BOZEMAN -- A Montana State University professor who is an international expert on water and biofilms has been selected as a Montana University System Regents Professor, the most prestigious designation to be attained by a professor in the system.
The Montana Board of Regents unanimously approved Anne Camper as MSU’s eighth Regents Professor on Thursday, Nov. 21, in Bozeman. A crowd of about 100 faculty, staff and students attended the meeting, applauding, cheering, whistling, ringing cowbells and giving Camper a standing ovation. One person shouted, "We love you, Anne."
Camper is the first woman at MSU and the first faculty member in MSU’s College of Engineering to be selected as Regents Professor. She joins MSU’s other Regents Professors, who include Trevor Douglas, chemistry and biochemistry; Michael Sexson, English; Brett Walker, history; Paul Grieco, chemistry and biochemistry; Jack Horner, paleontology; John Carlsten, physics; and Gordon Brittan, philosophy.
The mere fact that she was nominated left her feeling “honored, humbled, appreciative,” Camper said. “Just being recognized and nominated – That’s the reward as far as I’m concerned.”
Camper was recommended initially by Brett Gunnink, acting dean and director of the College of Engineering. The drive to honor Camper came even before she was asked to serve six months as MSU’s interim Vice President for Research, Creativity and Technology Transfer, a post Camper will hold until January.
“Dr. Camper’s outstanding scholarly achievements and extraordinary commitment to the College of Engineering, MSU and the state of Montana place Anne at the top of a very accomplished College of Engineering faculty,” Gunnink said.
MSU President Waded Cruzado described Camper’s accomplishments in the official nomination letter she sent to Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian.
“Dr. Camper has been an extraordinary student, researcher, faculty member, mentor and administrator at MSU for more than 40 years,” Cruzado wrote.
A native of Wisconsin, Camper moved to Montana when she was eight years old. Her mother was a school teacher, and her father was a professional musician-turned electrician. He was also an avid fisherman. Camper grew up 20 miles south of Darby and spent her early summers in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness backpacking, riding her Morgan horse, “Loretta,” and fly fishing with her family.
“It was on these rivers that she developed a passion for Montana’s water resources,” Cruzado continued. “Her high school science project investigating the change in microbial water quality in Montana’s Bitterroot River not only earned her the top award at the Montana State Science Fair and an opportunity to compete in the International Science Fair, it also sealed her love of science and her future career path.”
Camper came to MSU in 1971 as an undergraduate student and never left. She earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in microbiology and a Ph.D. in civil/environmental engineering. She went on to become an assistant professor of civil engineering, professor of civil engineering, associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Engineering and interim vice president. Along the way, she was a work study student, classified employee, professional employee and adjunct professor.
“I have been pretty much everything on campus,” Camper said.
After earning her master’s degree, Camper thought briefly about leaving to pursue a career in industry, but she decided against it.
“It didn’t take me long to realize that wasn’t for me,” Camper said. “I was an academic at heart, actually a researcher at heart. I’m also from a long line of teachers.”
Camper conducts her research in MSU’s Center for Biofilm Engineering, where she specializes in biofilm growth and control in drinking and industrial water systems. Water has fascinated her ever since she realized that it contained unseen things that could make people sick, and her interest has never waned, Camper said. Her interest only grew as she learned more about the impact of water on public health and what people could do about it.
Camper is an international authority on the fate, transport and survival of pathogens in biofilm systems and the physiology of biofilm bacteria. She has been the principal investigator or co-principal investigator in more than 75 grants related to drinking water treatment or distribution. Grant and contract support for which Camper was a principal investigator or co-investigator exceeds $10 million.
Camper has authored or co-authored 77 peer-reviewed publications and 13 book chapters. She has been invited to deliver more than 150 presentations. She is co-inventor on an international patent, a dye that allows researchers to detect live from dead bacteria. She has been the major adviser for 35 graduate students and five postdoctoral fellows, averaging five or six graduate students a year.
“I love it,” she said of mentoring students. “It’s just really fun to work with motivated students who are interested in research and try and get them launched.”
One of those students, Gem Encarnacion, worked with Camper from the summer of 2007 to March 2012 as she earned her Ph.D. on the microbial ecology of water distribution systems. Now back in her native Philippines, Encarnacion teaches microbiology at the University of the Philippines Los Banos. She is a board member of the Philippine Society for Microbiology.
“She is the best boss ever,” Encarnacion said of Camper. “She has cultivated a working/professional environment that is built on mutual respect among the members. It didn’t feel that I was thousands of miles away from home, and I looked forward to going to work every day.
“There was a great diversity of people who worked with her in the lab, both in the scientific and cultural aspects, but everyone was accepting of each other’s strengths and differences,” Encarnacion continued. “She listens to her students’ ideas, and I think this is how I have developed more confidence in myself. She believes in the ability of her students/researchers/post-docs, and this further motivates one to do his or her best.”
Ben Klayman, a former Ph.D. student in environmental engineering at MSU, said, “Working with Anne was great. I appreciated the way that she was always available despite being busy. Additionally, one of her strengths was letting the student explore the boundaries of the assignment. That is to say that she wouldn’t give you more direction than you asked for. That created a greater sense of independence in her students and taught the student to see the big picture, rather than to just be able to follow instruction.”
That type of guidance prepared him well for his current duties as a treatment process engineer for Black & Veatch, Klayman said. He currently works in Santiago, Chile, assisting with the design and startup operations for a large seawater desalination plant.
Cruzado said Camper has also had significant experience with large, multi-institutional National Institutes of Health grants with a focus on Native Americans and community-based research. She is currently principal investigator for a community-based research project that involves collaborating with the Crow Indian Reservation and Little Big Horn College. Camper has played a critical role in on-campus partnerships and has played a key role in advancing gender equity at MSU.
She has had several mentors in her life, Camper said. In addition to her parents who were “huge supporters of me doing whatever I wanted to do,” a significant early influence was Kit Walthers, her science teacher at Darby High School.
“He gave me free rein,” she said. “He gave me opportunity.”
Other major mentors included the late Bill Characklis, founder of the Center for Biofilm Engineering, and former MSU microbiologist Gordon McFeters.
As devoted as she is to research, Camper also has a full life outside of MSU. On her hobby farm south of MSU, she raises Leicester Longwool sheep, the same kind of heritage breed sheep that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned. She sells the fleece – known for its sheen and brilliance -- to hand spinners and turns some of the wool into yarn that she knits into clothing. She raises, trains and shows Belgian Malinois dogs. She grows a large garden, then cans and freezes the produce. She and her husband, Randy, have a grown daughter, Hali Camper, who lives in Bozeman.
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org