Prof dedicates career to environment

University of Minnesota Professor Deborah Swackhamer has won the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry’s Founders Award.

Prof dedicates career to environment

Raghav Mehta

ThereâÄôs really no such thing as a typical day for University of Minnesota Professor Deborah Swackhamer. Stepping into her office every morning, sheâÄôs met with a heap of voicemails, phone calls and e-mails all demanding her attention. Her schedule, filled to the brim with meeting after meeting, leaves her scrambling from one end of the campus to the other. Swackhamer is an environmental chemistry professor, and for the past year sheâÄôs chaired the U.S. Environmental Protection AgencyâÄôs (EPA) Science Advisory Board and is currently serving as co-director of the UniversityâÄôs Water Resources Center. She also serves on various committees of the National Academy of Sciences and chairs two editorial advisory boards for scientific journals. âÄúItâÄôs a juggling act, but it enriches my research, my teaching and my interaction with the University,âÄù Swackhamer said. âÄúIâÄôm able to bring experience from the activities back to the classroom, back to the University.âÄù In recognition of her diligence and leadership in environmental research, Swackhamer received the Society of Environmental Toxicology and ChemistryâÄôs Founders Award last week. The award is the highest honor given out by the international chemistry organization. âÄúItâÄôs sort of the pinnacle of my career,âÄù Swackhamer said. âÄúIâÄôm totally surprised, humbled and incredibly honored.âÄù Swackhamer grew up in central New Jersey. Spending her summers at her family cabin, she said her avid interest in water and the outdoors had a lot to do with her upbringing. âÄúI learned to love water and the outdoors just from the get-go,âÄù Swackhamer said. Swackhamer attended Grinnell College in Iowa where she studied chemistry. Although it was a relatively new field, Swackhamer established an early interest in environmental chemistry. âÄúMy advisers there told me you were going to ruin your career doing environmental chemistry, which I think is ironic today,âÄù Swackhamer said. After receiving a Ph.D. in limnology and oceanography, Swackhamer joined the University faculty in 1987 after being interviewed for a public health position which she originally thought was a âÄúpractice interview.âÄù âÄúIt was hard to get an academic job. I got interviewed once and got the job. I was just amazed,âÄù Swackhamer said. Since her arrival at the University, Swackhamer has built an extensive résumé. In 2005, Swackhamer joined the EPA Science Advisory Board, which she currently chairs. The Science Advisory Board provides the agency with scientific guidance and reviews documents supporting new policy and rule making. âÄúWe donâÄôt rule on the policy, but we rule on if the science that is used is valid,âÄù she said. Swackhamer said her experience at the EPA has given her an opportunity to view environmental issues from a federal perspective. âÄú[At the EPA] you have to know whatâÄôs going on across the whole country. So you kind of get a birdâÄôs-eye view looking down at the whole landscape, and thatâÄôs really something,âÄù she said. âÄúShe is very sensitive to the complexity of environmental programs that span both protecting the environment and protecting human health,âÄù said Agnes Kane, who serves on the Science Advisory Board with Swackhamer and is also a professor of medical science at Brown University. As the co-director of the Water Resources Center, Swackhamer currently leads a task force which will help lay out the framework for a recent $86 million grant to support and organize water sustainability and conservation projects across the state. Civil engineering professor and colleague Paige Novak described Swackhamer as âÄúan incredibly good communicator, very effective in communicating with people who are experts and people who are an audience.âÄù When Swackhamer isnâÄôt swamped with her various commitments, she goes scuba diving with her husband David. âÄúAnything that can get me outside and near water, thatâÄôs what I do,âÄù Swackhamer said.