Meet the Extension Specialist

Maryland Sea Grant welcomes new Extension leader

by Alexandra Grayson

Bill Hubbard takes the helm for Maryland Sea Grant Extension. Photo, Lisa Tossey / MDSG
Bill Hubbard takes the helm for Maryland Sea Grant Extension.
Photo, Lisa Tossey / MDSG

Most people will never find themselves in the middle of a Florida forest wrestling with a chainsaw and a colony of fire ants. But William “Bill” Hubbard did. He was 20 years old and an undergraduate studying forest management. Standing around a tree with his fellow forestry students, Hubbard recalls he had no warning when the ants attacked.

“I kneeled down to get the chainsaw going. I felt the sting and the burn. I threw the chainsaw down—luckily, no one got hurt,” he said.

Hubbard said the forestry students got to know each other pretty well that year. And soon, we will get to know him, too. He is the new program leader for Maryland Sea Grant Extension and an assistant director for the University of Maryland Extension in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, taking over for Robert Tjaden.

Well equipped for the job, Hubbard brings 30 years of experience in forestry, education, and extension service. He held several leadership roles in Georgia and Florida before moving to Maryland in 2018. When he traveled here in June to interview for the position, Hubbard says he remembers thinking that Maryland would be “a great new place to live and work” for him and his family of six.

Hubbard attributes his leadership style to his experiences as a Boy Scout growing up outside Chicago, and later as a Scout leader for his sons. The Scouts, he says, taught him to “lead from behind, not command and control.” He also says that starting his doctoral work when the oldest of his four sons was in kindergarten—and finally finishing his degree when that son was in high school—taught him patience. These skills are important in extension work, he says, where “we connect people with solutions, with answers. We try to do that in as many different ways that we can, given the constraints that we have.”

Sea Grant’s 12 Extension agents function as a link between scientists who conduct marine research and citizens whose actions help to improve coastal habitats and environments. Five of these agents work in fisheries restoring oysters, supporting aquaculture, ensuring the safety of seafood, and advising regulators on the latest research to inform policy. Five are watershed specialists helping communities to obtain funding for and install rain gardens, porous surfaces, and living shorelines. Of the remaining two agents, one works as a coastal climate specialist and the other coordinates the watershed team’s efforts.

Hubbard’s job is to make sure that researchers have the support they need to do their work. Passionate about expanding the program to enable them to conduct more studies, he sees the need to focus on protecting the Bay, bolstering rural economies, and helping communities. He would also like to improve programming areas, such as oyster restoration and aquaculture.

After spending most of his academic and professional career in north Florida and Georgia, where encounters with rattlesnakes and fire ants are commonplace, Hubbard admits to experiencing some culture shock in Maryland, where the natural environment is somewhat tamer. But the transition from a job where he had 13 bosses, with as many different opinions, to one where team members are all on the same page has been easy.

It’s not likely we’ll see Hubbard toting a chainsaw around Maryland, but he’ll surely find his way to the state’s forests as he explores the diverse environments of his new home.

“Everyone always says, when they take a job like this one, ‘I want this to be the best environmental and natural resources program in the country,’” he said. “I think we really can have an impact here in a positive way.”

Alexandra Grayson, a rising sophomore at Howard University in Washington, D.C., was a Maryland Sea Grant intern in 2018–2019.

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