Wardrop named assistant director of PSIEE

March 10, 2009

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Denice Heller Wardrop, senior research associate and associate professor of geography and ecology, has been appointed as assistant director of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment.

Wardrop came to Penn State to pursue a doctorate  here after a 10-year career in environmental engineering consulting. After matriculation, she began a research career in the Penn State Cooperative Wetlands Center, where she is the associate director. She has a B.S. in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia, as well as an M.S. in Environmental Sciences, and earned her Ph.D. in Ecology from Penn State. She is a registered professional engineer in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Wardrop's research focuses primarily on the effect of human activities on the ecosystem services, and ecological functions and processes in freshwater aquatic systems, including wetlands, headwater streams, and estuarine marshes. She also investigates theoretical frameworks that generally describe how stress (including land cover and climate change) affects ecosystem behavior, including concepts such as alternative stable states, resilience, spatial structure, and non-linearities of system response. She has published extensively on ecological indicators, methods for assessing the condition and ecological functioning of wetlands and streams, the effects of sedimentation and eutrophication on wetland plant communities, and the use of land cover information in predicting the condition of aquatic resources.

While the progression from systems engineer to ecologist may seem odd, Wardrop likes to think of it as a natural evolution, from learning the language of system description and behavior to studying one of the most complicated and exquisite systems of all, namely wetlands. Her primary interest has always been water bodies and the linking of physical processes to biological ones, whether they are the tropical shallow marine systems she studied for her master's degree, or the variety of freshwater wetland types in central Pennsylvania for her doctorate.

Wardrop has immensely enjoyed her experience at the Cooperative Wetlands Center, which celebrates its 15-year anniversary this year. Its range of research activities covers theoretical to applied, it has an extensive track record of interdisciplinary research projects, and its location in Geography has provided Wardrop with unique teaching opportunities, as well.

Wardrop and her co-instructor, Joe Bishop, recently led 15 Penn State students and four Peruvian students to the rainforests of Peru for the third offering of their course, Environmental Issues Across the Americas. The course is intended to provide a team-based, interdisciplinary, problem solving, and field-based approach to understanding the importance of place when defining and solving an environmental challenge. The course spends almost two weeks traveling to a series of research stations and native communities in the headwaters of the Amazon Basin.

Wardrop's new duties at PSIEE will offer her an even larger-scale vantage point of the enormous range and potential interconnectedness of Penn State environmental research, and she is thrilled with the opportunity to create new connections among faculty. She believes wholeheartedly in the potential of interdisciplinary science to solve the complex and important environmental problems of the day, and the opportunity to strategically invigorate such efforts at an institution such as Penn State is a compelling challenge.

Wardrop owes her Penn State experience to her husband, Rick, a hydrogeologist with Shaw Environment and Infrastructure, who brought her to State College 20 years ago. Their oldest son, Thomas, is a sophomore in Chemical Engineering at Penn State, and their daughter, Morgan, is a volleyball-playing senior at State College Area High School. Their third child, a Springer Spaniel named Lakota, rounds out their household. They spend lots of time on any water body they can find, whether fly fishing or rowing their new scull.

To contact Dr. Wardrop, e-mail dhw110@psu.edu.