Ashley Moerke, Recipient 2012
Ashley Moerke Ph.D., a faculty member known as both an accomplished scientist and professor by her students and colleagues, has been chosen as the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award at Lake Superior State University.
The award was announced Saturday during LSSU's annual commencement ceremony, when nearly 550 graduates received degrees.
Moerke is an associate professor of biology and co-director of the LSSU Aquatic Research Laboratory. She started at LSSU in 2004, coming from University of Notre Dame, where she received her master's and doctoral degrees in biology. She received a bachelor's degree, cum laude, from University of Minnesota-Duluth.
He research interests include stream and river ecology, restoration ecology, riparian-stream interactions, watershed ecology, fisheries ecology, water quality and biological assessment and nutrient enrichment. She is especially interested in the impacts that humans have on stream ecosystems and watersheds, how those impacts may be managed, and how degraded streams may be restored.
"This year's Distinguished Teaching Award recipient has been described as an ideal role model for not only the students in her classes, but the faculty and others she works with daily," said LSSU Provost Morrie Walworth. "She has a unique ability to relate to students and to present information and difficult concepts in a way that is relevant and easy to understand. She has a genuine passion for the subject matter taught, causing students to be excited for class. She is kind and compassionate and genuinely cares about her students."
Moerke's excitement for her field of expertise is obvious to anyone who sits in her class, works with her in the field or speaks with her in general. Students who nominated her noted that as soon as she begins to teach, it is evident that she truly loves what she does and is willing to do everything she can to encourage students to find the same passion that she has for her field.
Moerke thanked her colleagues, family and friends for supporting her in her endeavors.
"My co-workers supported me from day one, when I arrived here and had no idea what I was doing or what I was supposed to do. They provided guidance and feedback on my successes and struggles and shared theirs as well," she said. "Thanks also to my family and friends, who provide a wonderful support group and have put up with a number of working vacations, and to my husband, who puts up with my 'work hard, play hard' attitude and grounds me so that I'm not too much of a goofy scientist.
"And thanks to my students, who are awesome," she added. "You are why I get up in morning and why I love what I am doing. I get so much from you guys."
Moerke works to secure funding through grants, allowing her students to gain valuable field experience. Since coming to LSSU, she has been involved in a considerable number of studies in the region and beyond, including studies on the effects of environmental changes on fish in Michigan rivers and streams, influence of Pacific salmon on Great Lakes streams, distribution and habitat requirements of freshwater mussels in the Upper Peninsula, and lake sturgeon movement and habitat use in the St. Mary's River.
She and her collaborators have also studied diet composition of double-crested cormorants in the upper Great Lakes, effects of large woody debris on stream fish communities, and stream food web dynamics in the Huron Mountain region. Shortly after her arrival on campus, she and five of her LSSU colleagues worked on an Environmental Protection Agency-funded study on the biotic integrity and habitat assessment of the St. Mary's River.
She works with a wide variety of researchers from across the country in this work, including faculty and scientists from the Michigan and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, University of Notre Dame, Michigan Technological University, Michigan State University, and more. In addition, and in keeping with the undergraduate experience that helps LSSU's science programs stand out, she provides a wealth of research opportunities for her students, some of whom are able to publish papers in scientific journals and present them at professional conferences.
Moerke teaches limnology, aquatic entomology, principles of watershed management and restoration of aquatic ecosystems, as well as working with students on their research topics required for graduation. In 2009, she and colleague Sally Childs Ph.D. led their students on a tour of sub-Sahara Africa, where her students studied ecology and management of the area.
Moerke spreads her love of biology in the community, as well. She and Sault Area High School Teacher Paul Pioczak are co-advisors for the high school's National Ocean Sciences Bowl teams.
Outside of work, Moerke and her husband, Chris Scherwinski, enjoy kayaking, hiking, fishing and hunting.
The LSSU Distinguished Teaching Award has presented to faculty at graduation since 1971. The recipient demonstrates excellence in his or her field, creative and innovative teaching methods, generates excitement and enthusiasm, inspires students and serves as a role model. A committee of students, faculty, staff and past recipients chooses the recipient from nominations supported by examples of the faculty member's work.