Ellen Wohl

Prof. Ellen Wohl fully represents all of the qualities of an inspiring and groundbreaking scientist and as such greatly deserves the 2018 G. K. Gilbert Award in Surface Processes. She has consistently and significantly advanced our understanding of processes in numerous subfields in geomorphology. Ellen has more than 200 refereed publications, with many being in key geomorphology journals; these publications have made tremendous contributions to understanding the morphology, sediment transport, wood dynamics, and hydraulics in steep mountain channels. Her work has also greatly advanced the understanding of carbon storage and transport in rivers. Ellen has also worked to incorporate fundamental research into the more applied work of river restoration. Through this work, which includes eight books for nonacademic audiences, she has had a large impact on helping both scientific and nonscientific communities outside of geomorphology understand the importance and practical application of knowledge in our field. Ellen has effectively supervised and graduated more than 70 Ph.D. and M.S. students. Many of these students have gone on to lead successful careers in academia and government science, thereby further influencing knowledge in geomorphology. Ellen is consistently a fair and extremely supportive colleague for everyone in geomorphology. She has served as a role model to countless female geomorphologists as a direct mentor or collaborator, as an indirect mentor at meetings, and by being one of the few full female professors in our field. While none of us have worked directly with Ellen, she has provided all of us inspiration in terms of her scientific excellence and continual inclusiveness of young scientists. Ellen’s compassion for her community would be remarkable even if she were not one of the elite researchers in our field. We know of no other scientist in geomorphology who so truly excels in both science and community engagement.

—Nicole Gasparini, Tulane University, New Orleans, La.; Paola Passalacqua, University of Texas at Austin; and Elowyn Yager, University of Idaho, Boise


I’m honored to receive this award. As the first female recipient of the award in the time of the “Me Too” movement, I’d like to discuss mentorship. My professional career and my life have been shaped by many extraordinary mentors, starting with my parents. While I was an undergraduate at Arizona State University, committed, caring teachers pushed me to excel. At the University of Arizona, Vic Baker and Bill Bull created a supportive and intellectually stimulating atmosphere for their graduate students.

I’ve been lucky to have supportive senior colleagues who fulfill the definition of mentor as a guide and advisor. But I’ve also worked with people who have been damaged by harassment. Most people agree that there is no justification for overt harassment. Ingrained attitudes and subtle prejudices are trickier. We can each strive to be cognizant of these and to treat others fairly and supportively. The golden rule is ancient, but it remains superb advice.

People give of themselves most fully and happily when they feel supported, appreciated, and safe. If your colleagues are giving of themselves, you gain from them in the ultimate positive feedback loop.

I encourage everyone to go beyond the bar of not harassing or impeding others and meet the higher and more rewarding level of actively encouraging and supporting others. My fellow grad student Keith Katzer referred to fairy godfathers and godmothers—senior people who do good things for us—who write letters of recommendation, provide thorough and constructive reviews of papers and proposals, or provide an encouraging word at a critical moment. No one is too junior to be a fairy godparent. So take the time to thank your fairy godparents, and then strengthen the tradition and help turn a pumpkin into a golden carriage for someone else.

—Ellen Wohl, Colorado State University, Fort Collins


(2018), Wohl receives 2018 G. K. Gilbert Award in Surface Processes, Eos, 99, Published on 06 November 2018.

Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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