What's New with the Chesapeake Watershed CESU

Meet Dr. Matt Fitzpatrick, Appalachian Laboratory Associate Director for Research and CHWA CESU Director

In July 2021, Appalachian Laboratory and CHWA CESU Director Dr. Eric Davidson stepped down from these roles to serve as a Jefferson Science Fellow with the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs in the Office of Environmental Equality at the U.S. State Department during the 2021-2022 academic year.  As part of the new Laboratory leadership team, Dr. Matt Fitzpatrick has since been named Director of the Chesapeake Watershed CESU.

Dr. Matt Fitzpatrick leaning against red brick exterior with trees in background.
Dr. Matt Fitzpatrick, Associate Director of Research and Director of the CHWA CESU, UMCES-Appalachian Laboratory

Interview with Dr. Matt Fitzpatrick:

Tell us a little about your background. How did you come to be part of the UMCES faculty? What are your research interests? 

After working as an aerospace engineer for a few years, I decided to return to college to pursue advanced degrees in ecology. That decision led me first to Montana, where I did my Masters, and then to Tennessee, where I did my Ph.D., and lastly to Harvard, where I did a postdoc. 

The Appalachian Lab (AL) was on my radar long before I finished my Ph.D. because it was the sort of research-focused institution that most interested me career-wise and AL’s focus on landscape ecology aligned perfectly with my interests. Plus it was located in a small mountain town not too far from family! In short, it checked all the boxes for me. I was excited when I learned that a new faculty position was available, but I was still wrapping up my degree at the time and not yet on the job market. I decided to apply even though I didn’t think I would be competitive. Sure enough, I didn’t get an interview  – at least not that time. However, almost a year later having since moved on to Harvard with a freshly minted Ph.D., I received a letter from AL stating they were still looking to hire someone and invited me to update my application. I quickly sent in a new application and things went my way that time. I’ve been at AL since starting my position in 2009.

Today my research at UMCES focuses on understanding biodiversity across a range of spatial, temporal, and biological scales, and in particular on the development and application of spatial modeling methods to understand how biodiversity may be impacted by climate change and what actions we need to take to prevent biodiversity loss. 

What is your new role at UMCES and with the CHWA CESU? 

With the new AL Director, David Nelson, I am part of a new leadership model at UMCES in which I serve as AL’s first Associate Director for Research. As part of those duties, I also took over as the CESU Host Director.

What was your experience with the CESU before taking on this new role? 

Prior to my new role as Host Director, my experience with the CESU was fairly limited and mainly consisted of working on two National Park Service projects funded through the CESU. 

What has been the most surprising experience for you or something new you’ve learned since stepping into the CHWA CESU Director role? 

Two things surprised me. First, I didn’t realize just how large the CHWA CESU is in terms of partner institutions. Despite covering a relatively small geography, we are one of the largest networks, with over 60 partners. Second, I am really impressed with the amazing support I get from Danny Filer and Rhonda Schwinabart, who make my job as Host Director so much easier.

What are some of the UMCES-Appalachian Laboratory’s goals/priorities for the CHWA CESU in the months and years ahead? 

I am still learning a lot about the CESU and have only just begun to think about goals and priorities. That said, there are several areas where I’d like to make a difference. These include finding ways to increase the number of students supported from CESU funds and addressing underrepresentation within CESU-funded projects and our science more broadly.