Soil conservation efforts in east-central Illinois have received a big boost from a professor in Eastern Illinois University's Department of Geology/Geography.

Vincent Gutowski, part of EIU's faculty since 1983 and 2008 recipient of the Luis Clay Mendez Distinguished Service Award, serves as co-chair of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation 2000 Program and is also serves on the board of directors for the Embarras River Management Association. Through these positions, he has played a major role in bringing $4 million in conservation projects to the region.

These projects, designed not only to reduce erosion of fields and stream banks but also to provide education on the importance of long-term conservation efforts, have helped reduce erosion in the Embarras River Basin by 50 percent. That loss of topsoil benefits local crop yields, while cleaner downstream water is an asset to a much wider area.

Gutowski has also invested his own money into equipment for university laboratories and has been credited with the revival of Eastern's geography major; it was eliminated shortly after his arrival in Charleston, but boasted an annual enrollment of nearly 60 students at the time he received his Distinguished Service Award.