Hurricane Harvey brought record rainfall and flooding to the Houston-Galveston region. The impacts of the storm and ensuing flooding included loss of lives, homes and livelihoods. In response, researchers from the region with expertise in hydrology, climate science, engineering, coastal resiliency, energy, community development and urban planning came together to strategize on solutions.
A new leader is taking the helm at the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC). Chairman of the Board Todd Mitchell, together with other directors, unanimously appointed Lisa Gonzalez President on June 9, 2016. Gonzalez, an expert on the management of water, coastal resources, and ecological communities, served as the Vice President for the past 4 years.
Outgoing President Jim Lester, who joined HARC as director of the Environment Group in 2002, retired at the end of June. Dr. Lester served as Vice President for six years, before assuming the presidency in 2012. Lester and Gonzalez successfully collaborated on environmental projects and administrative activities at HARC as well as during previous stints at University of Houston-Clear Lake where Lester was Dean and directed the Environmental Institute of Houston.
Since she joined HARC in 2002, Gonzalez’s research has focused on the analysis and dissemination of data relating to the function and productivity of bays and estuaries, coastal watersheds, and the Gulf of Mexico. Past projects include the State of the Bay: A Characterization of the Galveston Ecosystem, the Galveston Bay Status and Trends Project, The Quiet Invasion invasive species field guide series, and the Galveston Bay Report Card.
When she became Vice President, the two leaders implemented a new strategic plan and brand for the organization. A legacy for the Lester/Gonzalez administration was attained with the recent groundbreaking of a new headquarters. HARC’s founder, the late George P. Mitchell, had long desired for the organization to operate in a facility that better represented its mission. The achievement of this new building, slated for completion in early 2017, can be attributed to their shared vision and speaks to their successful management style.
This past close collaboration ensures seamless leadership transition for HARC. Lester expresses great confidence in Gonzalez, “Lisa is an excellent manager and has the vision to expand HARC’s tradition of introducing non-partisan science into environmental policy debates.”
HARC has spent the last 15 years researching and promoting sustainability strategies that balance social, economic, and environmental needs. Noting that Lester’s contributions have set HARC on the path forward, Gonzalez says, “Jim was the right person, in the right place, at the right time during a transitional period for HARC. Under Jim’s leadership, HARC’s mission and research programs have become focused and HARC’s financial picture has become one of stability.”
With many of his goals for HARC satisfied, Jim reflects, “I thought that when I came to HARC I would retire in 10 years. It has been 14, and I have enjoyed every minute of it.” His enthusiasm for science will continue into retirement. He and his wife have built a home in Red River County, Texas where they maintain around 140 acres under a wildlife exemption. “I get to go back to being a biologist,” Jim said. Despite the lure of the country, he is looking forward to joining the HARC Board this fall, helping with legislative efforts and participating in HARC research projects when able. “I strongly support HARC and its mission, but I am ready to turn administration over to Lisa and the next generation.”
In discussing her vision for HARC, Lisa says, “There is an opportunity to apply our expertise to cross-cutting issues such as the resilience of the natural and built environment, an important issue in Texas that affects the economy and our communities in numerous ways.”
She went on to say, “HARC will continue its work to improve sustainability and the environment in Texas. Our work is crucial to Texas’ future, its quality of life, and its economic stability and environmental health.”