Pavlostathis honored for connecting education, research, practice with medal named for former Tech professor

Professor Spyros Pavlosthathis

It’s funny how life can come full-circle.

When Spyros Pavlostathis joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 1991, he replaced a long-time professor named Frederick Pohland. They shared an interest in anaerobic biological processes for treating wastewater and restoring the environment, so it was a fitting succession.

Now Pavlostathis has won a medal named for his predecessor that honors researchers who’ve worked to bridge environmental engineering research, education and practice with the same drive and enthusiasm that was the hallmark of Pohland’s career.

“Education, research and practice are all interconnected, as they should be,” said Pavlostathis, a professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Having worked as an environmental engineer before becoming a faculty member, from the very beginning of my academic career I set the goal for my students and myself to appreciate and tackle real-life problems.”

One of the very early ways Pavlosthathis did that was, again, connected to Pohland.

“Early in my academic career, Fred Pohland encouraged me to become an active member of the International Water Association Special Task Group on Anaerobic Digestion,” he said. “That led to my involvement in the development of the Anaerobic Digestion Model 1, which has become the standard platform for anaerobic digestion modeling.”

The Association of Environmental Engineering & Science Professors and the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists have awarded the Frederick George Pohland Medal only 15 times; Pavlostathis is the first from Tech to receive it.

“I am particularly honored to be joining fourteen colleagues who have been the recipients of the same award since 2005, all sharing the same passion for applied environmental research for the benefit of society,” he said. 

In nominating Pavlostathis for the Pohland Medal, former Ph.D. student Daniel Yeh praised his adviser’s dedication to his students, despite a prolific and impactful research agenda.

“Dr. Pavlostathis is, without a doubt, the biggest reason for the success I have enjoyed in my career to date,” wrote Yeh, now an associate professor at the University of South Florida. “Beyond the obvious influence as my Ph.D. adviser, he has shaped my thinking, my observational skills, the way I approach problem solving, and my thirst for research. I believe this sentiment is common among all [his] former students.”

Pavlostathis will accept this Pohland Medal in May at AEESP’s Research and Education Conference.