The UCI Mission and Staff
Supporting Stewardship of Coastal Ecosystems
Mission: To serve Monmouth University and the public as a forum for research, education, and collaboration in the development and implementation of science-based policies and programs that support stewardship of healthy, productive, and resilient coastal ecosystems and communities.
History: The Urban Coast Institute (UCI) was established in September 2005 as one of Monmouth University’s “Centers of Distinction.” The UCI builds on the University’s program in Marine and Environmental Biology and interdepartmental strengths in marine biology, environmental science, business, economics and real estate, public policy, and the arts and social sciences.
The UCI maintains a principal focus on the interactions between humans and the coastal and ocean environment, and sustainable coastal development along New Jersey’s coasts and watersheds. Monmouth County and the New Jersey-New York region is an ideal “laboratory” for study of these issues. It has a unique focus on how science can inform public policy and the “human dimensions” of coastal ecosystem-based management, including the impacts of human use and development on coasts. The UCI seeks to foster collaboration among citizens, watershed and community organizations, governmental agencies, business, the scientific community, and other parties interested in coastal and watershed management, conservation, and restoration.
Meet Our Staff
Tony MacDonald is the director of the Monmouth University Urban Coast Institute (UCI). He was previously the executive director of the Coastal States Organization (CSO) from 1998-2005. CSO, based in Washington, DC, represents the interests of the governors of the nation’s 35 coastal states and territories on coastal and ocean policy matters.
Prior to joining CSO, Tony was the special counsel and director of environmental affairs at the American Association of Port Authorities, where he represented the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) at the International Maritime Organization on negotiations on the London Convention. Tony has also practiced law with a private firm in Washington, DC, working on environmental and legislative issues, and served as the Washington, DC, environmental legislative representative for the Mayor of the City of New York.
Dr. Thomas Herrington is the associate director of the UCI. He was previously the director of the ocean engineering graduate program at Stevens Institute of Technology and the director of the New Jersey Coastal Protection Technical Assistance Service. Tom has over 25 years of experience in coastal sustainability and hazard mitigation research, including the analysis storm surge and wave impacts on coastal communities. He has authored or coauthored on over 100 journal, outreach and technical publications in the field of coastal and ocean engineering, including the NJ Sea Grant Manual for Coastal Hazard Mitigation, and is a contributing author to Blue Dunes: Climate Change by Design. He presently serves on the FEMA Region II Coastal Outreach Advisory Team and is on the Board of Directors of the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association and the Jersey Shore Partnership.
Erin Conlon is the UCI’s citizen science coordinator for the Coastal Lakes Observing Network (CLONet). Erin graduated from Monmouth University in May 2020 with a B.S. in Marine and Environmental Biology and Policy. During her time at Monmouth, she was a member of the Phytoplankton and Harmful Algal Blooms Research Lab (PHABLab) where she led two summer research projects in the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers: one focused on the effects a freshwater source had on phytoplankton composition, and the other focused specifically on what nutrients were causing increased phytoplankton growth in the Shrewsbury River’s Branchport Creek. While her studies were located in estuaries, she also assisted on other PHABLab member’s research projects which focused on swimming beaches and coastal lakes.
Chris Haak is a postdoctoral researcher focused on fisheries science. In this role, Haak splits time working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s James J. Howard Laboratory in Sandy Hook and the Monmouth University campus. After an Emmy-winning career in film and television, Haak shifted gears to follow his lifelong passion for the oceans, pursuing his Ph.D. in marine science at UMass Amherst. There, his research focused on bonefish and other species occupying shallow nearshore habitats in the Bahamas and Puerto Rico, which he used as a model for examining a diverse range of ecological questions.
Jim Nickels is the marine scientist for the Urban Coast Institute. Jim obtained his M.S. in Environmental Studies from Montclair State University and has 25 years of academic and professional experience in designing, implementing, and directing a variety of marine and inland water field research and sampling programs. He has managed and operated research vessels, scientific crews, and associated equipment. His expertise includes survey work in fisheries, plankton, benthic organisms, sediment, water quality, mitigation, and geophysics. He has an extensive background in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), use and integration of Global Positioning System (GPS), and real-time mapping and data logging. He has held the position of Vice President at Aqua Survey Inc., and as Director of Marine Operations at the New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium.
