Cabinet Posts: Two Schar School Grads Picked to Lead Maryland Environment, Natural Resources Agencies

A woman in a black top and silver necklace smiles at the camera.
Environment Secretary Serena Coleman McIlwain

Maryland’s new governor has chosen two Schar School of Policy and Government graduates to serve in his cabinet. Governor Wes Moore (D) has named George Mason University graduates Serena McIlwain (nee Coleman) as Secretary of Environment and Josh Kurtz as Secretary of Natural Resources. Both have been confirmed by the Maryland senate.

“With each announcement, we continue to build a cabinet that reflects the state we are humbled to serve,” said Moore in a statement about his cabinet appointments. “These leaders bring with them great knowledge and deep expertise. This is going to be Maryland’s decade, and our team will lead with service in their hearts.”

The agencies to be led by the Mason graduates work closely together to maintain and improve Maryland’s air, land, and water.

As Secretary of Natural Resources, Kurtz, a 2012 graduate of the Master of Public Policy program, takes the helm of the agency with 1,352 employees and a $578 million budget. Previously, Kurtz was Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and government relations director of the Nature Conservancy.

“Regardless of the issue at hand, one challenge we will continually face is solving complex problems with diverse stakeholders who share different views and ultimate interests,” Kurtz said in an email. “I believe, however, that we can all agree with the department’s mission: Securing a sustainable future for our environment, society, and economy by preserving, protecting, restoring, and enhancing Maryland's natural resources.”

The Schar School MPP degree, he said, helped prepare him for the new leadership position. (At the time of both Kurtz’s and McIlwain’s degree programs, the school was called the School of Public Policy.)

“My time at [Mason] equipped me with some of the tools I think I will need to be successful in bringing people together toward our goals,” he said. “As an example, at [Mason] there was a strong focus on the upfront work of learning about the intricacies of the issues and blending the data and the human component.

A man in a gray jacket, blue tie, and blue shirt smiles at the camera.
Secretary of Natural Resources Josh Kurtz

“This was best illustrated to me while working on a group project focused on building policy and programmatic solutions to reducing traumatic brain injuries in our service members. We developed a project that was based on medical research, statistics, and anecdotal evidence about the impacts of specific injuries. We presented our draft to our professor and he asked us: How does this impact the families of those dealing with the injuries? How about their communities?

“It really crystallized for me the need to evaluate the issue within the broader context, while finding solutions for the people who are immediately impacted.”

McIlwain, a 2003 graduate of the Master of Public Administration program, will take charge of the agency that implements and enforces environmental protection laws and programs.

Before joining Moore’s administration, McIlwain served as Undersecretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency in Governor Gavin Newsom’s (D) administration beginning in 2019. She supervised the agency’s day-to-day operations and managed a budget of $22 million, providing leadership and support to all of the boards, departments, and offices under CalEPA and CalEPA’s total budget of $4.6 billion.

“[Gov. Moore] is a person who considers Maryland home, and I can just feel his love for this state and mine, too,” McIlwain told the Washington Post. “And it just really made me want to be back here to do all of the things that I was doing in California.”

She said she read through the Maryland Climate Solutions Now Act, and I couldn’t believe that some of those goals in that act were more aggressive than California. And I thought, ‘Wow, I need to be there to see if we could make that happen.’”