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2007 UC|21 President's Excellence Award: Dan Oerther

Dan Oerther is the poster child for UC|21 — a living, breathing embodiment of UC’s raison d’être: students at the center — research — diversity — global — future.

Date: 5/1/2007
By: Wendy Beckman
Phone: (513) 556-1826
UC ingot Daniel Oerther, PE, an associate professor in the UC College of Engineering’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is also the director of the UC Water Quality Biotechnology Program.

Dan Oerther.
Dan Oerther (Photograph by Andrew Higley)

Oerther’s direction is appreciated within UC’s walls.
He is especially valued by the University of Cincinnati for his strong support of student research, especially providing opportunities for women in engineering through supporting such programs as the WISE Research Experience for Women Undergraduates. Oerther clearly puts students at the center of his world, as evidenced by having lunch one-on-one with each of the 65 first-year civil engineering students in his role as freshman advisor.

For the WISE 2005 REWU Program, he provided to WISE a research project on  "Improving the Performance of Water Reclamation for New York City." The WISE Program matched Mary Kate Henrikson, a first-year chemical engineering major, to Oerther's project, and he mentored Mary Kate on the research that summer. 

"As I recall, Dan was an excellent mentor, and adapted the research to Mary Kate's work, ending up with the final title 'Interdisciplinary Methods to Prevent Bio-film Formation,'" says Urmila Ghia, WISE director. "Who would have projected that a young chemical engineering 'freshwoman'
could have understood so much about some common diseases and the methods to prevent them, in the course of just 12-weeks. It was clearly because of Dan's mentorship!"

Ghia, a professor in the College of Engineering, adds, "It is a privilege to be associated with Dan Oerther as a colleague and through WISE."

Students outside the College of Engineering and the WISE program benefit from Oerther's mentorship, too. He also has an appointment as an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and as a faculty affiliate of the Center for Environmental Studies — both in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.

 

Dan Oerther.
Oerther often gets outside the ERC, as he also has appointments in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences. (Photograph by Andrew Higley)

Oerther’s research is appreciated outside UC’s walls.
A 2006 Fulbright Scholar, Oerther has dedicated himself to researching water quality and quantity issues in the United States and Asia. Also in 2006, Oerther was awarded an inaugural fellowship by the Institute for Public Health and Water Research. In addition to supporting the technical and humanitarian value of his research, The National Science Foundation selected Oerther’s water-quality program to be one of only 15 universities invited to the roll-out of the 2008 NSF budget in Washington, D.C., an exemplary showcase of what NSF funding creates. College of Engineering Dean Carlo Montemagno cites Oerther’s “exemplary achievements that span the breadth of UC|21 and promote the University of Cincinnati at the local, regional, national and global level.”

 

Oerther also takes his students beyond UC’s walls into the world, as with his commitment to “Engineers Without Borders (EWB).” Over spring break 2007, he led a group of students to Nairobi, Kenya, to improve the quality and quantity of drinking water and basic sanitation by developing point-of-use treatment technologies that are cost effective and culturally appropriate. The group will return in June to implement the solutions they devised.  

Dan Oerther

“Dr. Oerther has a great way of working with students” says Allyson Liburn. “He has the ability to make them think about engineering in way of how the community will be affected! He also can get a really good sense of students…their strengths and weaknesses and works to bring out the best in each person, reaching out to all!”

Another student, Neil Schaner, agrees. “Dr. Oerther is an excellent professor. He is able to make the most complex concepts clear to every student,” says Schaner. “Dr. Oerther uses a unique teaching style that incorporates many techniques, all of which make his classes fun and interesting. Dr. Oerther never hides his opinions about what he is teaching, opening a class to full discussion and making students feel comfortable with sharing their own views.”

"I always looked forward to a class taught by Dr. Oerther. He shows great excitement for everything he presents, excitement that quickly rubs off onto his students," Schaner concludes.

“I’m excited to see a part of the world I’ve never seen before, to bring attention to a part of the world I’ve never seen before and to bring clean water to them,” Allyson Liburn shared before leaving on the inaugural EWB trip to Kenya. Liburn is not only without borders, but she’s in EWB without the “E,” too — she’s a psychology major. “I’m hoping that we pave the path for future students to get involved.”

Oerther in Kenya with local children.
Oerther took UC students to Kenya over spring break to evaluate water sources.

Involvement of today’s and tomorrow’s students globally is a key part of Oerther’s approach.

“The United States is cocooning,” he says. “The trend of the next generation is bucking that trend.”

Oerther believes that the goals outlined in UC|21 are critically important for UC to make the move to the next tier of institutions.

“A life as an academic is incredibly rewarding, and it’s a lot of hard work,” Oerther says. “I am constantly amazed at the sacrifices made by my colleagues to advance the mission of UC|21. For myself, I try to keep my work balanced and I try to maintain balance between work and personal life.”

Genius Takes Inspiration, Too
Oerther credits much of his academic and personal success to his family.

“My first and foremost inspiration is my wife, Monica,” he says. “She is without a doubt the most significant person in my life. She is a brilliant pediatrician, yet finds time to simultaneously be an exceptional mother and a wonderful spouse. I speak about my goal to strike a balance in life between teaching and research; between work and home. Monica is the example to which I aspire. I also have two wonderful children: Maya, age 5, and Andrew, age 2. They visited India with us last year in 2006 and they are always anxious to go with me on any travels.”

Oerther also shows the way for others in striking a balance between work and family.

“Many people in my program at UC know my family well because I make a point to bring my children to the office with me when I can. My family is an important part of my life,” he says. “And certainly I bring work home… so why not bring family to work? I am what I am today because of loving and supporting parents, Carl and Jean Oerther from Louisville, as well as my brother Greg who is a social worker in Northern Ky. For the past 15 years, I’ve also enjoyed a wonderfully extended family including my in-laws, Roshan and Suman Chhabra from Greenville, SC, as well as my brother-in-law Paul who manages a group of engineers at Applied Materials in Austin.”

Goal for the Future

Dan Oerther in the lab.
Dan Oerther at work in the lab. (Photograph by Andrew Higley)

“When President Zimpher took office, she specifically mentioned that she wanted UC to set stretch goals and then work to meet them. Having faculty participate in activities such as Fulbright was one of her examples of a stretch goal,” Oerther says. “I am so grateful for the support of my colleagues in Environmental Engineering, my department, my college and Provost Perzigian who helped to make the goal of studying and working in India in 2006 a reality. This experience has opened up a whole new world — literally and figuratively — for my research and teaching. I believe that my selection for this award is an affirmation of the support that everyone has provided for me to grow beyond the typical confines of academic scholarship. Engaging the global community has been personally rewarding, and I hope that I can continue to share my experiences with students, staff and faculty at UC.”

His colleagues share their enthusiasm for Oerther. “In my 30 years as a member of the faculty of the University of Cincinnati, the University of Illinois and the Georgia Institute of Technology, I can testify that Dr. Oerther is without reservation one of the top ten peers whom I have known,” Professor Makram Suidan says of Oerther. “He is among the best of the best faculty members within the country.” Oerther, along with Suidan and Jim Uber, are co-leading the development of a new research thrust in "Sustainable Urban Engineering."

Still, Oerther is humbled by the President’s Award for Excellence.“I am flattered and astonished. This is a major award, and I am very grateful that UC feels that my work is worthy of such recognition,” he says. “I think it is most important to acknowledge that my work is truly multidisciplinary and involves an exceptional team of people from across UC as well as greater Cincinnati and the global community. Thus, I cannot accept credit individually for this award. It’s been a group effort and I’ve enjoyed working with so many great people.”

 

 

 


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