“Dan is the state of New Jersey’s undisputed leader in the field of watershed planning and management and as accomplished a professional as you will ever find. His students have benefitted tremendously from Dan’s real-world experience in solving environmental challenges and his service to nonprofit watershed organizations has been exemplary,” said Jim Waltman, executive director of The Watershed Institute, a major non-governmental organization in New Jersey.
These accolades were being showered on Dan Van Abs (CC’77), a professor of professional practice for water, society, and the environment in the Department of Human Ecology, who was being honored by The Watershed Institute at its 2023 Annual Meeting.
The Edmund W. Stiles Award for Environmental Leadership, so named for the late Edmund W. (Ted) Stiles, professor of ecology at Rutgers, recognized Dan as a “community leader who demonstrates outstanding leadership, dedication, and passion in advancing the cause of environmental protection and stewardship.”
Dan was characteristically humble at this latest recognition of him as an environmental leader.
“I’m very honored to receive this award, especially as Ted Stiles was a friend and colleague from when we both served on the Watershed board in the 1990s and were involved in advocating for watershed protection and preservation.”
Dan has served more than 40 years in academia and statewide focused on addressing the challenges of water resources management, including water supply, water quality, watershed protection, water infrastructure, and regional environmental planning and management. Some 26 years of his distinguished career were spent in management positions at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the New Jersey Water Supply Authority and the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council.
He’s received multiple professional awards over the course of his four decades of professional life. Among his most recent accolades is achieving the planning profession’s highest honor in 2020 by being named to the prestigious American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) College of Fellows for his outstanding achievements in environmental planning.
Dan holds a doctoral degree in environmental science from SUNY-College of Environmental Science and Forestry in association with Syracuse University. In 1977, he earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies as a member of that historic first matriculating class of Cook College in 1973.
He returned to Rutgers in 2012 as an associate professor and became a full professor in 2021. His research is focused on the intersection of water resources management and societal development. He mixes teaching, research, and public service responsibilities, and is highly regarded as an environmental leader.
But that’s not the only area in which he shines. He quietly but effectively leads by example in philanthropy, especially when it comes to supporting Rutgers students and their educational goals.
A Cook College graduate and a professor at Rutgers, Dan has always been motived to make modest gifts to the university for decades, especially for the SEBS Scholarship Endowment as he saw how students grappled with affording a college education and wanted to help ease their burden.
He was driven to do more because of what he was witnessing in his classes and in 2020, Dan made a $25,000 gift to the Scarlet Promise Grants program, a university-wide financial aid and emergency support program for Rutgers undergraduates. The grants, ranging from $500 to $5,000, provide relief to thousands of students each year, making up the difference between federal and state sources of aid and what families can afford.
Also driving Dan’s gift was the knowledge that no matter how bright and hard-working students may be, many of them, especially first-generation students, often don’t have the support and resources they need to stay in school.
“If they have the capacity to get their degree and they don’t because of financial problems, that’s just not acceptable.”
In August 2023, Dan completed a five-year, $10,000 pledge for the SEBS Scholarship Endowment Fund, further sealing his commitment to keep on supporting students at his beloved alma mater.
Editor’s Note: Read more on Dan Van Abs’ generosity to Rutgers students in this original Rutgers University Foundation article.