Pioneering water quality researcher Professor Lutgarde “Lut” Raskin has been awarded a prestigious Rackham Distinguished Graduate Mentor Award.
Raskin, who is the Altarum/ERIM Russell O’Neal Professor of Engineering, is one of five University of Michigan faculty members selected for the honor. The awards are given by U-M’s Rackham Graduate School to recognize excellent faculty advisers.
“By leading a high impact research program that makes a difference worldwide, by creating an inclusive and interdisciplinary discovery and learning environment, and by supporting each student to reach their full potential as researchers and citizens, Professor Raskin has and continues to serve as an exemplary mentor to students at all levels,” said Kim Hayes, the Donald Malloure Department Chair in Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Arthur J. Decker Collegiate Professor of CEE.
Raskin has been with the department since 2005, and for the past three years, she’s served as graduate chair. Previously, she was a faculty member at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for 12 years. Over the course of her career so far, she has mentored 75 graduate students, including twenty doctoral students. She has also mentored 16 postdoctoral researchers.
Students describe her as remarkably collaborative, accessible and able to strike an appropriate balance between encouragement and “tough love.” Additionally, they applaud her efforts to help them seek training and interdisciplinary collaborations outside her field, even stints in international research labs.
As just one of many examples, Ameet Pinto, a former postdoctoral advisee who is now an assistant professor at Northeastern University, cites a 2010 research trip to Glasgow that Raskin supported as setting the course of his career. Overseas, Pinto worked with theoretical ecologists to glean new information from his dataset of microbes in Ann Arbor drinking water.
The students who worked in her lab have gone on to esteemed careers in academia and industry, Hayes said. Among those in academia, her former mentees have taken up faculty positions in environmental engineering and science in universities in the US and around the world, including at North Carolina State University; University of Wisconsin; McGill University; University of Southern California; Cornell University; Istanbul Technical University; Purdue University.
The interdisciplinary training characteristic of Raskin’s program has allowed some former mentees to expand their careers into new disciplines. For instance, one is a faculty member in Austria who is a recognized expert in unraveling the role intestinal microbial communities play in health and disease. Another, in China, is focusing on sustainable seafood production and marine conservation.
Raskin says she deeply appreciates this recognition.
“Seeing my students and postdocs develop and become independent researchers and professionals is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable aspects of being a faculty member,” she said. “I had a few wonderful mentors when I was a junior faculty member, who made me realize the difference mentoring can make in someone’s training and career development.”
Raskin’s research is built around using techniques from molecular biology to study microbial communities in drinking water and wastewater treatment systems. Her work has fundamentally shaped how microbial ecology-based research can be applied to solve challenging problems in pollution control, clean water, and renewable energy.
“Her work is particularly valued in the environmental engineering field,” Hayes said, “because she has moved beyond making fundamental advances in understanding biological systems in water treatment to translating that understanding to improve the design and operation of water quality control processes.”