Bryant Scharenbroch is sort of a “dirty” guy in the best sense of the word. And folks at the International Society of Arboriculture think so much of him, they awarded the Early Career Scientist Award to the 38-year-old scientist in August.
Scharenbroch has worked at the Morton Arboretum for six years as an urban soil scientist. He says he is one of about 25 people in his field in the U.S. and one of no more than about 100 throughout the world.
“There are so few people in this field because it is relatively new, but with the rise in the urban community, we recognize the importance of urban soils and how critical they are,” Scharenbroch said.
Scharenbroch grew up in Wisconsin on a dairy farm and later attended college at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point where he earned a bachelor’s degree in forest management and urban forestry. A master’s degree in plant science followed at the University of Idaho, and then a doctorate in soil science from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Scharenbroch said both his experiences as a youth as well as those in college affected his career choice.
“Growing up on a farm, I was around soil and plants, and I also had a professor at Stevens Point that influenced me,” he said.
According to the ISA, the Early Career Scientist Award is given “to professionals showing exceptional promise and potential for becoming internationally known for their contributions to arboriculture.” ISA President Terrence Flanagan honored Scharenbroch at a ceremony Aug. 4 in Toronto as part of the ISA annual Conference and Trade Show. “(He) gladly shares his research findings with the industry and is highly regarded by colleagues as an exceptional scientist and scholar,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan added that Scharenbroch’s research “on soil assessment and characterization, soil improvement for landscape trees and ecosystem processes in urban settings is significant for the growth of arboriculture and urban forestry.”
Head of research at the Morton Arboretum, Gary Watson noted that his colleague’s recognition is important.
“Bryant has been here a number of years, and he has a great background in soil science and urban forestry,” Watson said. “He’s done a great job and is a significant person nationally. He’s been very active in writing grants and is asked often to be a guest speaker.”
Watson said the arboretum “appreciates the recognition” of one of its own, and that Scharenbroch “fills a necessary gap” that existed in the arboretum’s research area.
“Having Bryant fills a niche that we’ve started years ago regarding research on urban trees,” he said. “This is important in that it looks at the soil and the root system that are underground, which are different from the woodland where they naturally evolved. He’s done a great job in addressing some of the issues we face.”
Scharenbroch said that today his work is divided in fourths, including research in the lab, field work, writing and mentoring or teaching. Younger students, he said, are being drawn to the urban ecology field given the growth of interest in environmental issues. The outcomes of his research, he said, eventually reach the consumer level through arborists.
“Most of the things we do will hit the consumer indirectly,” he said. “We share them with arborists, and they are applied by professionals who eventually filter things down to consumers. Our work is extension based.”
Scharenbroch lives in Lisle with his wife and three children, ages 10, 8 and 1. He said he works with students at North Central College as well as Benedictine University.
“We get out in the forest preserves and go snow shoeing in the winter and take walks,” he said. “The schools here are great for the kids, and we’ve really enjoyed living here.”