AMHERST — Hitchcock Center for the Environment’s new executive director, William “Billy” Spitzer, who begins his tenure later in July, brings experience in science education, climate communication, and network building from his work for more than 20 years at the New England Aquarium.
Hitchcock’s board of directors announced this week that Spitzer will be taking over for Julie Johnson, who is retiring after almost two decades at the helm, a tenure that included the opening of a living building in 2017 that has furthered the center’s mission to educate and inspire action for a healthy planet.
Spitzer said he is looking forward to being at the Hitchcock Center and working from the living building, one of just 23 in the world that produces all its own energy and water.
“I have been very impressed by the center’s strategic commitment to climate education, action and justice and to manifesting this through their new building and programs, and am excited about building on this great work and on all the collaborations I’ve developed in the environmental and climate education communities,” Spitzer said.
He added that the Hitchcock Center is uniquely positioned to increase its impact on public engagement in climate change and other environmental challenges.
“We can become a learning laboratory where we can test new ways to engage, inspire and enable people to learn in and from nature and to act together for a just and sustainable future,” Spitzer said.
The nature-based programs serve an average of 10,000 program participants annually throughout western Massachusetts.
Board President Clay Ballantine is confident that Spitzer is the right person to head the Hitchcock Center.
“(Spitzer’s) a perfect fit as the center continues to forge an unwavering path forward to be a leader addressing the challenges of climate change head on and ensuring a world where people, communities and ecosystems thrive,” Ballantine said.
Working with search consultant Cathy Cohen of TSNEMissionWorks, the board of directors reviewed over 70 applicants for the position.
After leaving the aquarium, Spitzer had been working over the past year as part of a team developing a national strategy for public engagement in climate change, centered on climate justice and the engagement of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) leaders. He said he heard about the opening through colleagues at MassAudubon, and was familiar with its reputation for high-quality programs. He will be moving to the area from the Boston suburbs
Johnson, who will stay on to provide continuity in leadership, said Spitzer is perfect for the center and the community.
“It had been hard to imagine handing over the reins to just anyone, but after getting to know Billy, it is going to be easy,” she said.
Previously, Spitzer was responsible for applying learning and social science research across education programs, exhibits, visitor experience, and community outreach at the aquarium.
In 2014, Spitzer was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change for Engaging the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders. In 2016, he received a Visionary Award from the Gulf of Maine Council for innovation, creativity, and commitment to marine protection. He holds a doctorate in oceanography from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Scott Merzbach can be reached at email@example.com.