UMCES graduates next generation of environmental leaders

May 25, 2022
A photo of all the graduates and advisors attending the 2022 Commencement ceremony


The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) held its annual Commencement on Tuesday, May 24, featuring the conferral of master's and doctorate degrees, distinguished speakers and university awards, and keynote speaker Dr. Deborah Bronk (MEES Ph.D. '92), oceanographer and President and CEO of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

“This is a time for optimism and hope because your generation of scientists have demonstrated a resilience and determination to succeed,” University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science President Peter Goodwin told graduates. “You are the smartest and most environmentally-aware generation ever to grace this planet.”

UMCES is a preeminent environmental research and educational institution that leads the way toward better management of Maryland’s natural resources and the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay from a network of laboratories across the state. As an environmental research and graduate institution, UMCES holds a unique and important place among the University System of Maryland’s 12 institutions, leading a nationally ranked graduate program in marine and environmental science and providing unbiased science to assist Maryland policymakers as its mission.

Every year, more than 80 graduate students study and work alongside UMCES scientists and faculty members through the Marine Estuarine Environmental Sciences (MEES) graduate program, a nationally eminent interdisciplinary graduate program. Students go on to become environmental leaders in both the public and private sectors, research, and environmental advocacy. Twenty students received joint degrees from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the University of Maryland College Park (UMD) at the ceremony.

For a complete list of graduates, visit

“A career based on science is a great way to spend your life. Make the choice to enjoy the ride no matter where it takes you,” said commencement speaker Dr. Deborah Bronk (MEES Ph.D. '92), President and CEO of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. “It’s an all- hands on deck moment, and we need to share the resources we have. You chose well when you chose UMCES.

Commencement speaker Deborah Bronk shared her wisdom with students at our 2022 ceremony.

Bronk has conducted more than 50 research cruises and field studies in freshwater and marine environments that stretch from pole to pole during her three decades of experience as an oceanographer. In 2020, she was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and recognized for her substantial research advances on the marine nitrogen cycle and for leadership in the ocean science research community.  She earned her Ph.D. from the Marine Estuarine and Environmental Sciences (MEES) graduate program at UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory campus. 

The ceremony included recognition of faculty, student, and staff accomplishments and excellence.

Xin Zhang was awarded President’s Award for Excellence in Application of Science for exemplary applications of science that have had a positive impact on environmental protection. She was recognized for her global leadership in improving understanding of the intersection between food production needs, economic concerns, and the environment. An expert in sustainable agriculture, She led the development of the Sustainable Agriculture Matrix, a quantitative assessment for agriculture sustainability for countries around the world, as well as collaborative projects to identify ways to improve sustainability of nitrogen management in China and the United States.

Senior Faculty Research Assistant Casey Hodgkins was given the President’s Award for Outstanding Research Support for her impact on UMCES’ research enterprise and graduate experience. She has been an integral part of a variety of projects and technical support roles during her 13 years at UMCES’ Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. She has participated in 34 cruises aboard the R/V Rachel Carson as a senior scientist in support of research efforts aimed at understanding ocean acidification and the Patuxent River ecosystem.  She has also shared her experiences and skills to mentor junior FRAs and students in the rigor and care involved in the scientific enterprise.

Associate Professor Eric Schott was presented the faculty mentor award by president Peter Goodwin and graduate student Anna Windle.

Graduate student Claire Nemes,  a Ph.D. candidate with a research focus on birds, was awarded the UMCES Student Service Award for a high level of engagement and service to UMCES’ Appalachian Laboratory and the broader community. Nemes has given more than a dozen talks to community groups, organized countless bird walks in western Maryland, and developed educational materials to teach visitors about the challenges of bird migration. She has a record of educating herself and others to actively promote inclusivity, equity, and diversity and being the first to welcome new people the community.

Associate Professor Eric Schott,  a marine ecologist whose research focuses on understanding aquatic health, was selected by the graduate student body to receive the Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award  for his dedication to both science and his students. Active in science education and watershed preservation, Schott’s research focuses on understanding discovery and tracking of estuarine pathogens in the blue crab and other shellfish. Students say he is dedicated to improving diversity, equality, and inclusion in his lab and has helped them grow into independent researchers and to be successful in job hunting and developing their career path.

John Piasecki was recognized for receiving the UMCES Staff Excellence Award for consistently demonstrating a high level of commitment and dedication to UMCES as the facilities manager for the Appalachian Laboratory. The Appalachian Laboratory relies on him for wide-ranging duties, from building maintenance to helping students with research projects, and he has made significant contributions to the reduction of energy use and costs by updating the HVAC system and transitioning the facility to LED lighting.