URI celebrates excellence

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KINGSTON, R.I. –June 1, 2012 –The University of Rhode Island celebrated excellence on May 17.

URI President David M. Dooley hosted the program, which honored 12 individuals and three intellectual property teams.

The URI Foundation and the URI Division of Research and Economic Development, in collaboration with the URI Research Foundation, combined their individual award programs into one event this year, elevating the celebration of excellence campus wide.

The URI Foundation Excellence Awards, established in 1970 to honor faculty members for teaching excellence, expanded during the years to include scholarly excellence, administrative excellence and staff excellence. This year, as in the past, following an extensive nomination process led by the URI Foundation’s Executive Board Excellence Committee Chair Caroline Kaull ’69 and excellence winners from the two previous years, four new excellence winners representing those areas were honored during commencement ceremonies. Winners were presented with certificates and a $2,000 stipend in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the URI community.

Nearly 170 individuals have received the awards over the years.

The 2012 URI Foundation Excellence Awards Recipients

• Teaching Excellence: Associate Professor of English Stephen M. Barber of Providence exemplifies the idea that teaching is not a job, but rather a way of life that involves caring for students, nurturing their development, inciting them to challenge themselves and advance their endeavors.

Barber assigns challenging texts, always combining fiction and philosophy in his syllabi to provide students with opportunities to think rigorously about the literature they study and the way they study.

Barber’s enthusiasm for novel ideas is contagious, inspiring students–whether undergraduate, graduate, major or non-major–to read more carefully and to push the boundaries of their thinking. He instills in his students a fascination for ideas and a love of exploring complexities.

Barber is a masterful lecturer, whether discussing Virginia Wolf, Michel Foucault, Proust, or Marguerite Yourcenar. He is also an intuitive teacher, a skilled facilitator, and a collaborative learner. He elicits critical responses, invites questions and suggestions, enabling students to discuss issues among and between one another.

When a student takes a concept far afield, Barber has the respectful ability to guide the student in a way that does justice to their thought.

A natural partner, students annually seek their English professor out for independent studies and graduate student projects.

After teaching for 15 years at URI, Barber continues to ask his students for suggestions, areas of improvement, what they feel works, what they feel doesn’t work.

• Scholarly Excellence: Psychology Professor Lisa Harlow of Exeter is considered to be one of the world’s foremost authorities in the field of multivariate psychology. She has sub-specialties in quantitative methodology, including structural equation modeling and several content areas within psychology to which she applies these methods, including health psychology, the representation of women and minorities in science, and psycho-existential functioning.

Her papers on several of these important and complex topics appear in top quantitative and health psychology journals. She authored five books, two of them extremely influential in defining the discourse in multivariate psychology and methodology. She has served as editor of the Multivariate Applications Book Series since 1995. The series has done much to shape the field of multivariate statistics. Harlow has published more than 70 scholarly articles, delivered more than 80 invited addresses or workshops, and has presented approximately 150 papers at scholarly meetings.

Her impressive record of grant support totals more than $7.5 million. Harlow was co-principal investigator on a $3.5 million National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant for the advancement of women in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. She was principal investigator of another NSF award for Quantitative Training for Underrepresented Groups. The grant provides annual quantitative conferences for underrepresented students to attend, in conjunction with the annual American Psychological Association meeting. To date, more than 250 students have participated in presentations and other activities with some of the top behavioral statisticians in the world.

Harlow has also advanced the general art of teaching through her research into innovative methods. She studied learning environments and developed learning activities to enhance student involvement with an engaging curriculum, an emphasis on active learning, a problem-based approach, and peer mentoring from entry level courses to graduate courses. The methods have served to reduce anxiety and increase self-efficacy.

Harlow who joined URI in 1985 has facilitated the research careers of many graduate students. She has served as main professor to 33 graduate students, many of whom have been the recipients of awards for their doctoral work.

• Administrative Excellence: Joseph G. Fuscaldo of Attleboro, Mass., manager of network operations, facilities and operations ITS, media & technology services, is noted for not only being a “can do” person but also a “will do” person.

