Lifetime of Research Leads to Prestigious Award

Niemi named Curators’ Distinguished Professor

Tina Niemi, Ph.D., knew she wanted to be an archeologist or a geologist from a young age. Now, as an Earth and Environmental Science professor at UMKC, she is inspiring the next generation of scientists. 

Niemi, who teaches in the School of Science and Engineering, was recently named a Curators’ Distinguished Professor by the University of Missouri Board of Curators. It is the highest and most prestigious academic rank awarded by the Curators, and it is given to a select few outstanding scholars with established reputations.

Growing up, Niemi said her mother kept a large rock garden in their backyard filled with all kinds of souvenirs from time spent hunting arrowheads on her grandfather’s farm. This started her love of archeology and geology.

She went on to study both archelogy and geology for her undergraduate degree, geo-archelogy for her master’s and earthquakes for her Ph.D. Niemi specializes in geoarchaeology, sedimentology and active tectonics.

Specifically, Neimi’s scientific interests include studying active faults, earthquake recurrence in the geologic and archaeological records, reconstructions of ancient environments, analyses of high-resolution geophysical data and the study of recent hurricane and tsunami sediment deposits.

“It’s crazy to think I’m doing exactly what I dreamed about as a kid,” Niemi said.

As a field geologist, Niemi and her students collect aerial imagery using drones and stratigraphic (rock-layering) data from outcrops, trench excavations and cores to build a deeper understanding of the history and nature of tectonic, climate and anthropogenic (human-influenced) environmental changes through time.

One of Niemi’s favorite parts of being a professor is her connection with her students and research her student-led teams have conducted. Under her supervision, students have had the chance to participate in real-world research in Mexico, Guatemala, the Bahamas, India, Jordan, Turkey and on the San Andreas fault and New Madrid seismic zone.

“I’m very proud to have mentored nearly 60 undergraduate research projects and have facilitated probably another 40 with my NSF [National Science Foundation] student research projects,” Niemi said. “I’ve had students put in their evaluations that it was life-changing – that it changed the trajectory of their careers.” 

Along with Niemi, Massimiliano Vitiello, Ph.D., of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, was also given the award. Both were celebrated at the UMKC Promotion and Tenure event earlier this month.

Learn more about School of Science and Engineering

Published: Oct 31, 2022

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