On April 11, the Prairie Research Institute honored employees for their outstanding achievements and excellent work. Selection committees composed of staff from across the organization reviewed multiple strong nominations before selecting these 2018 honorees:
Early Career Investigator: Daniel Abrams, Illinois State Water Survey
Dr. Abrams joined PRI in 2013 to work as a Groundwater Flow Modeler on regional water supply planning, a major project at the Illinois State Water Survey for many years. He has been instrumental in building the Illinois Groundwater Model, one of the largest groundwater flow models in the world. Based on this work, it has been determined that the deep sandstone aquifers in northeastern Illinois are being exploited in an unsustainable manner. Daniel’s work and that of his colleagues suggest the resources will be depleted in as little as 30 years. Daniel was instrumental in identifying the scope of the problem, and most importantly, developing tools to help communicate that message to major stakeholders in the region. In support of his nomination, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources wrote that “without his efforts, the water supply program…would not have achieved the success of seeing multiple water users moving to other water supply sources. His efforts are ensuring a sustainable water supply for the future.”
Distinguished Support Staff: April Burgett, Illinois Natural History Survey
April has been employed with the Illinois Natural History Survey since June 2004. Her nominator notes that she is the central source of information and staff support for the Illinois River Biological Station in Havana and the Great Rivers Field Station in Alton. Her responsibilities include finance and budget, HR, facilities, contracts, purchasing, travel, and general administrative processes. Even though on any given day she is called upon to facilitate and troubleshoot issues in all these areas, April is unfailingly optimistic and helpful, promoting positive morale among staff members. In addition, she distinguishes herself by being an enthusiastic point of contact with sponsors, external agencies, institutions, and the public. April is resourceful, innovative, and creative and plays a very active leadership role in joint outreach events in the local community as well as serving on professional organizations and committees.
Distinguished Research Scientist: Thomas E. Emerson, Illinois State Archaeological Survey
Dr. Emerson’s prestigious career includes commendable service to scientific organizations, a prolific publication record (including ~20 authored and edited volumes and ~150 book chapters and professional articles), and interdisciplinary collaboration involving innovative techniques that have advanced his discipline.
He has been recognized nationally and internationally by his peers and by organizations outside of his field for his significant contributions toward the management and preservation of cultural resources, toward the study and interpretation of pre-Columbian peoples, and toward a better understanding of complex societies. His career stands as an example of how the goals of the Prairie Research Institute are brought to fulfillment to serve the people of Illinois as well as the broader scientific community.
His nominators wrote: “Dr. Emerson is one of the best-known research and public archaeologists in the world today…He has carried out some of the most robust and transformative studies on the large-scale and long-term relationships of early complex societies, tribalism, governance and religion, much of his most famous work focusing on the scientific study of materials (pipestones, pottery residues, and bones) that may be used to infer those larger historical relationships.”
Among Dr. Emerson’s many research accomplishments, three stand out:
- First, along with Randy Hughes, formerly of the Illinois State Geological Survey, Tom helped to develop a new archaeometric technique for determining mineral spectra using laser light (the Portable Infrared Mineral Analyzer). Tom and colleagues then perfected this technique and applied it to a series of ancient pipestones, establishing for the first time that the elaborate carved stone figures associated with the ancient American Indian city of Cahokia were made from one source near the city and that many 2000-year-old “Hopewell” culture pipes (that ended up in Ohio) were made by people in Illinois.
- Tom’s writing on Cahokian ideology and symbolism changed the study of both the final pre-Columbian period in North America, known as the “Mississippian” era, and the study of complex society generally around the world. His works on this topic are must-reads for all serious students of Eastern Woodlands archaeology. Tom is internationally recognized for his work on the symbolism and imagery of the Mississippians, especially as these are connected both to the rise and fall of Cahokia and to the emergence of ethnic tribalism.
- Mobilizing other researchers and ISAS staff, Dr. Emerson has been reanalyzing the isotopic terrain of the American Midwest, especially as it involved the rise of Cahokia and including the famous Mound 72 burial mound. Data are in hand that will put current theorizing about the dietary basis, population diversity, multiple ethnicities, and migrations into and out of the Cahokia world on a firm footing, ultimately changing the way archaeologists around the world think about the foundation of this ancient urbanism.
Distinguished Research Specialist: Steve Sargent, Illinois State Geological Survey
Steven Sargent is an Instrument and Measurement Technician in Hydrogeology and Geophysics at the Illinois State Geological Survey. His nominators praised his leadership in designing, developing, and maintaining specialized equipment and apparatus for the geoscience community, his data collection and processing, and the training and mentoring he provides. He has positioned ISGS at the leading edge of developing near-surface geophysical acquisition systems. The technology, developed over a decade ago, is still widely used by many national and international groups. In Illinois, the system assisted others in managing the state's natural resources, leading to additional opportunities for sustainable economic development. His contributions to the people of Illinois and the scientific community exemplify the multidisciplinary scientific research and service conducted at the Prairie Research Institute.
Four Civil Service staff employees were also recognized for their years of exemplary service to the University of Illinois:
25 Years of Service: Laura Kohlmann, Accountant II, PRI Finance/Fiscal Services
10 Years of Service: Adam Deany, Finance Management Specialist, PRI Finance/Fiscal Services
5 Years of Service: Mindy Lowers, Office Administrator, Forbes Biological Station, Illinois Natural History Survey
5 Years of Service: Debra Wurl, Chief Clerk, PRI Finance/Purchasing
Three state legislators who have consistently supported and championed PRI received the Friend of PRI Award:
- Carol Ammons, D-103rd District
- Scott Bennett, D-52nd District
- Chapin Rose, R-51st District
Rep. Ammons, Sen. Bennett, and Sen. Rose have made a real effort to learn about PRI and to help tell our story to the General Assembly and other stakeholders. All three also co-sponsored legislation to understand and protect the Mahomet aquifer, an effort in which PRI scientists play a key role. Their consistent support and advocacy are critical to PRI’s successful service to the state of Illinois