Thomas E. Bigford

Program: M.A.M.A., graduated 1977
Current Position: Policy Director, American Fisheries Society (the world’s oldest non-profit organization dedicated to fish; 150th anniversary in 2020)

Short Biography:

Tom received his Master’s in Marine Affairs in 1977, expanding his interests beyond Fishery Biology (B.S., Michigan State University, 1974) and Zoology/Marine Ecology (Zoology/Marine Ecology, URI, 1976). The MAMA was undoubtedly the key factor in a rewarding career now well past 40 years.

Tom’s academic interests started in the natural sciences. He conducted research on crab and shrimp responses to diet and pollution while working at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Narragansett Lab and earning his first graduate degree. The job market was limited for research technicians so the inter-disciplinary lure of the MAF Program beckoned him to Washburn Hall. That second master’s opened many doors, leading to a 35-year career with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (mostly the National Marine Fisheries Service) focusing on coastal and marine environmental issues. Along the way, Tom earned a Gold Medal and two Silver Medals for meritorious service.

That phase of Tom’s career ended when he retired in 2014 and shifted his attention to the private sector. Tom had been active in The Coastal Society, American Fisheries Society, and Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation since his URI years but he increased that commitment upon retiring. In 2014, he accepted his current position as the first Policy Director at AFS in 2014, was elected President of the AFS Fish Habitat Section, and was elected President of TCS. With TCS, he is often joined by many URI Marine Affairs alums. Tom owes his rewarding career to his time at URI. The Marine Affairs degree opened every door and led to countless friendships.

A quote about the MAF Program:

“My M.A.M.A. opened my eyes. I approached every challenge as a natural scientist until I studied in the MAF Program. Political science, management, economics, and the student diversity combined to change my career path in ways I never imagined. Looking back, pursuing my M.A.M.A. degree was the wisest decision in my life.”