Ponderosa grad wins presidential award for water work

Dr. Rebecca Dodder recognized for research, community outreach

Posted 4/18/16

Growing up in Colorado, Dr. Rebecca Dodder knew the importance of water.

“I spent a lot of time outdoors," she said, "and I saw a lot of dry riverbeds.”

Dodder didn't know it at the time, but eventually her work with the Environmental …

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Ponderosa grad wins presidential award for water work

Dr. Rebecca Dodder recognized for research, community outreach

Posted

Growing up in Colorado, Dr. Rebecca Dodder knew the importance of water.

“I spent a lot of time outdoors," she said, "and I saw a lot of dry riverbeds.”

Dodder didn't know it at the time, but eventually her work with the Environmental Protection Agency on the subject would win her renown.

The White House recently awarded Dodder, a 1993 Ponderosa High School graduate, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. She earned the award for a combination of innovation in research and a commitment to community service.

“She's always been driven,” said Bob Dodder, her father.

A basketball coach at Ponderosa once suggested Rebecca, who was taller than many of her classmates, try out for the team, the elder Dodder remembered. “She came home on Friday and said `Teach me basketball, I'm going to try out for the team on Monday.' ”

Dodder graduated from Vanderbilt University with bachelor's degrees in physics and Spanish, then earned a doctorate in engineering systems from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She now works with the Environmental Protection Agency in Durham, North Carolina.

Dodder's mother Susanne said she saw her daughter begin to focus on helping others during her time at Vanderbilt. Dodder painted orphanages in Peru and helped farmers remove large rocks from their fields.

“I think that was important to her to start to focus on helping people and not just the academics,” Susanne Dodder said. “They called her `my angel.' ”

Dodder's research focuses on how energy use and production change over time. A central topic of her recent work is the water-energy nexus, the connection between the use of water for energy production and the energy used to provide fresh water. Dodder predicts long-range scenarios of how using more renewable energy sources can reduce overall water use.

The concept is tricky to grasp, Dodder acknowledges, so she made a game of it. “Generate!” is a board game, available free to teachers, that lets players explore the advantages and costs of everyday decisions about energy use. The game also spells out the environmental impact of those choices as well as what can happen when energy sources change over time

“It translates the research into something that's fun and accessible, with lots of math and science in it,” Dodder said. “I was surprised to see how competitive (the students) became.”

Dodder is also involved with the STEM movement, bringing scientists to schools to inspire students to go into science, technology, engineering and math.

Even as her academic and post-graduate careers took off, Dodder never forgot what she learned in the classrooms at Ponderosa. She credits many of her teachers with giving her the confidence and skills to pursue new directions.

Dodder remembered her physics teacher, Margaret Brinker, for recognizing her potential and her environmental geography teacher, Mark Sneden, for requiring her and her classmates to sort and weigh their household trash every week. The smelly assignment sparked a passion for environmental science.

Dodder also acknowledged her Spanish teacher, Lisa Woods, for starting her on a path that led her to a graduate program in Mexico City, where she worked with accomplished scientists and met her husband, Aldo De Tuoni Fraga. Her twin, bilingual sons Marco and Julian, 7, are another happy result of taking Woods' class all those years ago.

Just as she was inspired and encouraged by her teachers, Dodder hopes to motivate today's students to make a difference in the world.

“Everybody has a role in reaching out and supporting education, and I find that very rewarding,” she said. “For me, that's getting into the classroom and communicating with students.”

For more information on Dodder’s game Generate! and a printable PDF of game pieces, go www.epa.gov/air-research/

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