For the second year in a row, a faculty member at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has been named Professor of the Year for Massachusetts by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Jeanine D. Plummer, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the university’s Environmental Engineering Program, is being recognized as one of the nation's most outstanding undergraduate instructors. The CASE U.S. Professors of the Year program, one of the most prestigious awards for college professors, is jointly sponsored by CASE and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Plummer and the other national and state winners were recognized today at an awards luncheon at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, D.C. She is the third WPI professor to receive this honor in the past six years. Last year, Robert L. Norton, Milton Prince Higgins II Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering, was named the Massachusetts Professor of the Year. In 2002, Judith Miller, then professor of biology and biotechnology at WPI, received the same distinction.
"WPI's faculty are truly outstanding in their commitment to not only educating their students, but also in challenging them to use their knowledge and skills to solve some of the world's most important problems," said John Orr, WPI provost and senior vice president. "Jeanine Plummer has demonstrated a remarkable passion for teaching and mentoring students since she came to WPI. It is particularly fitting that her remarkable efforts are in environmental engineering. She and her students are literally engineering a better future for the planet and its people, and her skill and leadership in working with students is outstanding. WPI is delighted that CASE is recognizing her with this prestigious national honor."
Plummer, who joined the WPI faculty in 1999, received a BS in civil and environmental engineering from Cornell University. With fellowships from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, she earned an MS in environmental engineering and a PhD in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where her thesis and dissertation work focused on removing algae and the parasite Cryptosporidium from drinking water. As a graduate student, she took first place in the Association of Environmental Engineering Professors/Montgomery Watson Master’s Thesis Award competition and received the United Technologies Outstanding Graduate Woman in Engineering Award.
In 2007, Plummer was named director of WPI's new undergraduate program in environmental engineering, an interdisciplinary major that draws on the expertise of faculty members in chemical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, and mechanical engineering. Knowing that environmental engineers face challenges that span multiple disciplines, WPI's program seeks to provide students with a broad background that integrates knowledge from the sciences, mathematics, engineering, and the humanities and social sciences. WPI has honored Plummer with the Board of Trustees' Award for Academic Advising (in 2005) and the Board of Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Teaching (in 2006). In 2004, Plummer received a WPI Teaching Technology Fellowship, which she used to develop interactive computer simulations that enable students in her Introduction to Environmental Engineering course to manipulate variables and see the resulting changes in environmental systems.
In her research, Plummer explores factors that affect the quality of drinking water and technologies that can be used to detect and treat contaminants. One area of her work concerns waterborne pathogens, and she has developed statistical tools that can be used to help identify the probable sources of fecal bacteria in a watershed when there are multiple possible sources. Other work focuses on distinguishing between human and non-human sources of bacterial contamination, studying how viral pathogens fare in waterways and in water treatment plants to better understand the risks they pose to people, and exploring innovative techniques for deactivating microbes in drinking waters, including the use of high-frequency sound waves, solar radiation, and organic acids. Plummer has looked at ways to reduce the formation of harmful byproducts associated with disinfection and at the applicability of alternative treatment techniques to disinfect water in developing countries. Plummer's research has been supported by the NSF and the USDA, and has resulted in first- and second-place awards in poster competitions at conferences of the American Water Works Association.
Plummer is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Water Works Association, the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors, the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors, the International Water Association, and the New England Water Works Association.