Elburn resident named 2012 Board of Trustees Professors

By on April 8, 2012

DEKALB—Northern Illinois University recently named Elburn resident and geologist Reed Scherer as one of its three 2012 Board of Trustees Professors—an honor that recognizes international prominence in research as well as excellence in all facets of teaching.

The trio works in fields that seem far removed from each other, with historian Heidi Fehrenbach illuminating post-World War II European history, chemist Chhiu-Tsu “C.T.” Lin mixing up the chemistry for new inventions, and Scherer conducting climate research in the most remote region of the planet. These three bring uncommon creativity to their work that ignites a passion for knowledge among their students.

“The latest round of Board of Trustees Professorships confirm what colleagues and students have known all along—that Heide Fehrenbach, C.T. Lin and Reed Scherer are among the very best at what they do, not only at this university but anywhere,” NIU President John Peters said. “We’re indebted to all of them for their scholarship, tremendous work with students and service to our community.”

Established in 2007, the Board of Trustees Professorships honor faculty members who have consistently demonstrated excellence in teaching, academic leadership, scholarship or artistry, and service and outreach. Special emphasis is placed on recognizing those who have earned widespread acclaim for their work while continuing to engage students in their professional activities.

Each BOT Professorship is accompanied by a $10,000 stipend, renewable annually during a five-year term. The BOT Professorship awards will be presented during the annual Faculty Awards Ceremony and Reception from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday, April 19, in the Altgeld Auditorium.

Here’s a closer look at the local 2012 BOT Professor.

Rock star
In contemporary and geologic terms, Reed Scherer simply rocks.

The NIU geology professor—who directs the new Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy (ESE Institute)— excels at just about everything: inspirational teacher, world-renowned polar scientist, institutional innovator.

“Professor Scherer does not just teach students about science,” said Joseph Peterson, who earned his Ph.D. from NIU in 2010 and is now a geology professor at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. “He teaches students how to be scientists.”

Scherer has long embraced the engaged-learning approach in all its variations, whether he is presenting a classroom comparison between the evolution of automobiles and organisms, working alongside students on dinosaur digs in the American West, or training the next generation of scientists while on Antarctic expeditions.

“One cannot fully understand geological concepts until you’ve spent time both in the lab and out in the field puzzling over an outcrop, whether in Illinois, Montana or Antarctica,” Scherer said.

Scherer’s students—undergrads and graduate students alike—have published research in prestigious scientific journals and made presentations at conferences on five continents.

Under Scherer’s direction, current Ph.D. student Jon Warnock won two separate grants, totaling more than $300,000, from the National Science Foundation to study Antarctic fossil records. Scherer also helped Warnock and Matthew Konfirst, who earned his Ph.D. last year, land opportunities to learn from world-renowned experts at prestigious summer courses and workshops in Italy, Australia and Poland. Both students chose to stay at NIU to work on their doctoral degrees because of the strength of Scherer’s research program.

“Reed encouraged me to broaden my horizons,” said Konfirst, now a postdoctoral research scientist at Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar Research Center. “He left an indelible imprint on my intellectual development.”

Scherer himself earned his Ph.D. in paleontology at Ohio State and worked at a Swedish university before being recruited to NIU in 2000. He teaches a wide range of courses to undergraduate and graduate students.

Outside the university, Scherer’s research takes him to the planet’s Polar Regions, where he is working to decipher the geologic history and ongoing changes in the ice sheets by studying fossils known as diatoms. These microscopic single-celled algae live in shallow seawater and are deposited on the ocean floor, leaving behind beautifully ornate glass-like shells that tell a detailed tale of climate change over time. Geologists need to understand the past to predict the future.

In the 1990s, Scherer was a key member of a research team that confirmed the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has been unstable in the geologic past and even collapsed, raising sea levels by up to 18 feet. He and NIU colleague Ross Powell are continuing their investigations in Antarctica, where they plan to use a 28-foot-long, 2,200-pound robotic submarine to explore melting near the WAIS base.

Despite numerous international research commitments, Scherer also is a leader on campus. In recent years, he served as interim associate dean for research and graduate affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He also was a leading proponent of the Strategic Planning initiative that resulted in the popular new environmental studies major and minor, which he oversees in his role as ESE Institute director.

“Reed epitomizes the combination of internationally recognized scholarship, excellence in teaching, engagement of students and leadership service that the Board of Trustees Professorship celebrates,” said Colin Booth, geology chair. “The geology department, the college and the university are fortunate indeed to have him.”