to Maryland, he noted.
“Maryland is a special place where we can work across economic and political lines so effectively," he said.
He applauded the UMCES faculty and staff for their dedication and follow through. He challenged his colleagues to “never shrink from their responsibilities,” while he called upon government and non-government leaders to both rely on and push UMCES scientists.
In closing, he brought up the federal decision to step out of the Paris Agreement, a commitment of nearly every nation worldwide to reduce carbon emissions. The call was made earlier the same day as Boesch’s celebration.
And in bringing it up, Boesch issued a challenge to the room.
“The decision today was on the wrong side of history, but it’s also on the wrong side of physics, the wrong side of chemistry, the wrong side of biology, geology and economics,” he said to applause. “So what it means for me we have more work to do, all of us. There’s a purpose for us in our world, and we have to come together and continue to move forward on the part of the world can control the state of Maryland and this region, and I think we can do that.”