At Western Illinois University (WIU), I'm the director of the Institute for Environmental Studies (IES) and the chair of Western’s interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Environmental Science.
Professionally, my work bridges the gap between aquatic environmental engineering/science and ecology. For over 20 years, I've worked to integrate what we know from the basic sciences with the problem-focused approaches used by engineers to help others avoid making adverse impacts to natural aquatic systems. When this isn't possible, I draw my experience integrating extensive field investigations with laboratory studies and modeling to develop remediation approaches that result in lasting improvements to the quality and resilience of natural aquatic systems.
Since I work in a field that cuts across several traditional academic disciplines, I think it's important to establish and maintain professional credentials that go beyond having an advanced graduate degree; to that end, I'm a Board Certified Environmental Engineering Member (BCEEM) of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES) and an Ecological Society of America Certified Senior Ecologist (CSE).
In addition to my position at Western, I was fortunate to serve as the President of the Aquacultural Engineering Society (AES) and am a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Aquacultural Engineering. In 2016 and 2017, I served as the panel manager for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program in aquaculture.
Before joining WIU in 2007, I was the Director of the West Virginia University's (WVU) Center for Environmental Research and was a Robert C. Byrd Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
At WIU, I’ve built on my previous experience leading interdisciplinary groups to catalyze collaborative environmental research, support undergraduate and graduate academic programs that approach environmental issues from interdisciplinary perspectives, and provide outreach to campus and external stakeholders on environmental issues.
Education & Professional Certification
Like every other professor, I've spent a large fraction of my academic/professional life in school. Being a professor was never one of my childhood career aspirations. In fact, I recall struggling to master my multiplication facts and dreading weekly spelling tests. I encourage all fourth and fifth graders who are in a similar situation to persevere! I did well in high school and developed an interest in the ways math can be used to do practical things like compensating for the change in the effective gear ratio that resulted from installing larger tires on my truck - a useful skill for a diy mechanic as well an aspiring engineer.
My educational preparation is diverse, which is reflected in the work I do as a teacher and researcher.
- Ph.D., Civil & Environmental Engineering, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, 1997
- M.S., Nuclear Engineering, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, 1994
- B.S. (Honors), Physics, Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA, Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 1993
- Board Certified Environmental Engineering Member, American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, specialty in hazardous waste management and site remediation, 2019
- Certified Senior Ecologist, Ecological Society of America, 2015-2020
“Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1,000,” - Robert K. Watson
One of the greatest challenges we face in environmental science is the need to adapt and apply basic science principles to the often non-ideal conditions encountered in the field. This is further complicated by the degree to which key parameters change over time and on the landscape. To develop the skills needed to tackle these challenges, students in my courses spend time in the field, in the laboratory, meeting with practitioners, and attending and giving seminar presentations. Of course, we also spend an ample amount of time in lecture. Check out this video for an idea of what we do in class!
Courses I've taught at WIU ...
I'm responsible for teaching two of the core courses in the Environmental Science Ph.D. Program as well as a number of graduate-level electives: ENVR 730. Environmental Systems, ENVR 750. Integrated Environmental Decision Making, ENVR 675. Assessment and Management of Low Order Alluvial Stream Channels, and GEOG 510. Environmental Impact Analysis.
I've also taught the capstone course in the undergraduate Environmental Studies minor, ENVR 401. Colloquium in Environmental Studies.
... at West Virginia University
CE 293. Civil Engineering Seminar, CE 347. Introduction to Environmental Engineering, CE 443. Environmental Science and Technology, CE 447. Environmental Engineering Design, CE 540. Aquatic Chemistry and Biology, CE 542. Physico-Chemical Unit Operations, CE 591. Hazardous Waste Site Remediation, CE 744. Industrial and Advanced Wastewater Treatment, ENG 1. Introduction to Engineering, ENG 2. Freshman Engineering Design
I was also the faculty adviser for WVU's student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
... and at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
ENGR 314. Engineering Mechanics II - Dynamics, ENVSCI 102. Introduction to Environmental Science, ENVSCI 305. Environmental Systems, ENVSCI 318. Industrial Pollution Control, ENVSCI 460. Waste Management and Resource Recovery, ENVSP 766. Resource Management Strategy
While my primary instructional responsibility is to the Environmental Science Ph.D. Program, I also invest time working with aspiring scientists in elementary and middle school. In summer 2018, my team worked with 4th through 8th grade students as part of WIU's Math on the Mississippi Summer Camp. Click a button to see photos from summer 2018 camp sessions.
In addition to summer outreach, I've also adopted second and third grade classes at Lincoln Elementary School.
Working with the youngest prospective scientists and with Ph.D. students has provided me with many challenges that I believe have helped to inform the approaches I take in class and the lab.
In the beginning ...
