Excellence is recognized at the University of Rhode Island

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KINGSTON, R.I. — May 15, 2014 — The University of Rhode Island recognized outstanding talent this month by presenting excellence awards to faculty, students, administrators and staff. The URI Foundation, the URI Research Foundation and the URI Division of Research and Economic Development held the joint award celebration on May 14. All recipients will be further recognized during the 2014 Undergraduate Commencement ceremony on May 18.

2014 URI Foundation Excellence Awards

URI Foundation Excellence Awards are presented annually to four individuals who have excelled in the teaching, scholarly, administrative, and staff fields. Each honoree received a certificate and a $2,000 check in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the URI community. This year’s recipients are:

Administrative Excellence: Sara Hickox of West Kingston is director of the Office of Marine Programs at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography. Over the years, she has developed a reputation as a creative administrator who is excellent with people and committed to URI, GSO, the ocean sciences, the environment, and the programs and scientists with whom she works. She has built on GSO’s core strengths and introduced an impressive range of new initiatives that have expanded the capabilities of the office and widened its geographic reach. She is a constant reminder of the significant marine and oceanographic expertise at URI.

Many programs fall under the umbrella of Hickox’s office including the Narragansett Bay Classroom and Metcalf Institute, both of which she helped establish. She led the international outreach efforts for the Census of Marine Life, an unprecedented, decade-long effort by 2,700 scientists worldwide to catalog the nature and extent of marine life in the world’s oceans. She currently oversees the engagement team for a global research project called the Deep Carbon Observatory, an international community of 1,000 multi-disciplinary scientists forging a new integrative field of deep carbon science to the unlock the secrets of carbon in Earth. These are just a few examples of her extensive body of work.

Teaching Excellence: J. Jennifer Jones of Providence teaches courses on British Romanticism at the undergraduate and graduate levels and for the Honors Program, and she has a talent for transferring her passion for late 18th and 19th century literature and culture to her students. With a reputation for instilling confidence in her students, she encourages their love of subjects ranging from the French Revolution controversy to the history of English versification and poetic genre. Jones makes her students grasp that their studies are worthy. She challenges them to create their best work, forging critical thinkers, serious writers, and public speakers along the way.

Her upcoming courses reflect her creativity and high expectations: The History of Imagination; Republicanism, Radicalism, and Reform; and Romantic Translation. Future courses will focus on major writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, William Wordsworth, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Drawing on her extensive training in contemporary culture, Jones will offer rigorous courses that ask students to think critically about and to participate in contemporary digital culture and its relation to literary history and humanist thought.

Her students have said they learn so much by paying careful attention to Jones. Her thorough knowledge of her studies, her commitment to excellence, and her respect for students and faculty at all levels mean this award is well deserved.

Scholarly Excellence: Martin Bide of Hope Valley is the textile scientist in the Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising, and Design. He is a dedicated instructor with a full course load, praised by colleagues for his thoroughness, and recognized by the department’s graduates for giving them tools to succeed in their careers. But he is also a productive scholar, writing numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, and presenting at conferences worldwide. His research is recognized internationally.

His research interests include dyeing, printing, dyestuff analysis, color science, sustainability and the effects of textile processing, and biomedical textiles. An Environmental Protection Agency-funded project on pollution prevention in the U.S. dyeing industry led to similar projects in Tunisia, Ecuador, and India, and more recent research into textile sustainability. He has provided the FBI with a database of dyed materials as a basis for advanced fiber analysis. Together with commercial collaborators he has developed infection resistant medical materials, and among several joint patents is one for a wound dressing that combines infection resistance with enhanced blood-clotting properties.

Bide was awarded the annual research medal of the Worshipful Company of Dyers in 1997, and the 2011 Olney Medal of the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists for achievement in textile chemistry.

Staff Excellence: Nora Lewis of Newport and Kingston is staff photographer at the University of Rhode Island. As an artist, Lewis views photography as a journey and believes that images hold the potential for insight into others, the world, and us. Her photos capture moments and convey stories, usually on tight deadlines and under conditions less than ideal. For example, when the Ryan Center was under construction, climbing ladders, navigating mud, and dealing with cranky construction managers didn’t prevent her from getting photos that turned the mundane into the memorable.

On campus, Lewis is known for her ability to work with a wide array of people in all sorts of situations with her signature grace and strength. When she isn’t documenting student life and academics, she spends her time working on her fine art portfolio. Her photographs have been exhibited widely and received numerous awards.

She holds a Master of Arts degree in holistic counseling and a certificate of advanced studies in the expressive and creative arts. The combination of both her professional and educational backgrounds offers a unique perspective into the power of photography as a tool for self-discovery and healing.

Outstanding Research Awards

The University’s Division of Research and Economic Development and the Council for Research sponsor the Research and Scholarship Excellence Awards. In addition, the Intellectual Property Committee and the URI Research Foundation present the Intellectual Property Patent Award.

