ASCE has honored Robert D. von Bernuth, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, with the 2017 Royce J. Tipton Award for his significant contributions to the development, advancement, and transfer of irrigation technologies; conservation of water resources by development of better decision-making strategies under limited water supplies; and development of educational materials for academia and the irrigation industry.
Von Bernuth started his professional career in industry, and following his active-duty military service as a naval aviator flying off an aircraft carrier, he was destined to be an educator. He has been active in both academic affairs and research, culminating with his career as assistant dean, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Michigan State University. Alongside his scholarly duties, he has always been active in professional societies – ASCE and the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers – and in a trade organization – the Irrigation Association.
He has been honored by ASABE as a Fellow, an award granted to less than two percent of the membership, and with the Dale F. Heermann Sprinkler Irrigation Award. The IA honored him with the Person of the Year Award, given to an individual not employed in the industry but one who has made significant contributions to it. He has also received scholastic awards from both the University of Tennessee and Michigan State University: Outstanding Teacher, Outstanding Faculty Award, Distinguished Faculty Award, and Most Outstanding Teacher.
Von Bernuth has taught a very wide range of subjects. Most of his instruction has been at the advanced undergraduate level and the graduate level. His research activities cover a variety of irrigation topics, including system types from drip/microirrigation to center pivots, uses of irrigation such as for frost/ freeze protection, environmental issues, waste management systems, soil and water conservation and irrigation system uniformity, and economics and optimization. He directed seven Ph.D. students and six M.S. candidates and served on a total of 24 graduate committees. He has been a department chair, founding director of a school, and assistant dean of a college, which was his last academic responsibility before joining the IA.
As education director and technical advisor of the IA, he has written or edited a number of publications.
The IA has more than 25 technical publications to support their education and certification programs, and von Bernuth has been responsible for adding new topics and editing existing publications. In 2011, the IA published Irrigation, Sixth Edition, an almost 1,100-page peer-reviewed reference book, of which he authored a chapter, “Economics of Irrigation.” In addition, prior to joining the IA staff, von Bernuth served on the Irrigation Foundation Board of Trustees and for several years was its treasurer. In addition to these contributions, he remained active in the Naval Reserve for almost 30 years, retiring in 1998 as a captain.
The Royce J. Tipton Award recognizes contributions to the advancement of irrigation and drainage engineering in teaching, research, planning, design, construction, or management.