Autenrieth awarded Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellowship
COLLEGE STATION -- Dr. Robin Autenrieth, holder of the A.P. and Florence Wiley Professorship III in Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University, has been awarded a 2004 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellowship. Autenrieth is one of 20 academic environmental scientists from throughout the United States and Guam who were selected as Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellows for 2004. The organization announced this year's winners today (March 15). The Aldo Leopold Leadership Program provides scientists with intensive communications and leadership training to improve their ability to communicate effectively with nonscientific audiences, especially policy makers, the media, business leaders and the public. Fellows are selected annually through a competitive application process. "We as researchers need to raise the profile of what engineers do," Autenrieth said, noting that only a small number of engineers generally are selected for the Leopold fellowship. "I'm hoping that this program will give me greater comfort as a communicator and help me have a bigger impact." Already, at Texas A&M, she is involved with a program that instructs math and science teachers about engineering and teaches them how to integrate engineering concepts into their classrooms. Autenrieth's studies involve human health risk assessment - measuring contaminants in the environment and in humans to better understand their relationship and effects on human health. Federal regulations for air and water quality in large part are determined by human health effects, she said. Autenrieth also researches ways to restore wetlands and soils from the damages of oil spills using biodegradation, a natural process. She isolates organisms capable of degrading petroleum compounds and grows them in the laboratory. She then sees what the optimal conditions are for the compounds to degrade quickly. The research will help determine how best to restore areas contaminated by oil. Autenrieth said it is important that researchers be able to explain their results to the general public, particularly with regard to environmental issues. "Solutions sometimes don't get adopted because people don't understand them," she said. "This fellowship will help sensitize me to public opinion and needs, and also will teach me how to better integrate them into environmental solutions." Autenrieth has been a member of Texas A&M's Department of Civil Engineering since 1986. In 2000, she received a joint appointment in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in the School of Rural Public Health in The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center. She is a member of the Society of Civil Engineers, the American Chemical Society, the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors and the Water Environment Federation. The Aldo Leopold Leadership Program was launched in 1998 with the goal of improving the flow of accurate, clear scientific information to policy makers, the media and the public by training outstanding academic environmental scientists to be better communicators of complex scientific information. The program is named for Aldo Leopold, a renowned environmental scientist who communicated his scientific knowledge simply and eloquently. His writings, including his 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, are credited with infusing the emerging conservation movement with good science and a stewardship ethic.