Tom at a student internship poster presentation

At the end of 2022, Michigan Sea Grant’s director will hang up his hat and begin his well-earned retirement. 

Tom Johengen joined Michigan Sea Grant (MISG) as director in 2019. By then, he’d already been an integral member of the Great Lakes research community for 31 years. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and his PhD at the University of Michigan. In 1991, he became a research scientist with the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR) housed at the University of Michigan. He has been a fixture at CIGLR ever since, serving several stints as the institute’s director in 2000-05 and 2020-21, and as associate director in 2009-19. Tom’s research interests have included harmful algal blooms, ballast water management, invasive species, shifting food web dynamics, and more.

Our colleagues at NOAA have written a wonderful piece highlighting Tom’s involvement in the research community over the arc of his career. He also wrote a farewell message of his own.

Tom joined MISG as director in late 2019, based in the Ann Arbor office at the University of Michigan. He took the reins from Catherine Riseng, who served as MISG’s research program manager in 2013-21 and as interim director in 2018-19.

Catherine looks back at the transition with gratitude. “I have known Tom since we were graduate students at the University of Michigan back in the mid-80s,” she says. “We couldn’t have imagined that we’d be working together at MISG toward the end of our careers. I greatly appreciated Tom’s leadership contributions to MISG. He worked hard to lead through consensus and inclusivity.” 

Tom shepherded the program through the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which changed the timing and trajectory of many programs and projects. “We’ve been fortunate to have Tom as MISG’s director these past three years,” says Heather Triezenberg, MISG’s associate director and Extension program leader. “He was an excellent collaborator with a strong commitment to working in partnership to help MISG best serve our stakeholders and partners in our state.”

Elizabeth Striano, MISG communications program leader, echoes that sentiment: “I’m happy for Tom and his retirement, but he will be sorely missed by all of us here at MISG. Not only was he a great leader who was passionate about his work to protect the Great Lakes, but he is also a genuinely thoughtful and good human being. I know that whoever takes over as director will have a solid example to follow.”

Brandon Uckele joined MISG’s Ann Arbor office in 2021 as an administrative project coordinator, then stepped into the role of fiscal officer after Elyse Larsen’s retirement in March 2022. “Tom has been a great mentor, resource, and wealth of knowledge in many ways,” reflects Brandon. “It is clear that he cares deeply about the work we do and the people involved. We’re fortunate to have had him as our director.”

After retiring in December 2022, Tom anticipates a full slate of adventures with his wife, including gardening, baking, and traveling around the country and world. 

Michigan Sea Grant and the University of Michigan are concluding a nationwide search for the program’s next director, who will also serve as a faculty member in the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability. The search team anticipates making a final decision and public announcement in the next several months. Research Program Manager Michael Fraker is expected to serve as interim director until the incoming candidate is ready to begin later in 2023.