Campus: CSU East Bay -- March 4, 2005

Citizen-scientist Named 2004-05 Outstanding Professor

Scott Stine, whose environmental research helped preserve Mono Lake, has been awarded California State University, East Bay's highest academic honor, the George and Miriam Phillips Outstanding Professor Award.

Stine, a professor in the geography and environmental studies department since 1991, was recognized for his innovative teaching, cutting-edge research, practical field experience and contributions to the field of environmental science.

David Larson, chair of the department, nominated Stine for the award, which is given through the university's Academic Senate, an elected body of faculty leaders. In nominating Stine, Larson praised him for bringing recognition to the university and broadening the public's knowledge of issues in paleoclimatology, the study of prehistoric climate conditions.

Referring to Stine as a citizen-scientist, Larson highlighted his ability to combine natural and social sciences in his teaching and research.

"He connects the dots between scientific processes and societal imperatives while challenging his students to think critically about issues with roots in both," Larson wrote in his nominating letter. "On the map of higher education, Professor Stine lives and works at the intersection of science and public policy."

After more than 20 years of living and researching at that intersection, Stine believes scientists have a responsibility to lend their expertise in shaping public policy on issues such as the stewardship of natural resources.

"Scientists alone can define many of the major problems that the world faces today," said Stine. "It's up to scientists to define the problems and to find solutions to the problems."

Recognized as an authority on global warming and climate changes, Stine's research has thrust him into the center of many controversial environmental policy issues including development encroachment in the Tahoe Basin area, Los Angeles County and Hawaii. Yet the issue that first put him in the national spotlight was the epic struggle to save Mono Lake.

This 65-square-mile saltwater body, which lies east of Yosemite National Park, is one of the oldest lakes in North America. Its unique ecosystem provides habitat for more than 100 bird species, and its surrounding craters and tufa towers are natural wonders. In the 1940s, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power began diverting water from the streams that feed the lake, critically depleting its freshwater flows.

Stine jumped into the Mono fray in 1980 when he published a monograph on the prehistoric fluctuations of the lake. In 1981 he testified before the state Senate Committee on Natural Resources about the scientific value of the tufa structures. These craggy towers crouched on the shores of the lake form when water from calcium-rich underground springs mixes with the carbonate content of the lake water. The chemical reaction forms limestone, which solidifies and grows over time to structures as tall as 30 feet in some places.

Following this research, Stine became an expert witness in many of the ensuing court battles over water rights and Mono Lake restoration. In 1994, the state water board established new guidelines to curb Mono Basin water diversion and restore its environment.

Stine has worked as a consultant for the state Attorney General's Office, the Department of Fish and Game, the Mono Lake Committee and numerous other regulatory bodies and nonprofit organizations.

He is a prolific academic writer. His work has appeared several times in the prestigious science journal Nature as well as other research publications. These writings have brought him to the attention of news media including CNN, the BBC, The New York Times and most recently Time magazine for a 2004 story on California wildfires.

In the classroom Stine, according to many of his students, has a knack for getting people to think about the ethics of public policy and how it relates to their own lives.

"A mere recitation of facts and scientific principles is never sufficient," wrote Rachel Porras, an environmental science and chemistry major who supported Stine's nomination for the outstanding professor award. "He requires rather, that the material of interest be examined in both its environmental and ethical context. As a result, not only do we become better scientists, we become better citizens."

Several students wrote to the Academic Senate praising Stine's enthusiastic classroom presence and the way his courses changed their lives. Not entirely comfortable with the public accolades, Stine said the student support for naming him as the outstanding professor of the year touched him.

"The reward itself and the recognition is really worthwhile and I appreciate it," said Stine. "But it was in reading the student letters that I got my real reward. To realize that I had changed some of their lives, that's really an honor."

Media Contact: Donna Hemmila, Public Affairs, (510) 885-4295, donna.hemmila@csueastbay.edu


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