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Congratulations to Tom Sankey, an ecologist, regional scientist and senior project manager out of our Houston office, on being named the Lawrence S. Semo Scientific Achievement Award winner for the fourth quarter of 2022.

Tom joined SWCA in 2003 as a project manager. He has become one of the most trusted names among clients in the Gulf Coast Region who are seeking a project manager, subject matter expert, or client manager, and remains a reliable name for colleagues seeking mentorship at SWCA.


Scientific excellence and leadership

Tom is a geographer and ornithologist by trade and throughout his 35+ year career as a consultant, he has become a subject matter expert in aquatic resources, Clean Water Act permitting, and Endangered Species Act compliance.  

Tom routinely manages and supports Houston’s complex water resource, oil and gas, and renewable energy projects, where detailed science is needed to achieve the client’s goals and to obtain the permitting and/or agency acceptance necessary to complete them. He has also provided expert testimony for complicated and controversial projects, such as the Lydia Ann Channel Moorings project in Aransas County, Texas, where he worked alongside SWCA’s Founder, Dr. Steve Carothers.

A barge and mooring dolphins in the Lydia Ann Channel

Tom is always finding the best ways to meet his clients’ needs with balancing how to best approach and manage agency involvement. Ask many of his clients - Tom doesn’t rest until they achieve their goals and reach 100% satisfaction with their projects.

Tom is the longest-tenured employee in the Houston office and his love for the company and mission shines through his interactions with peers and colleagues. His depth of consulting and agency knowledge are hard to match, and he uses it well to assist clients and colleagues alike, to understand the nuances of interacting with agencies. 


Team building

Tom Sankey and his team overlooking the Gulf of MexicoTom’s career has had a strong focus on mentorship as he truly enjoys bringing up the next generation of employees. He is focused on the growth of the Gulf Coast subregion’s natural resource program and its members’ careers. Tom’s stewardship to the training and mentoring of entry-level and staff-level scientists has guided colleagues in over a dozen SWCA offices in achieving their own goals and becoming stronger scientific consultants. 

Tom’s advice to those following a similar career path is, “If you’re seeking a rewarding career path and don’t mind how long it takes you to get there, the technical route will compensate you in ways you never imagined. The technical path is what sets SWCA apart from others; the sound science, scientific leadership, and creative solutions have been, and continue to be a rich and rewarding career path for me.” 


Peer-reviewed publications

Click to read Issue 48 of Urban NaturalistTom has a growing body of peer-reviewed publications, many of which derive from his work at SWCA. He has contributed to a number of publications and has shared his research at many conferences and association meetings nationwide. One of his most recent includes his contribution to the manuscript, Discovery of a Species Rich Assemblage of Freshwater Mussel Species in the Metropolitan Lake Houston, Harris County, Texas in The Urban Naturalist, which explains the survey performed to detect the presence/absence of state-listed and other state-listed freshwater mussels within Lake Houston. During his free time, he is working on a book titled, “The Wetlands of Coastal Texas.” His master’s thesis work entitled “Islands on the Prairie: The Flora and Avifauna of Shelterbelts in Stafford County, Kansas” compares the vegetative diversity and avian nesting diversity of four forested windbreaks in south-central Kansas.


The quarterly Lawrence S. Semo Scientific Achievement Award rewards individuals for demonstrating passion, creativity, and scientific excellence in a manner that advances SWCA’s purpose, mission, vision, and values. The award is in honor of Larry Semo, who began working as a biologist for SWCA in Austin in 1993 and transferred to Denver in 1999. A respected and widely published ornithologist and all-around naturalist, Larry had an insatiable desire to learn and a great love for the outdoors until his untimely passing in 2011.