Most of his accomplishments can’t be seen because they are hidden in walls, locked in closets, or buried underground. This includes thousands of miles of copper and fiber-optic cables, hundreds of communications closets, more than 1,300 wireless access points, all classrooms and auditoriums wired and wireless and a comprehensive array of UPS (uninterruptible power supply) and backup generators in more than 200 buildings. Fuscaldo is quick to say he doesn’t do it alone and credits his staff for their outstanding work.

Fuscaldo has the remarkable ability of finding solutions that others don’t see and making them work. He fearlessly takes on projects others say can’t be done. Take the rollout of the new telephone system, for example, a multimillion fiber build-out that will improve the University’s data and telephone experience, including reducing downtimes, improving signal flow, and speed of data transmission.

The project has been plagued with bureaucratic roadblocks and resource constraints for the past two years. Once Fuscaldo got involved, the project took shape, the momentum got rolling, and the expectation is that 2,500 new sets will be installed by the end of this summer.

He’s involved in planning, installing, and maintaining all communications infrastructures on all four of URI campuses, from new construction to maintaining the cable plant in the University’s 100-plus-year old buildings.

If paperwork gets held up, he will drive up to the Department of Administration to walk the paperwork through the system to keep the project moving along.

The sun hardly sets on his workday for it’s not uncommon to see him on campus late at night and on weekends to make sure things “are covered.”

Staff Excellence: Patricia Victoria of Warwick, coordinator of employee benefits, Human Resource Administration, is known for her cheerful manner and wise counsel.

Once an employee makes the decision to retire, Victoria ably leads the employee through the many steps that have to be taken and helps ease the many life-changing anxieties. When she is asked a question, one that undoubtedly she heard countless times, she never treats the question as routine.

Always resourceful, Victoria follows employees not only to retirement but also through retirement. She keeps current with changes in health plans and informs retirees of these changes in the event adjustments are needed.

Because more people retire each year than pass away, Victoria’s flock continues to grow and so does her workload.

Victoria doesn’t just deal with “standard retirements.” She helps people with disabilities who consider leaving the University navigate the maze of bureaucratic challenges posed by Social Security, insurance companies, and the medical establishment involved in making this difficult decision. She juggles these kinds of complex situations frequently, with kindness, perseverance, and utmost discretion.

She also works with employees through each step of medical leave, always having the employees’ best interests at heart. One time a retiree who was in the last days of his life, alone in Florida, and confused about his health benefits contacted a fellow retiree who called Victoria. She quickly sorted out the facts and relieved his fears.

The University’s Research Foundation, in collaboration with the 12 members of the Intellectual Property Committee and URI deans, recognized three teams with intellectual property patent awards.

Intellectual Property Patent Awards

1. Yana Reshetnyak, Oleg Andreev, Donald Engelman, College of Arts and Sciences for: “Selective Delivery of Molecules into Cells or Marking of Cells in Diseased Tissue Regions Using Environmentally Sensitive Transmembrane Peptide”.

Biophysicists Yana Reshetnyak and Oleg Andreev of Saunderstown discovered a technology that can detect cancerous tumors and deliver treatment to them without harming the healthy cells surrounding them, thereby significantly reducing side effects.

The key lies in the acidity level of cells. While normal cells maintain a pH of 7.4 inside and outside of the cell with little variation, cancer cells expend a great deal of energy as they rapidly proliferate and produce a significant amount of acid, which decreases the pH number in an extracellular environment.

Donald Engelman in the Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry Department at Yale discovered a peptide that inserts in membrane at acidic conditions. Reshetnyak and Andreev investigated the peptide’s potential to target tumors, which have acidic environment. Experiments on cells and animals were carried out at URI and, indeed, it was proved that pHLIP (pH low insertion peptide) peptides could find a tumor in a mouse and deliver imaging or therapeutic agents specifically to the cancer cells. The researchers suggest that their novel delivery method could be used to monitor other disease development and treatment. For example, it could play an important role in the study of arthritis, inflammation, infection, infraction, and stroke since those conditions also produce high acidity. The URI scientists have attracted more than $6 million in grants. In addition, a number of health care and pharmaceutical companies have expressed interest in their work.

