With an endorsement from the Maryland State Board for Higher Education in October of 1978, Dr. Robert Menzer founded the Marine Estuarine Environmental Sciences (MEES) graduate program. MEES was established as a University of Maryland system-wide program and has evolved into a broad-based, interdisciplinary environmental science graduate curriculum. During its inception, a “development committee” oversaw MEES administration with representatives from the participating USM institutions and universities serving on the committee.
Participating faculty members and students were associated with many units of the University System of Maryland (USM), including the University of Maryland Baltimore (UMB), the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), the University of Maryland College Park (UMCP), and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES). Additionally, faculty and students have been associated with, the laboratories of the Center for Environmental Sciences (UMCES) including Horn Point Laboratory (HPL), the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (CBL), the Appalachian Laboratory (AL), and the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET).
The first MEES students were admitted in January 1979: Cassandra Jones and David Michael Robichaux, both at the Masters level. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Jane Orzel-Yager earned the first MEES Masters degree in December 1980; she continued her education in the MEES program to earn her Doctorate in 1986. The Program conferred its first Doctoral degree in August 1982 to Dr. Ranmali Devlina Wijayarantne (Sporation of Organic Pollutants on Natural Estuarine Colloids). When the program was first established, it was estimated that the student population might grow to 30 students within the first five years. However, by the fifth anniversary, enrollment approached 100 students. During this time, MEES program faculty began to develop their own courses integral to the training of environmental scientists not offered elsewhere in the university system.
In 1986, the Board of Regents approved a reorganization plan that centralized the MEES administration under a Director (Dr. Robert E Menzer) located at UMCP and an Assistant Director (Dr. Stephen Rebach) located at UMES. In addition, a MEES Advisory Committee was established, with representation from each degree-granting university and research institution. This committee (officially named the MEES Graduate Program Committee) was made responsible for maintaining and furthering the academic content and quality of graduate study in marine and estuarine sciences throughout the University System.
Following Dr. Robert Menzer's 1989 retirement, and while the MEES Director Search Committee was working in the early 1990s, the UMCES Graduate Faculty Council convened for the first time and the Chancellor's Marine Affairs Coordinating Council (CMACC) undertook a study of the MEES Program to strengthen its effectiveness as the system's primary course of environmental studies at the graduate level. The development of academic program areas developed by MEES faculty at UMCES was intended to provide a focus for increased participation of faculty members. In 1992, when Dr. Kenneth Sebens was appointed Director of the MEES Program, Dr. Wayne Bell, Acting Associate Director for Education of UMCES, submitted "Curriculum Tracks in MEES" report completed by UMCES graduate faculty. These tracks were defined as Oceanography, Ecology, Natural Resource Science, and Environmental Chemistry/Geochemistry.
A reorganization of the MEES Program curriculum was implemented in 1993 that took the four major areas of study to six clearly defined Areas of Specialization (AOSs): Ecology, Environmental Chemistry, Environmental Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Environmental Science, Fisheries Science, and Oceanography. It was also determined that the MEES Director should report to the Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at UMCP.
In summary, the MEES Program has been in existence for 34 years, conferred over 960 Masters and Doctoral degrees during that time and has grown from 37 students in 1980, to a current enrollment of approximately 160 highly qualified environmental scholars. The MEES Program functions as one of the primary 'environmental' graduate programs for the USM and serves as a successful example of cooperation among five institutions (UMCP, UMBC, UMB, UMES, UMCES). The MEES Program has become highly visible, both nationally and internationally, due primarily to the high quality of its faculty members, their international reputations, program alumni, and the strong student interest in environmental science and in its applications in solving environmental problems.