Mažeika Patricio Sullivan is a firm believer in the aphorism that a rising tide lifts all boats, and he plans to bring that philosophy with him when he takes over in a place where the influence of the tides is always present.
In the landscape of academia, where competition can be just as constant, Sullivan said his vision is to create an environment of collaboration, teamwork and shared success in his new role as director of the Belle Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science W. Baruch of Clemson University (BICEFS).
“I enjoy seeing others succeed and hope to facilitate that as director of Baruch,” said Sullivan, who previously served as director of the Shiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park and as professor, associate director and chief diversity officer at State University of Ohio School of Environment and Natural Resources.
In his new position, Sullivan will lead research efforts at BICEFS, one of six Research and Education Centers (RECs), collectively known as the Clemson Experiment Station, located strategically throughout South Carolina. He replaces John Andrey, who served as interim director from 2021.
Associate Dean for Research in Clemson’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences (CFLS) Paula Agudelo said Sullivan is recognized by his peers for excellence in leadership and teaching and has published more than 70 peer-reviewed journal articles to date and is the author of several book chapters.
“Dr. Sullivan also brings significant research experience, having secured $8 million in contracts and grants to date,” said Paula Agudelo, associate dean for research in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences Clemson. “Dr Sullivan is an extremely active scholar with many contributions to ecology and environmental science, and is deeply committed to promoting equity, inclusion, and diversity in ecology and natural resources through teaching, research, and service.”
BICEFS is a coastal research center located on Hobcaw Barony, an undeveloped 16,000-acre tract along Waccamaw Neck, where scientists have studied the coastal environment for more than 50 years.
While most of Clemson’s research efforts in its RECs focus primarily on agriculture and agribusiness, BICEFS operates under the auspices of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation (FEC), meaning its studies include the environmental impacts of changing land use patterns, coastal natural resource conservation, forestry, water quality, biodiversity and watershed management.
“With Dr. Sullivan’s background and reputation, I am thrilled to welcome him to Clemson and for what he can accomplish at the Baruch Institute. The facilities there provide our scientists with unique research opportunities in a coastal environment with high salinity estuarine marshes, saltwater marshes and freshwater marshes,” said FEC Division Chair Todd Petty. “This allows us to study such a variety of coastal ecosystems – woodlands, riparian and wetlands – and take advantage of all these different natural elements together on one undeveloped piece of land. Dr. Sullivan’s experience in conducting and coordinating extensive wetland research programs will help our scientists take full advantage of these opportunities.”
“The Institute’s focus on coastal forest and wetland ecology is of increasing national importance as coastlines come under increasing pressure from development and climate change,” Petty added.
In addition to Hobcaw Barony, Clemson scholars at Baruch have memorandums of understanding with public and private organizations that provide access to more than 80,000 acres of coastal lands for collaborative research and education programs.
For his part, Sullivan plans to make the most of every acre.
“One overarching idea I will explore with BICEFS faculty and staff is how a ridge-to-reef approach can help bring together and elevate many of BICEFS’ current and emerging strengths,” he said. “This holistic approach seeks to understand and protect coastal ecosystems by integrating science and conservation from uplands (‘ridges’) to coastal marine ecosystems (‘reef’).”
Sullivan said he was drawn to the position for many reasons, including the Institute’s rich history, strong past leadership and the opportunity to work with its team of scientists, extension professionals and natural resource practitioners.
His scientific career has taken him across the continental US and Puerto Rico, and internationally to Lithuania and South Africa.
In 2015-16, he conducted research, teaching and outreach activities based at the National University of Colombia, Bogotá, as a Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Biodiversity and Sustainable Development and currently has a project in the Colombian Amazon investigating ecological controls on biodiversity and sustainable fishing in Amazon River tributaries and floodplains.
“Broadly, my research focuses on watershed and coastal ecology and conservation,” Sullivan said. “Specifically, the goal of my research program—the Streams, Rivers and Estuaries (STRIVE) Lab—is to advance our understanding of how elements of natural environmental variability and global change affect biodiversity, community organization, and ecosystem function in connected aquatic terrestrial systems.”
Much of the research conducted at Baruch aims to inform policy-makers when making decisions about things like land use and urban development, and this is an area in which Sullivan also has extensive expertise.
In 2014-15, he served on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board for the Review of the Waterbody Connectivity Report and subsequent proposed rule (2013-14) related to the Clean Water Act.
Sullivan has also briefed Congress several times on the science surrounding the Clean Water Rule and has published policy articles in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His articles have appeared in national publications such as The Hill, and his research and expertise have been widely disseminated to the general public by outlets including NPR, CNN, National Geographic, the New York Times, and Science News.
“I hope to build on this work in policy and science communication to help enhance the great and important work of BICEFS faculty and staff,” he said.
Sullivan, who is active on social media on Twitter, @DrEcoMaz, said his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College in Anthropology and Native American Studies and his own multicultural background instilled an appreciation for different peoples, cultures and perspectives and served him well in working with different stakeholders.
“I have been fortunate to live in many areas in my life, including Vermont and Puerto Rico, New Hampshire, Ohio, Idaho and Columbia,” he said. “I also spent a lot of time in Lithuania — which is a beautiful country with a rich and touching history. Living in all these areas has added to the diversity of my experience and brought a broad perspective to my scholarship, outreach and leadership.”
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