2. Ying Sun of Kingston, John DiCecco, Robert Hill, Jiang Wu, College of Engineering for: “Processor Controlled Voltage-Current Analysis of Nerve and Muscle Tissues”

Ying Sun of Kingston (third from left) and members of his team (from left) John DiCecco, Robert Hill, and Jiang Wu.

This invention is a new generation of electrophysiological instrumentation that uses a high-speed digital signal processor to measure and control the electrical activities of nerve and muscle cells. Modern neuroscience started about 60 years ago, with the landmark study of the squid giant axon by Hodgkin and Huxley using an instrument called the voltage clamp. Today, neuroscientists all over the world still use the traditional instruments based on analog feedback controls. The URI team’s invention, called Universal Clamp, uses digital feedback controls and is capable of performing multiple functions including voltage clamp, current clamp, dynamic clamp, and patch clamp, simply by switching the software. The technology is in the process of being commercialized. It not only enhances basic research in electrophysiology but also could impact areas such as neural prosthesis and brain-machine interface.

3. Marta Gomez-Chiarri of Jamestown and David R. Nelson of Wakefield, College of the Environment and Life Sciences for: “Delivery of DNA Vaccines into Fish by Immersion”

The researchers have invented a method to deliver DNA vaccines into fish by immersion, which contributes to the sustainable growth of fish farming. This is the most economical method of vaccine delivery, safe to the farmer, the fish, and the consumer. The aquaculture industry is impacted by a variety of infectious diseases that affect finfish. Vaccines are one of the most efficacious methods to prevent diseases. DNA vaccines are inexpensive to produce and very effective, especially against viral diseases, but so far no DNA vaccines for aquaculture have been widely commercialized since the only effective way of delivering them to fish is by injection. This is not a feasible vaccine delivery method for small fish, and is costly for large fish.

The URI invention contributes to the sustainable growth of the fish farming industry by providing the means to reduce the impact of infectious diseases through the development of an economical method of delivery for a specific type of vaccines (DNA vaccines). Vaccination also leads to a reduction in the use of antibiotics, therefore helping reduce the development of antibiotic resistance in the aquatic environment.

The URI Division of Research and Economic Development in collaboration with the 17 members of the Council for Research, recognized undergraduate student researchers, graduate student researchers, early career faculty members, and advanced career faculty members from the social sciences, arts and humanities and science and life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering categories.

The 2012 Research Excellence Awards Recipients

Undergraduate Student Research Award

Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities: Justin Brown, College of Arts and Sciences

Justin Brown, an art history and Spanish major from Providence, designed his own cultural heritage class project: the representation of people of African origin in Latin American museums. The result was a 27-page paper of distinguished research and synthesis. His bibliography, with articles in Spanish and Portuguese as well as English, included articles from a range of disciplines, reflecting the scope of his inquiry. After a closer look at museums’ relations to various communities that they represented or neglected, he introduced ethnicity and race and their depiction in museums in Colombia, Brazil, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. His theme of how museums make meaning in a postmodern world, in which knowledge is constructed variably by diverse populations, is central to the enterprise of any major museum today. Each week this spring, Brown interned at the Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin Biography based at Harvard University’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute. He has been accepted to the Mellon Summer Internship program at the Rhode Island School of Design. Thanks to an Undergraduate Research award, Brown will also travel to Brazil this summer to the Museu Afro-Brasileiro, which he identified as the best model for displaying African and Afro-Brazilian cultures.

Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering: Cameron Frament, College of Arts and Sciences

Physics major Cameron Frament of Warwick is a leading member of Assistant Professor of Chemistry Jason Dwyer’s research laboratory. He has rigorously applied his training in chemistry, mathematics and physics to contribute exciting research ideas to nanopore research and to the execution and analysis of all research projects being undertaken by the group.