As an aquatic environmental engineer, my research has included long-term, watershed-scale studies of water quality, fisheries, and benthic macroinvertebrate communities in areas that are heavily impacted by strip and underground coal mining. These study sites are often located in close proximity to some of the most productive freshwater streams in the eastern United States which raises the stakes when it comes to environmental management and decision making!
I've also done work to develop underutilized water resources to support rural economic development. For example, in the mid-Appalachian region, millions of gallons of acidic water are treated and released each day into local streams and rivers. Contributing to an initiative started by my friend and colleague, Dr. Ken Semmens, we were able to demonstrate the safety of using treated mine water to rear edible fish including rainbow trout, steelhead trout, and hybrid stripped bass. This work ranged from bioassays and basic water chemistry to the design and operation of a [small] commercial-scale modular flow through aquaculture system that is used by students and faculty in animal science, food science, environmental engineering, chemical engineering, fisheries management, and others at West Virginia University. The system has also been used by extension specialists to demonstrate the opportunities to utilize treated mine water for aquaculture. If you'd like to learn more about this project, click here.
At Western, I've built on my previous experience and am now working on issues of historic metal contamination at sites located immediately adjacent to the Mississippi River. Students in my group are studying metal contamination at a marsh that was formerly a Superfund site. For years, the marsh was a waterfowl hunting and shooting club. In 1991, the lead shot and contaminated sediment were removed and ownership was signed over to a local municipality. Believe it or not, after cleanup, there's little to no follow up environmental surveillance at most former Superfund sites. This seemed like an interesting opportunity to study post-remediation recovery of a natural aquatic system.
We're also working at an adjacent site that contains an abandoned sand quarry. From the 1940s through the late 1960s, iron foundry slag was disposed of on the shore of this small lake. Some of the slag was covered with soil while other slag deposits have remained exposed to the atmosphere. Since iron foundry slag is known to contain elevated concentrations of iron, as well as cadmium, copper, nickel, lead, and zinc, we've been studying the ways metals partition into environmental compartments. This includes studies of surface and ground water, sediment, soils, slag, and aquatic and terrestrial vegetation.
So far, we've learned a number of interesting things about the persistence of metals in the environment, the extent to which previous remediation methods were able to provide sustainable solutions to historic pollution, as well as insights into the ability of naturally occurring vegetation to accumulate metals.
I've also spent a good deal of time rethinking everything I previously knew about the form and function of low order streams. After working in West Virginia for years, I've come to associate headwater streams with relatively high slopes. This is consistent with the stream classification systems developed by hydrogeomorphologists. The lack of much/any slope in the middle of our nation leaves lots of room to contribute to our understanding of low order alluvial channels in the upper Midwest. Likewise, since headwater streams (1st through 3rd order channels) account for almost 88% of the total stream length in the Upper Mississippi River basin, a better understanding of these low slope headwater channels is needed to improve the ways in which we address issues related to sediment transport and the reduction of downstream nutrient loading.
One of our responsibilities as researchers and educators is sharing the results of our work with others. In lieu of a long list of papers, I've decided to provide a graphical summary of my published work. However, if you're interested in specific information about my published work, you can find my full cv here (see pp. 6-14) or you can click on one of the buttons below to access my ResearchGate and/or ORCID pages.
A New Program on a New Campus
I mentioned earlier that the opportunity to develop a Ph.D. program was a major factor that attracted me to my current position at WIU - definitely a unique opportunity. After several years of working with my colleagues from across the university as well as stakeholders from regional resource management agencies and nongovernmental organizations, we were able to begin offering the Ph.D. in Environmental science in Fall 2014. We were fortunate to be able to welcome our first class of Ph.D. students to our brand new riverfront campus located in Moline, IL. As part of the design process, those of us who have laboratories in the new facility were able to work with the architects and engineers to tailor our labs to suit our work while also maintaining flexibility for the future. Here are a few photos I took in March 2014 while the facility was under construction:
Needless to say, these rooms look much different now. For example, the vacant room in the top photo now houses two chemical fume hoods, two ceiling-mounted exhaust extractors, two convection drying ovens, a muffle furnace, ultraviolet-visible light spectrophotometers, an EMD Millipore Elix 10 water purification system, a Thermo Scientific iCE 3300 flame atomic absorption spectrophotometer with a 250 position autosampler, two Mettler-Toledo autotitrators, and a Sorvall centrifuge.
This is an interdisciplinary program where student-scientists can grow their knowledge, skills, and abilities while advancing our understanding of complex large river ecosystems from the heart of the Upper Mississippi River basin.
Currently, we have seven students with undergraduate and master's degrees in agricultural science, horticulture, microbiology, and zoology. Many of these students either have or are in the process of completing post baccalaureate certificates in Geographic Information Science (GIS).