Virginia Tech has created a new university honor—the Ut Prosim Scholar Award—to recognize singular instances of the application of scholarship in truly extraordinary service to humanity.

The university will confer the inaugural award to Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Marc Edwards, two of the key individuals who exposed widespread lead-in-water contamination in Flint, Michigan, last year, during its University Commencement ceremony to be held in Lane Stadium May 13.

Student and faculty members of Virginia Tech’s Flint Water Team and colleagues who contributed to Hanna-Attisha work will also be recognized at the ceremony.

As part of the award, Edwards and his team will receive a monetary award for five years for operational support for their work performed at Virginia Tech.

“Ut Prosim (That I may serve) is more than a university motto—it is our core value that has endured more than a century, transcending the transformation from an all-male, military agricultural and mechanical college into the comprehensive, inclusive research university we are today,” said President Tim Sands. “This profound commitment to service is indelibly embedded into the culture of Virginia Tech, and no one better illustrates this and the impact it can have on people’s lives than Marc and Mona.”

Edwards is the Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech and a nationally renowned expert on municipal water quality. In 2007, Edwards was named a MacArthur Fellow because of his work in ensuring the safety of drinking water and in exposing problems with deteriorating water-delivery infrastructure in America's largest cities.

Hanna-Attisha is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and director of the Pediatric Residency program at Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint. She now directs the Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, an innovative and model public health program to research, monitor, and mitigate the impact of lead in Flint’s drinking water.

Last year, Edwards became involved in Flint when resident Lee-Anne Walters reached out to him regarding the quality and safety of her tap water after her children suffered illnesses and rashes that were becoming alarmingly common across the Michigan city. After testing with Virginia Tech, Walters learned that her tap water had extremely high levels of lead.

Working with other Flint residents, Edwards and a team of Virginia Tech students and researchers conducted a comprehensive city-wide sampling effort of 277 homes last fall. They concluded that Flint’s water suffered from serious lead contamination as well as bacteria problems, including Legionella.

At about the same time and inspired by Edwards’ work, independent research by Hanna-Attisha discovered higher rates of elevated lead levels in Flint children.

The combined efforts and discoveries by both Edwards’ and Hanna-Attisha’s teams brought national and international attention to the dangers facing Flint residents. 

Since January, the two have served on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee, which seeks long-term solutions to Flint’s water system. Edwards has been called upon twice this year to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Government Reform Committee regarding the Flint water crisis.

In April, Edwards and Hanna-Attisha were named to the 2016 TIME 100, Time magazine’s annual list of the most influential people in the world.

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