The Deborah L. Swackhamer Early Career Award

Portrait of Deborah Swackhamer before the capitol building

A longtime professor and administrator at the University of Minnesota, Deborah (Deb) Swackhamer was among the leading voices in the nation at the intersection of science, policy, and water resources. She conducted influential scientific work on the behavior of organic pollutants and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. In the broader water resources community, she is remembered for her advocacy of scientific integrity and for incorporating science-based knowledge into policy making. This work elevated her to numerous leadership roles at the state, national, and international levels. During her career, Deb mentored students and young faculty and ardently supported them, challenging them to conduct rigorous science, guiding them to successful careers and connecting them with colleagues in her network.

Following Deb’s untimely passing in 2021, the Minnesota Water Resources Conference committee approved a new award to be given in her name. In remembrance of her commitment to early career scientists and professionals, as well as her example of authentic leadership, the Deborah L. Swackhamer Early Career Award is meant to spotlight future leaders in the understanding, management, and care of our water resources.

Deborah L. Swackhamer Award Recipient

Dr. Bridget Ulrich

Bridget Ulrich

Dr. Bridget Ulrich is the inaugural recipient of the Deborah L. Swackhamer Early Career Award. Bridget is a Minnesota native, and as an undergraduate was nominated by Deb herself for the UMN Presidential Student Leadership and Service Award to recognize her efforts to promote campus sustainability. After graduate and postdoctoral training in Colorado and Switzerland, Bridget was drawn back to northern Minnesota to begin her career at the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) at UMD. Bridget is a trailblazer much like Deb in finding new ways to protect Minnesota’s water resources. She is currently developing an Environmental Analytical Chemistry facility, that specializes in analysis of many of the contaminants that Deb focused on, as well as other emerging contaminants that are highly relevant to Minnesota including poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Bridget is also on the cutting edge of developing stormwater treatment technologies using filter materials derived from Minnesota wastes, including biochar and iron-mining byproducts. She is dedicated to service and science communication, having organized a special session on biochar at the 2021 WRC, and co-authored an article about PFAS for Lake Superior Angler magazine. She has shown willingness to create diverse partnerships, including current collaborations with CFANS, Lake County, and the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization. She also actively promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in workplaces and communities: she sits on NRRI’s DEI committee, and is steadfast to engage and support women in spaces where they are underrepresented, including engineering and mountain biking.

Eligibility

This award is intended to recognize individuals early in their career working toward the betterment of Minnesota water resources. Eligibility is limited to individuals with 10 years or less of relevant experience. Current graduate students are eligible nominees. Current members of the Minnesota Water Resources Conference committee are not eligible.

Selection criteria

Inspired by Deb Swackhamer’s example and the values she imparted on those she mentored, this award will recognize authenticity, integrity, passion, and a mindset of service to others. Nominations should describe an individual’s exceptional contributions that are likely to shape Minnesota's water future. These contributions may include, but are not limited to:

  • Collaborating in ways that motivate and build the skills of others
  • Advancing justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in workplaces and communities
  • Developing innovative approaches to address water resource problems
  • Communicating science to elucidate public debate and policy choices