Aliya Satku is the Urban Coast Institute’s administrative assistant. Aliya joined the UCI with over 20 years of experience in office administration, sales and customer service for organizations including the Renew Jersey Stronger Program, YMCA of Monmouth County and Ray Catena Motor Corp. Aliya enjoys photography, documentaries, health and wellness topics, and a happy cup of coffee. She loves being a global citizen of this beautiful planet earth and has full faith that humanity is going to get it right. Originally from Debar, Macedonia, she now resides in Howell.
Karl Vilacoba is the Urban Coast Institute’s communications director and the communications lead/project manager for the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal. Prior to joining the UCI, Karl worked for the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, where he oversaw a variety of public outreach efforts and served as managing editor of InTransition, a national transportation magazine published in partnership with the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Karl previously spent a decade as a news reporter and editor for newspapers in the Jersey Shore area and at USA Today’s Manhattan Bureau. A lifelong Shore resident, Karl also served for several years as a member of the Lake Como Unified Planning & Zoning Board and the borough’s Environmental Commission.
Ocean Policy Fellow
Vice Admiral Paul Gaffney, USN (Ret.), is an ocean policy fellow with the UCI and president emeritus of Monmouth University. He also served as president of the National Defense University. He is a former chief of naval research and former commander of naval meteorology and oceanography. He was appointed as a commissioner with the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and served during its full term, chaired the Ocean Research Advisory Panel and currently chairs the Ocean Exploration Advisory Board. Along with Rockefeller University Professor Jesse Ausubel, he co-chaired the Decadal Review of the National Ocean Exploration Program. The National Academy of Engineering selected him as a member and he serves on the National Academies Gulf Research Board.
Randall S. Abate, J.D. is the inaugural Rechnitz Family/Urban Coast Institute endowed chair in marine and environmental law and policy and a professor in the Department of Political Science and Sociology. He teaches courses in domestic and international environmental law, constitutional law, and animal law. Professor Abate joined Monmouth in 2018 with 24 years of full-time teaching experience at six U.S. law schools, most recently from Florida A&M University College of Law in Orlando, where he also served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Professor Abate has published five books and more than 30 law journal articles and book chapters on environmental and animal law topics, with a recent emphasis on climate change law and justice. Early in his career, Professor Abate handled environmental law matters at two law firms in Manhattan.
Phone: (732) 571-3641
Dr. Jason Adolf is the Monmouth University School of Science’s first endowed associate professor of marine science. He joined Monmouth in 2017 after nine years at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, where he served as the chair and associate professor of marine science. Adolf, whose research background is in the field of phytoplankton ecology and evolution, has made significant contributions to the literature in the area of harmful algal blooms. Before going to Hilo, Adolf spent five years at the University of Maryland Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore, conducting harmful algal bloom research that included Chesapeake Bay; the Swan River Estuary in Perth, Western Australia; and the Plymouth Culture Collection of the Marine Biological Association of the U.K.
Phone: (732) 263-5687
Kimberly Callas is the UCI artist in residence and an assistant professor in the Monmouth University Department of Art and Design. She is an experienced educator in the arts and has extensive outreach experience working with nonprofits and arts organizations. Her work has been exhibited nationally and international in solo and group exhibits. Callas’ work has an ecological focus incorporating interdisciplinary issues including psychology, ecology, and poetry. After witnessing the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Callas and her husband moved with their family to MidCoast Maine and built and in-ground, stone house and then co-founded a sustainability institute. She teaches courses in drawing, sculpture, and 3D design, incorporating social practice and emerging digital processes, including 3D printing, CNC milling and laser cutting.
Phone: (732) 263-5275
Dr. Megan Phifer-Rixey is the UCI marine genetics faculty fellow and an assistant professor in the Biology Department at Monmouth University. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and then pursued postdoctoral training at the University of Arizona and the University of California, Berkeley. With a focus on evolutionary and population genetics, her research seeks to answer the question, “How do organisms adapt to their environment?” She teaches Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology, Introduction to Biodiversity and Evolution, and Evolution. She also trains Monmouth students as scholars through her research courses and is active in the community, running a grant-funded genetics workshop in local schools.
Phone: (732) 263-5865