Chesapeake Quarterly
Jon Kramer Leaves Maryland Sea Grant
Jon Kramer by Michael W. Fincham
Photograph: Michael W. Fincham.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS CAN BE DECEIVING, but in the case of Jon Kramer they weren't. He came to Maryland Sea Grant in 1998 to interview for an Assistant Director job and took an informal sit down with the communications staff. We were not the search committee, just colleagues curious about a candidate.

What we got straight out of the gate was thoughtful honesty, a candid discussion by a man who was facing a challenge of his own choosing: a career switch from research scientist to science administrator. He knew this job, if he got it, would be a life change, and he let us know what was going on in his head and his heart. He wasn't selling himself, he was revealing himself. In doing so, of course, he sold himself.

Those first impressions held up over his 14-year career at Maryland Sea Grant. And those qualities — honesty, thoughtfulness, and a readiness for new challenges — served him well and his colleagues even better. In 1999 he became Interim Director of the program; in 2000 he became Director.

And in 2011 he chose another challenge. Jon Kramer left Maryland Sea Grant in December to join a new kind of science organization, the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, or SESync for short. The new center is generously funded by the National Science Foundation, and its goal is ambitious: to connect, to bridge the gap between the specialization required for the best research and the multi-disciplinary, interconnected nature of environmental issues. In this brave new world, Kramer will be Director for Synthesis and Interdisciplinary Science.

He prepared well for this kind of job through his years at Maryland Sea Grant. Under his leadership the program pursued its founding mission of developing research focused on regional issues and connecting with all the communities that could use new findings to enjoy, preserve, and profit from our rivers, estuaries, and coasts. The result was top ranking for the program during its periodic five-year reviews by Sea Grant's national office.

While managing Sea Grant, Kramer made synthesis a major part of his work. He organized projects that created teams of scientists to review, evaluate, and apply research findings to complex — and controversial — issues. What did science have to say about the safety of dredge spoil from Baltimore Harbor? About the science value of recent oyster restoration efforts? About the scientific foundations for ecosystem-based fisheries management? He wanted the best science to play a big role in environmental decision making.

His passion for connecting good science with the rest of the world came out in other ways. A typical tactic: the magazine you're reading. Chesapeake Quarterly began with his support and guidance and for ten years has committed itself to narrative journalism as a way to tell interesting stories in accessible language about science and scientists. Another tactic: a book series called Chesapeake Perspectives. He started it by asking scientists and scholars to write about their work in non-technical terms, to share their best thinking about the ecology and culture of the Chesapeake region.

Those skills and interests did not go unnoticed. Sea Grant directors elected him to head up the National Sea Grant Association, and the Hudson River Foundation and the Center for Watershed Protection both put him on their boards of directors to help with strategic planning.

After first impressions come second impressions, then third and fourth, and many more. These impressions linger: his openness, his fairness, his steady moral compass. Those qualities count in a leader. But in the dailiness and weekliness of work life, so do these: his wide reading, his abiding interest in the newest Nikon cameras, his attention to college basketball. And, of course, his love affair with the Boston Celtics.

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