E. Donald McKay III Presented the Dahlberg Distinguished Achievement Award
E. Donald (Don) McKay III, the 12th State Geologist of Illinois and former Director of the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) from 2008 to 2014, was presented the Dahlberg Distinguished Achievement Award on October 29 at the Annual Conference of the Illinois Geographic Information Systems Association in Lisle, Illinois. The Dahlberg Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to the development and advancement of geographic information systems (GIS). Don was recognized for spearheading visionary computer mapping initiatives that allowed geoscientists to do their tasks more quickly and efficiently. The ISGS established computerization and its computer mapping program much earlier than elsewhere, thereby propelling the ISGS to a lead position among geological organizations worldwide.
Don earned his Ph.D. in geology at the University of Illinois in 1977. During his graduate program, he was employed at the ISGS in the Groundwater Geology and Geophysics Section, Stratigraphy Section, and Environmental Studies and Assessment Section. In 1976, Don accepted a permanent position at the ISGS as Assistant Geologist and subsequently served ISGS in a leadership capacity for 28 years—14 years as Section Head, 9 years as Chief Scientist, and 5 years as Director—before retiring on May 31, 2014.
In 1983, Don was asked to lead a new federally funded program at the ISGS, Lands Unsuitable for Mining, to determine the suitability of areas in Illinois for surface coal mining based on the strict regulatory guidelines contained in the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. The need to balance affordable fuel resources with the regulation of land use brought the first GIS technology to the Illinois Scientific Surveys (ISGS, Illinois State Water Survey, and Illinois Natural History Survey). More than three decades later, GIS technology has been integrated into almost all areas of the ISGS.
An emphasis of Don’s leadership at the ISGS was to implement technology in support of geoscience research. Beginning with GIS in the 1980s, and more recently combined with immersive 3-D visualization, these technologies are enhancing problem solving and facilitating understanding of complex natural processes. In recognition of these technological advancements, Don was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to serve on the National Geospatial Advisory Committee to advise the Secretary and the U.S. Department of the Interior on implementation of geospatial technologies across the federal government. Before his retirement, Don also served on the National Geologic Data Subcommittee of the Federal Geographic Data Committee.
During the spring and summer of 1994, Don contributed his time and leadership experience to assist in transitioning the fledgling GIS in Illinois Conference (1991–1994) to the Illinois GIS Association (ILGISA). In August 1994, the ILGISA Board met for the first time at the Illini Union on the University of Illinois campus. The formation of ILGISA was formally announced a few months later at the 1994 GIS in Illinois Conference. Don served as the first Treasurer of the ILGISA Board and subsequently served as ILGISA President.
We congratulate Don on this outstanding achievement. His understanding of geology and its applications, leadership skills, integrity, and vision to move the ISGS forward digitally at a pivotal point in its history brought the ISGS to national prominence and have benefited the Survey in innumerable ways.