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Spotlight on New York Sea Grant’s Associate Director: Kathy Bunting-Howarth, J.D. Ph.D.

New York Sea Grant Associate Director

Kathy Bunting-Howarth is the Associate Director for New York Sea Grant and an Assistant Director for Cornell Cooperative Extension. There she leads ten talented Extension Associates located in five offices along the many diverse coastal areas of New York State. She serves on the Faculty Steering Committees for the New York Water Resource Institutes and the Cornell Biological Field Station as well as an Ex Officio member of the Great Lakes Basin Advisory Council. Most recently, she was appointed to the Chesapeake Bay Program Science and Technical Advisory Committee as New York’s alternate. She provides national leadership in Sea Grant as the liaison of the Assembly of Sea Grant Program Leader’s to the Extension Disaster Education Network. Although Kathy has a strong background in water quality and watershed management, she also has interests in coastal policy and integrating the use of social science Sea Grant research and extension efforts.

Bunting-Howarth’s earned her doctorate in Marine Policy from the University of Delaware’s Graduate College of Marine Studies and holds a J.D. with a Certificate in Environmental and Natural Resource Law from the University of Oregon School of Law.  Her undergraduate training was in Biology and International Relations.

You worked on the Impact Based Warning Assessment, what is your impression of Impact Based Warning?

Having recently experienced Hurricane Sandy and so many unnecessary deaths associated with that storm, I was impressed that the National Weather Service had developed a tool designed to provide the information that their stakeholders requested be involved.

What is something cool you learned while working on the Impact Based Warning Assessment?

I learned about straight line winds and microbursts while conducting the research.  A month later, a micro-burst came through my yard and took down a favorite oak tree.  I wish I had only learned about it while conducting research.

Why do you think it is important to have social scientists at Sea Grant?

Sea Grant provides the science-based information to the people and communities that we serve.  We need social science in order to complete our mission whether it be associating costs and benefits with a certain activity or learning about the values, beliefs and opinions of our stakeholders.  This information helps us improve the types of information we provide and utilize the best methods of communication for our constituents in order to best assist them in decision-making.

What drove you to be a social scientist?  

I realized in college that I would be happiest working around people.   Already being a fan of marine and coastal science, the social sciences seemed a good fit.  Although I started out law school thinking that I wanted to practice, I soon learned that I was more interested in understanding how the public influences policy and legislation.  Thus, I went on to get my PhD in Marine Science (Policy) and conducted research using social science methods and embracing theories from political science, risk communication and anthropology.

How did you get involved with Sea Grant? When did you join Sea Grant?  

My first interaction with Sea Grant was when I joined a team, which included a Marine Advisory Service agent, who was designing and implementing a watershed-based process for bringing together diverse stakeholders for the purpose of having them make recommendations to the State environmental agency on how to achieve improved water quality.  That experience helped me begin my career with the State agency, which lasted almost 10 years.  I’ve been with NYSG for over three years, now.  I like being in a position to help fund the science needed by the resources management community and effectively bring that science to our stakeholders on both the marine and Great Lakes shores.

What is your favorite part about being a Sea Grant Extension agent? 

I wish I was one.  As Associate Director, I lead our team extension professionals.  I do have some time for programming and I try to make it count—as with the IBW project.  I love people and helping to solve problems whether I do that through facilitating discussions of wicked problems or by assisting with social science research.

What is the biggest challenge you face at your job? 

New York is a big, diverse State so keeping abreast of issues in both the Marine and Great Lakes areas can be challenging and stimulating.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?

It was sometime in my younger years when I would mix random household items (baby power, toothpaste, sore throat spray, etc.) in a blue glass chicken and let it sit, thinking that I was discovering the cure to cancer, dream of being “Quincy” (the TV show from the late 70s, early 80s about the pathologist), and conducting middle school science fair projects on water quality.  When I was in college, I realized that I was best suited for science which involved people—I double majored in Biology and International Relations. 

What part of your job did you least expect to be doing?

I was pleasantly surprised by the extent of collaboration among Sea Grant programs.  The network meetings and joint projects present great opportunities to interact with colleagues across the country and exchange lessons learned.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?


In fourth grade, I read “Shark Lady” by Dr. Eugenie Clark and was inspired to pursue work in ocean and coastal issues.  It really depends on what areas of interest that someone would have—would they like a book about the dangers of science and politics, an example of how social science can complement natural sciences to address an issue or a book challenging our romantic notion of nature and the need to restore it to its pristine condition.

And how about a personal favorite book? 

During a recent walk to work, my husband and I discussed this very question as it is a one famous for being asked of nominees for President.   I really can say that I do not have one favorite.  If I must answer, it will be when I am a candidate for the office. 

 Do you have an outside hobby? 

Our boys are young and so my hobbies tend to include the family:  hiking in the parks around Ithaca, swimming, backyard grilling and playing games that my boys create themselves.

What surprised you most about working at Sea Grant? 

I was not really surprised by this but it seems a good way to end the profile:  the high degree of passion for the organization that those within it carry for their work and its mission. 


Read about the other social scientists who completed the study:

Jane Harrison, P.h.D, Environmental Social Scientist at University of Wisconsin Sea Grant

Catie McCoy, Environmental Social Scientist at Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant

Katie Williams, graduate student funded by University of Wisconsin Sea Grant


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