Scott Hagen: Far from the Farm
Scott Hagen jerked awake to find the tractor he was driving slowly veering off course, leaving a meandering trail of newly planted corn behind it. He had nodded off just for a second, after a long night of studying for the three classes he was taking that spring at the University of Iowa. Hitting the books had left him too exhausted to do his day job — farming with his uncle.
Hagen looks back on that stressful semester with amusement. “I just about killed myself,” he says.
The Time is Right
After 10 years of farming, Hagen decided that spring to make the break from agriculture and go back to college full-time. He had grown up on his parents’ farm 25 miles west of Iowa City and attended high school at Williamsburg, where Hagen’s favorite teacher and mentor, John Gillaspie, developed math classes to challenge Hagen and other advanced students. Right after high school, Hagen spent one year at Iowa State University with plans to become an architect. It just didn’t work for him then, and he came home to take up farming.
Hagen credits his sister, Patricia Coleman (a civil engineer and a member of the UI Engineering Distinguished Alumni Academy), for encouraging him to give college another try. His parents, Lillian and Richard Hagen Sr., also counseled him not to give up on college.
“They were so happy when I left the farm!” Hagen laughs. Richard and Lillian, now in their 80s, encouraged all their children to follow their dreams, even if they led away from agriculture. They still live on the farm north of Little Amana, and Hagen visits as often as he can.
Mentors Model Success
As an undergraduate at Iowa, he was blessed to find generous and talented mentors such as IIHR Research Engineers Forrest Holly, Jerry Schnoor, and Witold Krajewski — “just good people,” Hagen says. Holly shaped Hagen’s career trajectory by advising him to look beyond IIHR for graduate study, to get new ideas, new opportunities, and new influences. “Forrest is always looking out for the
students and what’s best for them,” Hagen says. He also met Larry Weber, who was a PhD student at that time, when they were both involved in teaching an undergraduate statics course.
After earning a BS in civil and environmental engineering at Iowa, Hagen followed Holly’s advice and went to Notre Dame, where he worked with Professor Joannes Westerink on hurricane storm surge and tidal modeling. After earning a PhD, Hagen carried these numerical modeling skills with him to the University of Central Florida (UCF), where he served as professor of civil, environmental, and construction engineering. Hagen built a flourishing program (from scratch) in tidal studies and modeling at UCF. In 2015, he moved to Louisiana State University, where he is a tenured professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; he also has a half-time appointment in the Center for Computation & Technology. Hagen holds the Louisiana Sea Grant Laborde Chair at LSU.
Rising Sea Levels
Hagen is also director of UCF’s Coastal Hydroscience Analysis, Modeling, and Predictive Simulations Laboratory (CHAMPS). CHAMPS includes faculty and students from a number of disciplines, including engineering, biology, and communication. Researchers focus on current coastal hydroscience challenges, including development of an advanced astronomic tidal model to study rising sea levels.
Hagen is a leader among scientists studying rising sea levels and their impacts. He was recently invited to speak at an event sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of only eight chosen to present at the seminar. He spoke about his study of the Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, which is sponsored by NOAA. The research focuses on developing models of sea level rise and its impacts along the coast.
Longing for an Iowa Tomato
Hagen, who enjoys travel and cooking when he has the time, says he’s still an Iowa farm boy at heart. He especially misses Iowa tomatoes and high-quality beef, which is only available at four-star restaurants in Florida. Hagen’s wife, Denise DeLorme, is a Georgia native and a professor of advertising and public relations at UCF. She conducts focus groups and provides social science perspective for Hagen’s research team.
Hagen serves on the board of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Coasts, Oceans, Ports, and Rivers Institute and was recently named a fellow of ASCE. He is a technical advisor to Louisiana’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan; and he was selected to lead UCF’s major research focus on the Coastal Dynamics of Sea Level Rise (CDSLR), which has a goal to establish a national center for CDSLR.
A Massive Model
Hagen has not forgotten about his farm roots — in fact, he hopes to develop a large-scale model that would encompass the Farm Belt of the upper Midwest, the entire Mississippi River watershed, and the Gulf of Mexico. “It would be huge,” Hagen says. This basin-scale model would help scientists understand the transport of nutrients from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico where they contribute to the hypoxic “Dead Zone.”
The goal would be to develop better, more sustainable systems to support a healthy ecosystem. It’s a big dream, but Hagen learned how to make it happen — start small and take one modest step at a time. He takes his lesson from his work years ago as a student with Dr. Krajewski in the hydrometeorology lab, which has now developed into the Iowa Flood Center. “It was basically a closet,” Hagen remembers. “And look at what he’s built today!”