After more than 13 successful and productive years at the College of Engineering and the Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department, Dr. Richard N. Palmer is retiring. Professor Palmer, who stepped down as head of the CEE department in September of 2019, has been serving as the university director of the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center (NE CASC) since he led its founding in 2012.
The NE CASC, established with a $7.5-million grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, studies how climate change affects ecosystems, wildlife, water, and other natural resources.
Palmer came to UMass Amherst in 2007 from the University of Washington, where he had served as a faculty member for 29 years.
Among numerous other awards and honors, Palmer was inducted by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) as a Distinguished Member in 2017, was a J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Awardee from 2015 to 2016, was elected as a Fellow of ASCE in 2014, and was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal in 2014 by UMass Amherst.
“Since he arrived in 2007,” said John Tobiason, who succeeded Palmer as head of the CEE department, “Rick Palmer has been very effective as CEE department head, faculty member, and research leader. He has been an excellent communicator and has worked tirelessly to promote and recognize the excellence of faculty, staff, and students in CEE.”
Palmer headed the CEE department during a period of expansion of its sponsored research, growing from around $5 million per year to nearly $13.5 million annually, and the growth of its faculty during the hiring of 17 tenure-track positions. Four young faculty members during this time were also awarded NSF CAREER Awards.
Palmer’s tenure as department head also significantly increased the number of women and minority faculty members in the department. In addition, the number of Ph.D. students tripled.
Beyond those accomplishments, Palmer established the Academy of Distinguished Alumni for CEE, recognizing outstanding graduates who have made significant contributions to their professions and to the community.
Palmer also left a lasting impact on the environment of the Northeast through his directorship of the NE CASC. In order to extend the work of the climate center he helped to establish, Palmer led the successful “re-competition” of the NE CASC in 2019. The NE CASC had base funding from 2012 to 2019 of more than $10.5 million and focused its research on engaging natural resource managers and other stakeholders in evaluating the impacts that climate change has in the Northeast. With the help of Palmer, the center was extended in 2019 for another five years, through 2024.
According to Distinguished Professor of Geosciences Ray Bradley, NE CASC principal investigator and director of the Climate Systems Research Center: “Rick Palmer has been an outstanding director of the NE CASC since it was established at UMass in 2012, creating a nationally recognized center of excellence for understanding how climate change will affect the region's natural and cultural resources. The success of the center is the result of Rick's great leadership and vision.”
As CEE Professor Michael Knodler, director of the UMass Transportation Center, summed up Palmer’s time at UMass Amherst: “The CEE department, and the University of Massachusetts in general, have been quite fortunate to have had a department head of the caliber of Rick Palmer. His unique ability to advocate for the department and its faculty, while providing a cordial and supportive environment, has led to unparalleled successes over the course of his tenure in this role.”
Palmer earned his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University and his M.S. from Stanford University. (September 2021)