His own research idea, Molecular Catch and Release: Forced dissociation as a Method of Detecting Pharmaceutical Drug Dosage Level, was recognized with Undergraduate Research Initiative funding. It resulted from developing computer code for a fellow student to analyze results from a difficult set of single molecule measurements. Frament realized that a different experimental approach could fundamentally change the nature of the data to provide a more straightforward analysis. Frament and Dwyer have submitted a manuscript, an outcome of Frament’s other research project, driven by his intellectual curiosity of the details of the interplay between surface charges and electric fields in solution. His research looked at fundamental, molecular-scale details of interfacial phenomena, especially those that involve electric fields. His correct evaluation concluded this was a fundamentally important and interesting area, one that had been rather neglected and frequently badly treated in research literature.

Graduate Student Research

1. Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities: Anne Fairlie, College of Arts and Sciences

This May, Anne Fairlie of Connecticut earned a doctorate degree in the behavioral science program in the Department of Psychology with a perfect GPA. Her research has examined factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of alcohol use. She has presented research at regional and national scientific conferences on more than 28 occasions. She was invited to serve as a research assistant on four major grant projects at Yale University, Brown University, and URI. Her dissertation, entitled, “Measurement Timing in Growth Mixture Modeling of Alcohol Trajectories ” was funded by a pre-doctoral grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

This month, Fairlie begins a post-doctoral fellowship at Penn State’s prestigious Methodology and Prevention Research Centers. She aspires to a position at a research university studying the etiology and prevention of alcohol use and misuse among adolescents and young adults with an emphasis on and expertise in quantitative methods.

2. Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering: Matin Amani, College of Engineering

Matin Amani of East Greenwich earned two degrees this year: a bachelor’s of science degree in chemical engineering and a master’s of science degree in electrical engineering. Last year, he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. That’s four degrees in five years.

More than a dozen of his articles on high temperature thermoelectrics and gas sensors have appeared in peer-reviewed journals. In addition Amani has presented nearly two-dozen conference papers on thermoelectrics and gas sensors for the detection of explosives and explosive precursors at national and international conferences.

He works in collaboration with Distinguished Engineering Professor Otto Gregory, director of URI Sensors and Surface Technology Partnership. The partnership has developed a gas sensor to detect one of the most commonly used explosives or in improvised explosive devices used by terrorists; i.e. triacetone triperoxide (TATP) at the part per million level in the vapor phase for the Department of Homeland Security. URI’s Intellectual Property Committee is heading patent and commercialization efforts.

Early Career Faculty Research

• Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities: Julie Coiro, College of Human Science and Services

Julie Coiro of Quaker Hill, Conn., assistant professor in the School of Education, is a recognized pioneer in the field of new literacies, a field that seeks to understand the changing nature of literacy in the digital age, when so many people obtain news, information, and entertainment through digital means and need to know how to absorb content and evaluate trustworthiness.

She has published books and articles, hosted webinars, and written curricula related to five critical areas: discussing and developing theories/models of new literacies, understanding how the Internet has changed the nature of reading comprehension, measuring online reading comprehension, preparing teachers for new literacies, and designing effective online literacy instruction.

Since beginning her career, Coiro has co-edited The Handbook of Research On New Literacies, and she has published a book for classroom teachers, 11 refereed journal articles, 13 non-refereed publications, 13 book chapters, and two white papers.

Her research and writing are clear and accessible to all audiences. Coiro’s ability to appeal to a practical audience was recognized in 2012 by the American Education Research Association’s Frank Pajares Award for an outstanding Theory into Practice article on online reading comprehension and The Literacy Research Association’s Early Career Achievement Award designation in 2011.

In 2010, Coiro was the recipient of a URI Foundation award that linked URI students with K-12 students through In2Books.

She has delivered talks and keynote addresses from Taipei, Taiwan to Manitoba, Canada. Her unique work has also attracted professional development and curriculum organizations. She has been asked to consult for several major educational publishing companies, including Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Zaner-Bloser.

• Physical Sciences and Engineering: Angela Slitt, College of Pharmacy

Angela Slitt of North Stonington, Conn., assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, is quickly becoming a leader in the field of toxicology and drug metabolism/disposition.

