The late Ben Dysart served as Environmental Protection Agency adviser and beloved mentor and friend to some of Clemson’s brightest graduate students.
Devoted husband, trusted friend, respected environmental engineer, professor and leader in the nation’s conservation community. Those accolades describe Benjamin C. Dysart III, who passed away last year in Nashville, Tennessee. Dysart earned both bachelor’s and master’s engineering degrees at Vanderbilt University and a doctoral degree at Georgia Tech. But Clemson was where he made the most impact on both his students and colleagues. He served as a distinguished professor of environmental engineering and earth sciences, then known as environmental systems engineering, from 1968 until he retired from teaching in 1990.
Dysart was hired originally to establish and lead a water resources engineering graduate program to introduce “water quality” and broaden the process-engineering capability in the emerging environmental systems engineering graduate program. During his tenure, he advised and mentored dozens of graduate and Ph.D. students who went on to serve in leadership positions at the highest levels of public, private and nonprofit sectors. After leaving Clemson, Dysart maintained close personal friendships with many of his students who became part of the extended “Dysart family.”
Dysart brought incredible intellect and energy to his work, earning national recognition for his scientific, engineering and policy contributions. His goal was to contribute — in his words — “to the long-term, greater public interest.” He consistently worked toward optimal “win-win” outcomes in the environmental regulatory and policy arena, including environmental justice for people and communities too often overlooked in environmental decision-making. His students received much more than a world-class technical education. They benefited from the unique and valuable insights he brought due to his extensive research and leadership positions in local, state, national and international organizations, including two terms as president and chairman of the board of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the nation’s largest conservation organization.
During his distinguished career, Dysart was a national adviser on some of the most significant environmental issues of his day, including wetlands protection, nuclear energy, outer continental shelf drilling and natural resource management. He testified before both houses of Congress, lectured widely and co-authored two books for a Resources for the Future Environmental Regeneration series. He served the Environmental Protection Agency on numerous scientific advisory boards, earning recognition from EPA administrators Douglas Costle and Lee Thomas. His work at NWF created a first-of-its-kind corporate-nongovernmental organization partnership model, earning a Presidential Citation from President Ronald Reagan. Beyond his leadership role at NWF, Dysart served in senior roles at the Conservation Foundation, Trout Unlimited, the Water Environment Federation and the Association of Environmental Engineering Professionals.
After leaving Clemson, Dysart engaged as a consultant and executive counselor, bringing his extraordinary insights into environmental and stakeholder engagement for numerous business sectors, including chemicals, forest products, mining, manufacturing and health care. He also served as regional director at Chemical Waste Management.
In 2021, with support from numerous former graduate students and friends, the Benjamin Clay Dysart III Environmental Engineering Fellowship endowment was established at Clemson. This fellowship was created to honor Dysart’s contributions as a teacher and a man who brought vision, change and better outcomes for people and the natural environment for more than 40 years. With the establishment of this fellowship, Dysart joins the ranks of other renowned professors who are memorialized through departmental fellowships for their lasting impact in the engineering field and, in Dysart’s case, for work that extended far beyond. The fellowship will support the research of an exceptional graduate student for one year, with awards made annually.
At a ceremony announcing the endowment on July 9, 2021, former students Chris Thompson and Jim Hendricks shared their memories of Dysart’s impact on environmental engineering at Clemson, as did Professor Emeritus Tom Overcamp. Thompson summed up widely held sentiments about her former professor and friend, stating, “Clearly, Ben has made an important and indelible impact on our lives. This endowment was an opportunity not only to honor him for his gift to us but to pay it forward with the hope that we’ll be supporting the next generation of students who will further the long-term greater public interest.” Dysart and his wife, Betty, were in attendance. Sadly, Dysart passed away exactly one year later. He was 82 years old. For more than 20 years, Benjamin Dysart dedicated his life and talents to Clemson students and the betterment of our world. Thanks to grateful students, friends and the Dysart Fellowship, his legacy continues.
Learn more about supporting the Benjamin Clay Dysart III Environmental Engineering Fellowship endowment at: clemson.edu/cecas/departments/eees/about/donations
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