April 14, 2010

Dale Vitt to receive outstanding scholar award

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill -- A researcher with a sustained record of scholarly excellence and research is this year’s winner of the Outstanding Scholar award at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The University is recognizing Dale H. Vitt, professor and chair of the Department of Plant Biology in the College of Science, as its top scholar. The award is part of SIUC’s annual Excellence Through Commitment program, which highlights top achievers at the University.

Chancellor Samuel Goldman will host a dinner in the winners’ honor on April 20, where he will present each with a certificate. Vitt also will receive a free parking space for one year. He also receives the title “distinguished scholar.”

The University established the Excellence Through Commitment program in 2003. The awards recognize excellence in the performance of faculty, civil service, administrative/professional, graduate student, and student employees.

Hired at SIUC in 2000, Vitt has a record of consistent research funding that sustains his ongoing laboratory research and fieldwork both locally and internationally. His efforts result in a significant number of article publications and presentations at professional meetings, placing Vitt at the forefront of article, book and field manual citations and reflecting credit on the University, said Jay C. Means, dean of the College of Science.

David Gibson, professor of plant biology and a University Distinguished Scholar who previously won this award, said Vitt’s publication and research records are impressive.

“The scholarship exhibited by Dale is astonishing and wide-ranging,” Gibson said. “He has excelled and produced seminal work in the field of byrology, especially peatland.”

Trained as bryologist (who study mosses, liverworts and other similar plants), Vitt’s research specialties include the ecology and historical development of peatlands, as well as biosystematics and taxonomy, emphasizing bryophytes. He currently is involved with at least six research projects, including several centered on ecology, peatland formation and restoration and organizing an international network of researchers to promote northern peatland ecosystem research.

“I have always been interested in helping others enjoy and appreciate bryophytes,” said Vitt, who guided 37 students to advanced degrees so far during his career. “My research is highly collaborative and includes researchers from a number of universities.”

As if in testament to his collaborative approach, researchers from universities around the country wrote in support of Vitt receiving this honor, lavishing praise on their colleague for his commitment to science and his field.

“In my field (plant ecology/bryophyte reproduction), Dale has been a leader, perhaps the leader, for well over a decade,” wrote Lloyd R. Stark, associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

“Without question, Dale is one of the premier bryologists world-wide,” wrote R. Kelman Wieder, professor of biology and associate dean for sciences at Villanova University. “…Dale is a model researcher, committed to involving students in research and to the development of a new generation of researchers.”

“Dr. Vitt has made significant contributions to environmental sciences,” wrote Curtis J. Richardson, professor and director of Duke University Wetland Center. “…I give Dr. Vitt my highest recommendation as you consider his candidacy,” for the award.

To fund this research, Vitt has obtained almost $9 million in grants during his career, including almost $5 million since coming to SIUC in 2000.

He has written at least four books, created several reference maps and published more than 200 peer-reviewed articles, including nearly 40 since 2000. He’s written 29 book chapters, 16 book reviews and dozens of other reports and non-refereed articles. Fellow researchers have capitalized on Vitt’s prolific work, citing his findings more than 2,500 times since 1985.

His especially notable publications include an article on the relationship between water chemistry and peat chemistry in fens and another on permafrost patterns in bogs.

Vitt also served as editor-in-chief of The Bryologist from 1994 to 2005 and held associate editor positions with the publications Ecoscience, Nova Hedwigia, Vegetatio and Wetlands. He also served on the editorial board of several other publications.

A native of Missouri, Vitt earned his Bachelor of Science degree in botany in 1967 at Southeast Missouri State University. He earned his Master of Science degree in 1968 at the University of Michigan and his doctorate in 1970 there, as well.

After earning his doctorate, Vitt worked several years at the University of Alberta, becoming a full professor of biological sciences there in 1980. During that time, he also served as a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota and the University of New South Wales.

Vitt served as director of the Devonian Botanic Garden from 1992 to 2000 before coming to SIUC.

The SIUC College of Science named Vitt its Outstanding Scholar in 2008 and the Institute of Applied Ecology at the Academia Sinica in Shenyang, China, named him an honorary professor in 1995. He also received the J. Gordin Kaplan Award for Excellence in Research in 1994 at the University of Alberta and the Silver Award Medal in 1993 from the University of Helsinki, among other awards.