Thomas K. Ruppert, a coastal planning specialist with Florida Sea Grant and thought leader on legal policy around sea-level rise adaptation and other areas of environmental law, has been selected as the assistant provost for coastal resilience and director of the new Virginia Coastal Resilience Collaborative (VCRC) at William & Mary. 

The university-wide collaborative, which launched this month, seeks to produce and translate relevant science and research to allow state and local leaders to make informed policy decisions for the development and maintenance of resilient coastal systems. Its creation is part of the university’s water initiative, a core pillar of the Vision 2026 strategic plan. 

“We are so fortunate to have Thomas Ruppert lead this critical effort. He offers a wealth of expertise in areas of sea-level rise and coastal protection,” said Provost Peggy Agouris, “and he also reflects William & Mary’s values in his work, which emphasizes collaboration, community and citizen engagement. This critical ability to attract the attention and best thinking of residents, policymakers and agencies is vital as the region and the commonwealth, with the help of VCRC and VIMS, develop solutions to the increasing effects of sea level rise. We welcome him to William & Mary and look forward to what the VCRC will accomplish.”

A nationally respected thought leader

Ruppert is expected to begin on Oct. 10. As assistant provost, he will be responsible for working with local, state, and federal policy makers and regulators; coordinating efforts among teams developing coastal resilience solutions and those affected by them; and seeking grant and other funding opportunities. He will partner with the VCRC’s advisory board, which will be made up of representatives from state and local government and the private sector.

Ruppert has spent the last two decades focused on conceptualizing, preparing and securing funding for projects that address complex environmental challenges.

In his current role with Florida Sea Grant, held since 2010, Ruppert has developed programs, created legal analyses and managed public outreach around issues related to sea-level rise and adaptation. The workshops he developed became a national model for other Sea Grant programs, and his policy development led to comprehensive plan amendments, ordinances and other policies. As a result of his work, he has become a much-sought-after expert for local and state government organizations as well as journalists. 

Previously, Ruppert worked at the University of Florida as a conservation law fellow and later assistant in environmental law for the Center for Governmental Responsibility and Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Ruppert is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Law and Southwest State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in literature and philosophy. He has published in a number of peer-reviewed journals and other professional publications, and he has written several book chapters. Throughout his career, he has been involved with myriad grant-funded projects valued at $3.7 million. Of those, he was principal investigator or co-PI for 13 projects valued at $1.1 million.

Ruppert will bring all of those experiences and skills with him to William & Mary.

“I am excited to work with William & Mary to identify and promote opportunities for adaptation as director of the Virginia Coastal Resilience Collaborative,” said Ruppert. “We will engage with communities, citizens, academics, students, practitioners and decision makers to share cutting-edge scientific research on resilience being conducted in Virginia. As William & Mary and the Commonwealth of Virginia have for centuries been thought leaders, it is an honor to be invited to form part of that tradition.”

The Virginia Coastal Resilience Collaborative

A steering committee included representatives from William & Mary, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Virginia Sea Grant was established in April 2023. Led by VIMS Dean and Director Derek Aday, the committee was charged with refining the collaborative’s vision, conducting a regional and state needs assessment, auditing the university’s current research, training and advisory assets and proposing how the collaboration will be organized.

The group delivered its proposal to the president and provost in June for approval, and the search for a person to lead the collaborative was launched soon thereafter.

As the inaugural person to fill that position, Ruppert will work with faculty and staff from units across the university, including the School of Marine Science, W&M Law School, Raymond A. Mason School of Business, Public Policy Program, Department of Economics, the Whole of Government Center of Excellence and the Entrepreneurship Center, among others.

“As the pace of global change accelerates, building resilient coastal systems is more essential than ever,” said Aday. “I’m thrilled to welcome Thomas as we launch the VCRC to work with state and local decision makers and other stakeholders on the most pressing scientific and policy issues confronting coastal communities in the Commonwealth. The work Thomas will lead when he joins us next month dovetails nicely with the water initiative, a cornerstone of W&M’s Vision 2026, and I look forward to collaborating with him and the VCRC to confront challenging issues that Virginia faces now and in the years ahead.”

The collaborative officially launched this month, and its work is already underway through a course titled Virginia Coastal Science & Policy Practicum (MSCI 697). Co-taught by VIMS Research Assistant Professor Molly Mitchell and CSX Professor and Chair of Economics Sarah Stafford, the interdisciplinary class focuses on the intersection of coastal science and policy and management issues facing coastal communities. Its students are grappling with real-life questions from local, state and federal perspectives to produce information that can inform management considerations in Virginia, according to Mitchell, who also chaired the search committee for the assistant vice provost position. 

When Ruppert begins in that role next month, the work of the collaborative can continue in earnest. Along with providing unbiased, apolitical advice and guidance to Virginia’s decision makers and those that do business in the commonwealth, the collaborative will include a focus on student training and workforce development. That work will include creating a graduate-level practicum course focused on stakeholder needs, a seminar series and student internships/assistantships. Careers is also one of the core initiatives of William & Mary’s Vision 2026 strategic plan. 

The VCRC will also explore positions for affiliate scholars, who would be charged with facilitating collaboration with partners at other institutions and of higher education and the private sector.

Appointments to the advisory board will begin being made following Ruppert’s arrival. 

, Senior Associate Director of University News