As an internationally recognized research leader in environmental engineering and geochemistry, Michelle Scherer’s work has improved quality of life for Iowans as well as in communities across the country and around the world. In recognition of her outstanding research and commitment to classroom innovations as well as for her service to the college and university, Scherer, the Donald E. Bently Professor of Engineering in Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and faculty research engineer at IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, has received the 2021 Regents Award for Faculty Excellence, one of the University of Iowa’s highest honors for faculty achievement.
Much of Scherer’s research focus is on environmental chemical pollutants. She and her students developed new ways to clean up chemical pollutants in the environment, and she has made significant advances in understanding and predicting pollutant movement and behavior in soils, sediments, and groundwater aquifers. Her work has also shed light on fundamental reactions at mineral surfaces. In Iowa, her team has raised awareness of lead in household drinking water through the Get the Lead Out statewide initiative and provided the first analysis evaluating Iowans’ risk of being exposed to lead in their drinking water. Her work has been recognized with numerous national awards including the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program Project of the Year Award from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in 2018, and she has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the DoD, EPA, and the U.S Department of Energy.
“Professor Scherer’s work will have a direct impact on the health and well-being of people everywhere,” said Harriet Nembhard, dean of the College of Engineering. “Not only will her research help reduce levels of harmful chemicals in the environment, but the students she mentors and trains will also take what they have learned into communities across the globe, improving quality of life and enhancing sustainability. For these reasons and many others, Professor Scherer is most deserving of the Regents Award for Faculty Excellence.”
Scherer is described by colleagues as an accomplished and respected instructor and has been recognized for teaching excellence by the students. Students are eager to take her classes, and she is committed to producing thoughtful and productive engineers who not only understand the science but can also communicate to professional and lay audiences. Several courses – “Technical Communication Skills,” “Coaching Seminar on Water Science,” “Communicating Science,” and “Communicating Data Through Stories” were developed by Scherer in collaboration with colleague Kristy Hartsgrove Mooers, lecturer in the UI Department of Theatre Arts. Scherer excels in both large lecture courses and smaller, “deep dive” graduate level seminars. Her students have received best presentation awards for posters and talks at conferences and have been finalists in the UI’s Three Minute Thesis Showcase.
When the College of Engineering created its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council, Scherer served as its inaugural co-chair, led numerous listening posts across the college, and hosted the Celebrating Diversity in Engineering Graduate Student Conference in 2020. She was also the department executive officer of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering for nearly eight years where she was instrumental in the creation of a new Bachelor of Science degree in environmental engineering, the first such program in Iowa, and co-founded the Sustainable Water Development graduate program with colleague David Cwiertny, the William D. Ashton Professor of Civil Engineering. She was an associate editor of Environmental Science & Technology, the most prestigious academic journal in the field, from 2008-2012, and she has also served on scientific advisory boards for the Environmental Protection Agency and DoD.
“I’m delighted to be recognized with this award and am grateful for the support from my UI colleagues, students, as well as my family, and friends,” said Scherer. “Without their encouragement and willingness to partner with me, I certainly would not have been able to venture into areas that I feel strongly about, such as developing curriculum on technical communication, addressing lead in drinking water, and promoting a more just and inclusive environment at the UI.”