Former BRIT executive director to lead Arizona arboretum

S.H. "Sy" Sohmer 

S.H. “Sy” Sohmer, former executive director of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, has been named director of Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, effective Jan. 29.

Sohmer brings to CALS more than 40 years of experience as a research botanist, university professor, federal employee and nonprofit CEO. He spent the last two years as a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution and is a faculty affiliate at George Mason University. Prior to that, Sohmer presided over Fort Worth-based BRIT from 1993 to 2014, growing the nonprofit, international research and education center from a three-person staff with an annual budget of $175,000 and about 400,000 herbarium specimens to a global organization with an annual budget of $3 million and a staff of 32. Sohmer also was instrumental in growing the institute’s endowment to about $50 million.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is part of the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, or CALS, and is managed in cooperation with Arizona State Parks and Trails and the Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum Inc.

“Dr. Sohmer has exceptional experience at the intersection of leadership, education, research, public service, fundraising and botany,” said Shane C. Burgess, vice president for agriculture, life and veterinary sciences, and Cooperative Extension. “He will engage diverse stakeholders to foster a bright future for Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, both in terms of the biological collection itself and the people — staff, volunteers and visitors — who make it such a special place.”

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After earning his Ph.D. in botany from the University of Hawaii, Sohmer began his career with the Department of Biology at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, where he created the university’s herbarium. He served in 1977-1978 as staff associate in charge of the Tropical Biology Initiative at the National Science Foundation and, in 1979, as forest botanist with the then-Office of Forests, Department of Primary Industry, Papua New Guinea.

From 1980 to 1990, Sohmer was assistant director for research and chairman of the botany department of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Sohmer organized the New Caledonia Terrestrial Biodiversity Task Force of the Pacific Science Association in 1990, and he conceptualized and organized the Marquesas Expedition in 1988-1989.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden, is cooperatively managed by the nonprofit 501(3)(c) Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum Inc., the University of Arizona, and Arizona State Parks and Trails. The 392-acre facility, part of the Arizona Experiment Station, has nearly three miles of paths and trails that pass through plant exhibits from 11 of the world’s deserts, a native riparian habitat and colorful specialty gardens. The garden is located 100 miles north of Tucson and 45 miles east of Mesa, on U.S. Highway 60.