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Kirwan honored with Presidential Early Career Award

  • Matt Kirwan stands in knee-high water near a row of buckets
    Field work:  VIMS Associate Professor Matt Kirwan on Hog Island, Virginia, where he is simulating the accumulation of over-wash fan deposits to measure the impacts of storms on marshes.   Photo by David Walters
  • Matt Kirwan bends over to inspect something in a marsh near a row of buckets
    Marsh studies:  VIMS Associate Professor Matt Kirwan in the field.  Photo by David Walters
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Associate Professor Matt Kirwan of William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science has been honored with a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

The PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Government on scientists and engineers beginning their independent research careers. It recognizes those who show exceptional promise for the advancement of STEM education and community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, and community outreach.

Matt Kirwan, VIMS associate professor and 2019 PECASE recipient.The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy coordinates the PECASE with participating departments and agencies. Kirwan’s PECASE nomination was submitted by the U.S. National Science Foundation, which in 2017 recognized Kirwan with its own prestigious honor for early-career researchers — the NSF Faculty Early Career Development award.

Fleming Crim, NSF's chief operating officer says, "NSF is pleased to recognize these recipients who, while still early in their research careers, have phenomenal track records in science and engineering and who continue to excel as talented researchers, dedicated mentors, and inspiring role models and teachers."

John Wells, VIMS dean and director, says “The Presidential Early Career Award is further proof that Matt is one of the shining stars among our younger faculty. It also helps confirm that his studies of how coastal marshes respond to sea-level rise is of the utmost importance to Virginia and the world.”

A 2002 graduate of W&M with a B.S. in geology and a minor in mathematics, Kirwan earned his Ph.D. in 2007 at Duke University. Since arriving at VIMS in 2013, he has authored or co-authored 18 articles in leading research journals including Nature and Science. 

His work on the “ghost forests” shaped by rising seas has been covered by ABC, CBS, NBC, the Associated Press, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Houston Chronicle and scores of other newspapers. Kirwan currently mentors two Ph.D. students, two post-doctoral fellows and three undergraduates. He also teaches two courses — Principles of Geological Oceanography and Wetland Geomorphology and Ecology.

Kirwan's cutting-edge work on ghost forests has earned international press coverage.When asked to describe his thoughts on receiving the PECASE, Kirwan said, “I’m so excited and grateful for this award. It was a completely unexpected honor to be recognized by the White House and in the company of such great scientists.”

Carl Friedrichs, chair of the physical sciences department at VIMS, says, “It’s fantastic news to hear about Matt’s prestigious award, and I join everyone at VIMS in congratulating him on this extremely well-deserved honor.”   

Friedrichs, who himself won a PECASE in 2000 for his studies of estuarine circulation and sediment transport, joins Kirwan and Stevens as the only other PECASE recipients from W&M since the program was established in 1996.

Also honored with a 2019 PECASE was Justin Stevens, an assistant professor of physics at W&M. Stevens, a Department of Energy nominee, is an active experimenter at the DOE’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News.

The Trump Administration will hold a ceremony to honor the 2019 PECASE winners on July 25. The ceremony will take place across the street from the White House at the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Constitution Hall. The National Science Foundation plans its own recognition ceremony on the afternoon of the same day.