Awards are presented to scholars representing the “Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities,” or the “Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering.” Recommended for the awards by their mentors or peers, these leading researchers receive a citation, and a check in recognition of their accomplishments. Faculty received $1,000, the post-doctoral fellow and graduate students received $500, and undergraduate students received $250. This year’s recipients are:

Undergraduate Research:

• Morgan Breene’s underwater archaeology research has impressed scholars worldwide. In 2013, she completed her honors capstone project on the contest between Smith and Napoleon at Acre (Akko) in Israel and joined the URI team and the Israel Antiquities Authority for fieldwork in the ancient port area. While there, she used the opportunity to pursue her studies on the 18th century nautical archaeological record.

It was there that she discovered obscure sketches for contemporary paintings of Napoleon’s siege that recorded the name of a long-lost Egyptian shipwreck in the harbor. A map long overlooked by historians provided the name of another vessel connected to the battle, which she identified as a French shipwreck discovered in 2008 by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Through her research, Breene established the names and locations of two previously unknown Napoleonic War shipwrecks and has rewritten the history of one of the best-known and most pivotal naval campaigns in history. She presented her discoveries at the Society of Historical Archaeology conference in Quebec, the premier conference in North America for the field of historical underwater archaeology. The West Greenwich resident will continue her studies in graduate school at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. Breene represents the Departments of History and Anthropology.

• Sangmin You has been studying a problem vexing most explosives detectors. She is investigating the role of humidity in the chemistry of nitroaromatic compounds. In two papers published by the Journal of Physical Chemistry A last year, You made substantial contributions to determining the kinetics of the reactions of TNT in wet solvents. Her discovery was that one of the reaction products of TNT showed a weak fluorescence, which had not been previously observed.

An array sensor for explosives was reported in a paper published in Analytical Methods. She was a significant contributor to the data analysis of the several hundred fluorescent spectra that were included in that paper. This was shown to effectively and uniquely detect a wide variety of explosives.

You is also the first author of a paper under review by the Journal of Organic Chemistry. She performed the critical kinetics experiments needed to determine the mechanism of the reaction of dinitrotoluenes. This is a common impurity in military explosives and amine bases that will allow refinement of some explosives detectors used by the military. After graduating this month with her bachelor’s degree in chemistry, the Narragansett resident will complete her doctor of pharmacy and master’s degrees in pharmaceutical sciences at URI. You represents the Department of Chemistry.

Graduate Research

• Jessica Lipschitz, Department of Psychology: A stellar scholar, Lipschitz of Providence has focused her research on some of the unmet needs in the field of mental health, and her it has been well received. Lipschitz has eight peer-reviewed publications, on four of which she is the first author, and 19 scientific presentations. She has been recognized with nine honors and awards, including a Graduate School Fellowship and a National Research Service Award Fellowship from the National Institute of Mental Health with a 4th percentile score.

She has also shown tremendous leadership enhancing the collaborative research environment for fellow students. At the Cancer Prevention Research Center she organized a publication work group with more seasoned students working as mentors with newer students to increase research productivity and create a supportive academic environment at the same time. For a large smoking cessation study with 2,500 participants, she was a key contributor to developing treatment protocols and training and supervising health coaches.

Lipschitz has accomplished all of this while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average. Recently she was selected for one of the most competitive clinical internship sites in the country, the Boston Consortium, where she will complete the clinical requirements for her doctorate in clinical psychology.

• Abhishek Kantak Department of Chemistry: Kantak has gotten some very good reactions to his work. For his first research project, Kantak synthesized a compound that could be widely used in the event of a botulism outbreak. He developed an inhibitor of botulinium neurotoxin. This took about six months to complete and in the process, he invented two new chemical reactions. His synthesis of this compound is the greenest synthesis of this drug that has been reported.

In his second project, Kantak created another surprising new reaction. This one allows carbon-nitrogen bonds to be directly formed — from carbon-hydrogen and nitrogen-hydrogen bonds — without using any metal catalyst. This process is very promising since nearly all pharmaceuticals contain numerous carbon-nitrogen bonds. The result was published last year in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the most widely circulated and highest-impact chemistry journal.

With his intellect and laboratory skills, Kantak has now invented an entirely different chemical transformation for the synthesis of carbon-nitrogen bonds catalyzed by copper. In addition to receiving his doctorate in chemistry this May, the Narragansett resident has taken evening courses in the URI College of Business Administration, and is one class away from earning his master of business administration degree.

Early Career Faculty Research

• Assistant Professor Holly Dunsworth, Sociology and Anthropology: With the breadth and depth of her research Dunsworth has expanded what the world knows about biological anthropology and evolution. Several of her most recent publications are the result of a multi-year, paleo-anthropological and paleo-ecological field project, for which she is co-director, on the Rusinga and Mfangano Islands in Kenya. Her work is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Dunsworth of Wakefield has recently embarked on a new program of research studying energetics and reproduction. Her research concludes that the length of pregnancy is determined by the mother’s metabolism, rather than the size of the birth canal. This cutting edge research is already having a major impact on the field of biological anthropology.