Before she even relocated to the Kingston campus in 2007 and became a full time faculty member, she set up a laboratory, competed for National Institutes of Health awards, and gathered data for publication.

In 2008, she won the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Outstanding New Environmental Scientist Award to study regulation of the effect of caloric restriction on antioxidant response, liver transport processes, and bisphenol elimination.

She published six corresponding author publications. One of them, “Drug-metabolizing enzyme and transporter expression in a mouse model of diabetes and obesity,” a 2008 paper in Molecular Pharmaceutics, describes one of the first observations in the field that transporter expression in liver is changed with fatty liver disease. This observation paved the way for subsequent papers, which have shown that metabolism and transport processes, and the receptors that control their expression, are altered in fatty liver disease.

Slitt has forged multiple collaborations within her department and across campus. She also has multiple research collaborations with Rutgers University, University of Arizona, University of Connecticut, University of Missouri, Tufts University Medical School, Michigan State University, University of Kansas Medical Center, the federal government, and Tohoku University Medical School.

Slitt has moved her research expertise and interests into the college classroom to deliver a Grand Challenges course to freshmen. Her course, “The Environment and You,” gives students practical information about what is toxic or not in their daily lives.

Advanced Career Faculty Research

Social Sciences Arts and Humanities: Lisa Weyandt, College of Arts and Sciences

Lisa L. Weyandt of Newport, a professor of school psychology, is a renowned researcher known for her pioneering work in neurological functioning that includes focus on attention deficit disorders and interventions to treat them, particularly in children and college students.

Her research interests include the study of pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and young adults, misuse of prescription stimulant medication among college students, the study of executive functions in clinical and nonclinical populations, and clinical neuroscience. She is the author of three books as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters concerning ADHD. She recently completed a two-year double-blind placebo controlled study that explored the effectiveness of a prostimulant medication at improving ADHD symptoms in college students with the disorder. The study was presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association in Washington, DC and recently published in the Journal of Attention Disorders.

She is the co-principal investigator of a $3 million National Institutes of Health grant, awarded this spring, that studies how attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder affects college students, both during and after their college years. The first of its kind study will involve students from universities in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Weyandt and two other nationally recognized ADHD researchers recognize that as increasing numbers of young adults with ADHD attend college, there are few guidelines for clinically managing the condition on campuses. With the aim of helping to develop practices for assessment and treatment that can be used on campuses, the five-year study will explore how ADHD impacts the educational, cognitive, psychological, social and vocational functioning of college students.

In addition to her research and classroom expertise, Weyandt consults for physicians, counselors, and teachers.

Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering: Zahir Shaikh, College of Pharmacy

Zahir Shaikh of Kingston has significantly advanced scientific efforts in the area of metal toxicology and nephrotoxicity. He is an internationally recognized expert in the area of cadmium-induced kidney toxicity. His identification of the mechanisms of toxicity caused by cadmium in the kidney and liver has led to designing preventive measures to protect against liver and kidney damage. He has collaborated with Dr. Surendra Sharma at the Women and Infants Hospital for identification of novel biomarkers for preeclampsia in humans. The current research effort in his laboratory is directed towards defining the role of cadmium in breast cancer progression.

Shaikh directs the Rhode Island Network for Excellence in Biomedical and Behavioral Research, a statewide multi-institutional program that fosters collaboration between investigators and the recruitment, support, and success of a Rhode Island-based network of junior researchers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences.

The Center, which has been in existence since 2001, has been awarded $44 million by the National Institutes of Health for this effort. The grant has supported hundreds of undergraduate students during the summer and academic years at URI and other undergraduate colleges across the state. Many of them have continued towards graduate or medical degrees.

The grant also provided support for establishing and maintaining a $3 million core equipment facility at URI that gave University and other researchers in the state the tools that they needed to be successful at the highest levels.

Shaikh has published 83 peer-reviewed articles in top toxicology-related journals. His articles have been cited multiple times by international scientists.

URI Department of Communications & Marketing photos by Nora Lewis.