URI celebrates faculty, student, and staff excellence

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KINGSTON, R.I.–June 6, 2013– 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.

2013 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 was presented a certificate and a $2,000 check in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the URI community. In addition, the four awardees were recognized during the 2013 commencement ceremonies. This year’s recipients are:

Teaching Excellence: Paula McGlasson of Charlestown, chair of the URI Theatre Department, plays a major role in educating theater students.

Under her leadership, the award-winning department continues to be recognized for its excellence throughout New England. That reputation has increased the number of motivated graduates who go on to graduate schools or become professionals.

Since she joined URI in 1985, McGlasson has taught a wide range of courses from stage and theater management to acting and dance. Her students find her passion for theater infectious. While she holds them to high standards, she ensures they are well prepared when they graduate.

McGlasson has been production manager or choreographer for more than 65 plays at the University. She has won special ovations for 12 musicals performed at URI under her direction, from the gritty Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, to the gracious Little Women, to the rambunctious and lively Oklahoma! to the edgy Rocky Horror Show, to the classic Singin’ in the Rain (with real rain).

Scholarly Excellence: Peter August of Richmond, a professor of natural resources science, put Rhode Island on the map. In 1985, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) was in its infancy, but August recognized that mapping with computers would not only aid his research in geospatial analysis, conversation biology, and landscape ecology, it would become fundamental to all science.

He developed GIS as a discipline, established the Environmental Data Center, and formed the consortium the Rhode Island Geographic Information System. That created the framework for constructing and maintaining the first comprehensive statewide GIS database, which became a model for the country.

He insisted the database be a community resource. Today, the geospatial data is routinely incorporated by federal, state, and municipal planners as they strive to make the best decisions about managing the Rhode Island landscape.

August, also known as Mr. Map, has secured $10 million in research funding, authored 90-plus peer-reviewed publications and dozens of book chapters.

Administrative Excellence: Kenneth Sisson of Saunderstown, assistant director of enrollment services, is a skillful matchmaker, one with the ability to unite available classroom space with courses offered in an ever-changing educational landscape where nothing is routine.

Sisson manages the scheduling of classes and events for 104 general assignment rooms in 26 buildings on the Kingston campus.

For example, the College of Arts and Sciences had more than 2,360 class sections during the 2011 fall semester that required lecture, recitation, laboratory, studio, and experiential learning space.

Complicating Sisson’s work is the significant increase in student enrollment, the growing need for disability accommodations, the expanded use of online, hybrid, and smart classrooms. He handles it all with competent calmness.

Staff Excellence: Darlene Golomb of West Greenwich, building superintendent for facilities services, makes the University shine.

As a supervisor of custodial services, she oversees buildings, cleaning staff, vendor contracts, payroll, and training processes. Her creative leadership has had a profound impact on the cleanliness of buildings and employee morale.

Faced with the mandate that custodial services for all new buildings be outsourced, Golomb created two pilot programs. One pilot program involved servicing a new building in-house for one year. After an extensive survey of building occupants, Custodial Services was found to have delivered superior service at a competitive price. A second pilot program brought 17 contracted buildings back to in-house service. An employee for nearly 25 years, Golomb willingly helps her staff if necessary to get the job done. She is loyal to her workers and confident in their performance. With their help, she ensures that URI floors shine and windows sparkle.

2013 Research Excellence Awards

The URI Division of Research and Economic Development in collaboration with the URI Council for Research recognized nine individuals with research excellence awards. The recipients, recommended for the awards by their mentors or peers, were recognized during the 2013 commencement ceremonies. In addition to a citation, faculty members received $1,000, the post-doctoral fellow and graduate students received $500, and undergraduate students received $250.

Undergraduate Student Research Excellence Awards

1) Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities: Andrew Burnap

Andrew Burnap who sings, dances, and acts with equal ease in dramatic or comedic roles graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in theater. The South Kingstown resident played lead roles as diverse as Don Lockwood (the Gene Kelly lead) in Singin’ In the Rain, the young romantic Valére in Tartuffe, and the zany corset-wearing Frank-N-Furter in the Rocky Horror Show.

Last year, he wowed judges at the regional American College Theatre Festival who selected him winner of the prestigious Irene Ryan Acting Competition. He was chosen from a field of 250 actors representing 55 New England institutions.

In the fall, the 22-year-old actor will be one of 16 students chosen from a pool of about 1,400 to attend the Yale School of Drama, considered by some the most prestigious in the country.

2) Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering: Teresa Mako

A rising superstar in the field of organic chemistry, Teresa Mako helped design new methods to detect small toxic molecules that can cause cancer by studying energy transfer from those molecules to various fluorescent dyes. Her foundational research has been expanded to detect highly carcinogenic molecules such as bisphenol A (BPA) and benzo[a]pyrene.

She has also worked on the creation of a laboratory experiment for undergraduates to synthesize fluorescent polymers and fluorescent nanoparticles.

The 21-year-old scientist from South Deerfield, Mass. co-authored two articles that appeared in peer-reviewed journals. In addition, she has won four research awards, including first place in a poster competition from the Institute for Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation. In the fall, she will enter Boston College to pursue an advanced degree in organic chemistry.

Graduate Student Research Excellence Awards

1) Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities: Megan Martinelli

Megan Martinelli, a Providence native, spent much of her childhood with American Girl books and dolls, captivated by each character’s historic wardrobe. That fascination eventually led her to URI.

While working in the URI Historic Textile and Costume Collection, she discovered a rare 1920s hand painted dress attributed to Raymond Duncan, brother of famed dancer Isadora Duncan.

Curious, she researched Duncan for a course on material culture and discovered that although he contributed to an extraordinary creative period in design history, he is largely absent from the history of 20th century fashion.

To rectify that omission, Martinelli scrutinized documents at Syracuse University and Berkeley, examined creative works housed in museum collections in Chicago, Boston, Newark, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Martinelli who graduated in May with a master’s degree in textiles, fashion merchandising and design, is preparing her research for publication in a scholarly journal.

2) Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering: Amir Shirazi

Before joining Professor Keykavous Parang’s research group in 2010, Amir Shirazi, a pharmaceutical sciences doctoral student, had a limited background in medicinal chemistry, nanotechnology, and drug delivery.

Today, his research is making significant contributions to the field of nano drug delivery systems and will be of interest to the pharmaceutical industry. While working on the design of peptide-based nanocarriers, Shirazi and coworkers discovered a new class of peptides for delivery of anti-HIV and anti-cancer drugs. His research documents the potential of new peptide-drug hybrids that could be used for the targeted delivery of cell-impermeable anti-cancer agents in chemotherapy.

The Wakefield resident has authored or coauthored 19 articles that appeared in peer-reviewed publications, 15 of them as the result of his current research in Parang’s laboratory, and presented his research at more than 20 national and international scientific meetings.

Postdoctoral Fellow Research Excellence Award

Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering: Rakesh Tiwari

Rakesh Tiwari’s interest in the application of chemistry in biology led him to URI. He joined Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacology Keykavous Parang’s laboratory six years ago and quickly established a reputation as an outstanding scientist.

The pharmaceutical science postdoctoral fellow collaborates with national and international scientists to design protein kinase inhibitors as anti-cancer agents. As a result, several anti-cancer compounds have been discovered. Some of the compounds are also active in autoimmune diseases and are currently under investigation at the Henry Ford Hospital.

More recently, the Kingston resident has worked in synthesis and assay development for neuroprotective agents. His promising work could help slow the progression of stroke and Huntington’s disease.

He has published more than 40 research articles and won several competitive awards including a prestigious $94,000 American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Early Career Faculty Research Excellence Awards

1) Social Sciences, Art and Humanities: Carlos Garcia-Quijano

Carlos Garcia-Quijano of Providence, an ecological anthropologist and coastal ethnologist, studies broad questions about the relationship between society, culture, and environment by combining cultural, socioeconomic and ecological approaches.

His research and writing engages topics such as coastal peoples’ local ecological knowledge and its relationship to livelihood success and application to improved coastal management, as well as the relationships between access to coastal resources and the quality of life and well being of local peoples. He also studies the adaptations and responses of coastal people to ecosystem change such as species introductions. His research takes place in the Caribbean and U.S. East Coast.

Working on a project with URI Fisheries, Garcia-Quijano is collecting knowledge about lobsters from local lobstermen, who have been often overlooked in fisheries management.

Awarded more than $300,000 in grants and fellowships, Garcia-Quijano is routinely published in top anthropological and environmental journals.

2) Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering: Jason Dwyer

Since Chemistry Professor Jason R. Dwyer joined URI in 2009, the Narrangansett resident has found the formula for research success. He has been awarded more than $600,000 in research funding, including a highly competitive $400,000 National Science Foundation CAREER award that will support his work through 2017.

Dwyer builds nanofabricated, single-molecule tools to both explore the chemical world and to develop new methods and devices for rapid, low-cost biomedical diagnosis.