Evidence of her passion for teaching and her ability to share her research skills with her students is showing as she has received funding for undergraduates to trace their ancestry through their genomes. Dunsworth’s superior scholarly record speaks for itself; she has published 14 articles in some of the top peer-reviewed scientific journals such as Nature Communications and Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Dunsworth is a resident of Wakefield.

• Assistant Professor Mindy Levine, Department of Chemistry: Levine’s research interests are quite diverse. They include energy transfer in macrocycles, chiral polyamines for siRNA delivery, new dispersants for the remediation of oil following spills, interdisciplinary experiments for undergraduate teaching laboratories, and the fluorescent detection of metal cations and explosives. In all of these areas, Levine builds on her expert knowledge of synthetic organic chemistry to rationally design and synthesize molecules that have significantly improved performance.

A resident of Sharon, Mass., Levine has taken a substantial interest in promoting scientific literacy. She initiated a Project SEED program in her department, which has brought under-privileged high school students to the chemistry department. She has also run a highly successful Dreyfus Foundation-funded Chemistry Camp for middle school girls in Rhode Island for two years.

She was recently selected as a Thieme Chemistry Journal Awardee for 2014. She is a recipient of two highly competitive grants – an interdisciplinary grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and an R–21 grant from the National Institutes of Health. Since her arrival at URI, she has published 10 research papers, one review article, one book chapter, and two articles about chemistry education. In addition, she has made 16 oral presentations, including several invited talks.

Advanced Career Faculty Research

Professor Nikhilesh Dholakia, College of Business Administration: Dholakia of Narragansett is described by his peers as “eminent”, “prolific” and “foundational” in establishing the College of Business Administration’s reputation for scholarly excellence. During his 33 years at URI he has authored of more than 100 articles, 11 books and 70 book chapters. His publications have been cited more than 3,000 times.

Dholakia incorporates his research into seminars to bring out current and emerging concepts and best practices in the field, resulting in international demand for his seminars. His work with researchers worldwide has enhanced URI’s reputation as a top business program. Foreign scholars routinely visit URI to work with Dholakia, increasing the exposure of colleagues and doctoral students to global research.

Dholakia translates his powerful research record into mentoring top graduate students. His doctoral students have won prestigious awards for their dissertations. He is constantly invited to be on doctoral dissertation review boards and to be a guest speaker at national and international conferences. As a globally recognized scholar who provides a tremendous service to the development of future researchers, he has placed URI on the world map in terms of advancing knowledge in the business applications of mobile, social, and virtual technologies.

• Associate Professor Kerry L. LaPlante, Pharmacy Practice: LaPlante is nationally recognized for her work in treatment, virulence inhibition, control and prevention of drug-resistant infections. She has received continuous funding of more than $7.8 million for her research from agencies such as NIH, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Since joining URI in 2004, she has authored more than 100 peer reviewed journal articles, abstracts, and textbook chapters, which have been published in journals such as Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, Pharmacotherapy, New England Journal of Medicine and Expert Opinion in Pharmacotherapy. Her work has been cited more than 600 times. She is on the editorial board for one of the profession’s most prestigious pharmacy journals, Pharmacotherapy, and serves as a journal editor for Virulence. In 2010, LaPlante received the Society of Infectious Diseases Pharmacists’ “Researcher of the Year” award.

Her dedication to providing research experiences for undergraduate and graduate students as well as post-doctoral learning opportunities is commendable. She has developed and recruited for her Infectious Diseases/Pharmacotherapy Fellowship as well as her Antimicrobial Stewardship Fellowship, both two-year, post-doctoral training programs that prepare young investigators to be independent researchers in infectious diseases. She is a resident of East Greenwich.

Intellectual Property Patent Excellence Award

Professor Walter G. Besio, Department of Electrical, Computer, and Biomedical Engineering: Walter Besio specializes in the research and development of innovative biomedical instrumentation for diagnosis and therapies to enhance the lives of people with disease and disability.

His research involves bidirectional interfacing with the brain. He has developed a noninvasive electrical stimulation system, using his patented concentric ring electrodes, to control seizures. This system also increased the anti-epileptic effect of the drug diazepam and provided neuro-protection. His high fidelity concentric ring electrode brain signal recording and processing system helps in diagnosis of epilepsy. The system also interprets thoughts to control computers in real-time. This brain-computer interface should help people with severe movement disorders.

Besio is also the chief executive officer of CREmedical Corp., a Rhode Island medical device startup company that develops innovative instrumentation for diagnosing and treating neurological disorders. CREmedical was a recipient of the National Science Foundation’s inaugural I-Corps grant. Prior to joining URI he had 12 years of professional experience in the medical device and electronics industries where he was involved with the full product cycle from concepts to market.

Besio is a co-founder and executive committee member of the URI Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program. His research will contribute to URI’s newly established George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience that focuses on neurodegenerative disorders. Besio is a resident of Kingston.

Photos by Nora Lewis and Mike Salerno Photography