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UW-Eau Claire biology grad earns a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Dr. Lisa Schulte Moore is among the 25 people named as 2021 MacArthur Fellows, an honor often described as a “genius grant.” Schulte Moore graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1993 with a major in biology and chemistry and topical minors. She’s continued to have strong connections with her alma mater, including returning to campus throughout the years to teach or lead seminars. (Photo credit: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduate is among the 25 people named as a 2021 MacArthur Fellow, an honor often referred to as a “genius grant.”

Dr. Lisa Schulte Moore, a biology major with chemistry and topical minors, graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1993.

Now a professor at Iowa State University and a landscape ecologist, Schulte Moore has conducted groundbreaking research to help address sustainable farming, water quality and climate change.

“Her selection as a MacArthur Fellow is huge and it is well deserved,” says Dr. Paula Kleintjes Neff, professor of biology and chair of the biology department at UW-Eau Claire. “It’s one of the most prestigious awards that a creative ‘genius’ can receive. She is a phenomenal person who has accomplished so much. I enjoy watching her succeed, year after year.”

Every year, the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation names 20-30 fellows, who each receive a “no strings attached” award of $625,000. The awards are meant to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual and professional inclinations, according to the foundation’s website.

The prestigious awards identify scientists, artists, entrepreneurs and others who have demonstrated exceptional creativity and who show promise for important future advances.

Kleintjes Neff describes Schulte Moore’s work as “innovative and collaborative,” noting that she regularly asks difficult scientific questions that need to be answered.

“Her work continues to provide evidence in support of novel agricultural policy and practices that have the potential for far-reaching positive impacts, environmentally, socially and economically,” Kleintjes Neff says.

Ties to the campus, community

A first-generation college student who grew up in Eau Claire, Schulte Moore continues to have strong ties to UW-Eau Claire and the Eau Claire community.

Schulte Moore was an accomplished undergraduate researcher during her years at UW-Eau Claire, working alongside faculty on ecological research in the Lower Chippewa River floodplain forests.

Since graduating, she has returned to campus to lead seminars in the biology department, and taught biology courses between her graduate programs, Kleintjes Neff says.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from UW-Eau Claire, Schulte Moore earned a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth, and a Ph.D. from UW-Madison. She was a postdoctoral associate with the U.S. Forest Service before joining the faculty at Iowa State University in 2003.

“We are thrilled to see one of UW-Eau Claire’s accomplished graduates being recognized for the incredible work she is doing, work that is literally changing the world,” says Dr. James Phillips, professor of chemistry and chair of the chemistry department at UW-Eau Claire. “Like so many Blugolds who graduate from our science programs, Dr. Schulte Moore is using the foundation she gained here to go on to do great things.”  

A leader in her field

When announcing its class of 2021 fellows, the foundation states that its award recognizes Schulte Moore’s work to implement locally relevant approaches to build soil, improve water quality, protect biodiversity and strengthen the resilience of row crop agriculture.

In her work with farmers to build more sustainable and resilient agricultural systems, Schulte Moore “combines expertise on the environmental, economic and policy aspects of large-scale agriculture and food production with an ability to communicate practical information directly to landowners about ways to make their land both more productive and more sustainable over time,” the foundation states in its announcement of this year’s fellows.

It also notes that Schulte Moore does intensive outreach to encourage uptake of the prairie strips program. In addition to scientific publications and field demonstrations of the program’s benefits, she is lead developer of People in Ecosystems Watershed Integration, an open-source tool that allows farmers to visualize the ecosystem benefits of strips and other conservation features on their farms.

Schulte Moore’s personal and long-term engagement with individual farmers has been successful in Iowa and beyond, the foundation states. Prairie strips are now being used in 14 states on over 115,000 acres of cropland, and that is sure to increase: the Conservation Reserve Program in the 2018 Farm Bill includes prairie strips as a conservation practice eligible for financial support.

“By approaching the serious challenges of food security, climate change and conservation of our environment as networked pieces of a larger system, Schulte Moore opens new possibilities for a transformation in sustainable agriculture,” the foundation states.

Making the world better for people and nature

“I am driven to make a better world for people and nature,” Schulte Moore says in a statement shared by the MacArthur Foundation. “Creative ideas are vital, especially those that can be deployed at the pace and scale needed to address food and water security, climate change and biodiversity loss. I collaborate with scientists, farmers, businesses and policymakers to create workable solutions.”

She also states that she is focused on the Corn Belt — the highly productive middle of the U.S. — because of its outsized influence on agricultural technology, markets and policies, both nationally and globally.

“Corn Belt agriculture affects the lives of millions, if not billions, of people and the health of the planet,” Schulte Moore states. “It is also my home.”

The MacArthur Fellowship

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation selects fellows who demonstrate exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments and the potential for the fellowship to facilitate future creative work.

Its selection process is shrouded in secrecy, with anonymous groups making nominations and recommendations to the foundation's board of directors.