He has published 25 papers in peer-reviewed journals, given more than 50 presentations at national and international meetings and appeared in a feature documentary for the Discovery Channel. While committed to fundamental research, Dwyer is a proponent of translating those insights into applications. He is a co-founder of the nanotechnology company Insight Nanofluidics, Inc. The first two graduates of his research group are employed in Rhode Island high tech companies.

Advanced Career Faculty Research Excellence Awards

1) Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities: Kathleen Davis

Kathleen Davis of Charlestown, an associate professor of English, is an internationally recognized scholar whose field of expertise includes not only literature and philosophy within the Medieval and Anglo-Saxon periods, but also post-colonial theory, translation theory, and the histories of secularism and periodization.

She has authored two books, co-edited two others, and has three more in development. In addition, she has authored 18 articles and book chapters, a translation, two reference/encyclopedia entries, eight book reviews, and has two articles forthcoming.

She has delivered 40 conference presentations and 25 invited or keynote lectures at prestigious national and international venues, sometimes built around her scholarship.

For example, her most influential book, Periodization and Sovereignty: How Ideas of Feudalism and Secularization Govern the Politics of Time, published in 2008 was the subject of a scholarly panel at the 2011 American Association in Religion meeting.

2) Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering: Yana Reshetnyak

Yana Reshetnyak’s research toward creating routine medical imaging procedures holds enormous potential benefits for generations to come.

After joining URI in 2004 as a National Science Foundation ADVANCE Faculty Fellow, she established a research and educational program in biological physics.

The Saunderstown resident is the main inventor of pHLIP® technology, a novel approach to deliver imaging and therapeutic agents to diseased acidic tissue, including cancer, ischemic myocardium, and infection. She is collaborating with leading laboratories at Yale, Brown, Oxford Universities, Memorial Sloan-Kettering and MD Anderson Cancer Centers to transfer pHLIP® technology into clinics. Her research is well funded by National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense grants, together with her collaborators in URI’s Physics Department and Yale she received $6 million in research money.

She co-authored more than 50 papers, including reviews and book chapters in prestigious journals. She also designed and implemented a master’s degree in medical physics with her physics colleagues and the Department of Radiation Oncology at Rhode Island Hospital, Brown Alpert Medical School.

URI Research Foundation Intellectual Property Patent Excellence Award

Intellectual Property Patent Excellence Award: Qing Yang

The URI Research Foundation, in collaboration with the 12 members of the Intellectual Property Committee and URI deans, presents intellectual property patent award(s) each year.

Electrical Engineering Professor Qing Yang helps computers go faster. With computers controlling everything from stock trades to traffic lights, their speed and reliability are necessities.

Yang’s research focuses on computer architectures, memory and storage systems, computer networks, embedded computer systems and their application to neural-machine interfaces and biomedical engineering.

The Saunderstown resident holds more than a dozen patents. Many of his patents, often developed with the assistance of students, have been licensed to the computer industry with significant practical impact.

Yang co-founded the company, VeloBit, Inc., to commercialize several of his patents. The company is developing new software to improve data storage performance. The market for such technology has boomed in recent years as interest in cloud computing has soared. The company’s technology is already in use at 520 installations across five continents. Its success has helped the company raise more than $5 million in venture capital and hire 15 people.

Pictured above

Foundation Excellence Award winners

Paula McGlasson of Charlestown, URI photo by Nora Lewis

Peter August of Richmond, URI photo by Nora Lewis

Kenneth Sisson of Saunderstown, URI photo by Nora Lewis

Darlene Golomb of West Greenwich, URI photo by Nora Lewis

Photos by Nora Lewis

Research Foundation Excellence Awards

Andrew Burnap of South Kingstown, URI photo by Joe Giblin

Teresa Mako of South Deerfield, Mass., URI photo by Joe Giblin

Megan Martinelli, of Providence, URI photo by Joe Giblin

Amir Shirazi, of Wakefield, URI photo by Joe Giblin

Rakesh Tiwari of Kingston, submitted photo

Carlos Garcia-Quijano of Providence, URI photo by Joe Giblin

Jason R. Dwyer of Narrangansett, URI photo by Joe Gilbin

Kathleen Davis of Charlestown, URI photo by Joe Giblin

Yana Reshetnyak of Saunderstown, URI photo by Joe Giblin

Qing Yang of Saunderstown, URI Photo by Joe Giblin

Photos by Joe Giblin