URI Foundation Excellence Awards honor outstanding teaching, scholarship, administrative service and staff work

Posted on
URI’s Division of Research and Economic Development, Research Foundation also honor top researchers


KINGSTON, R.I. – May 20, 2016 — The University of Rhode Island presented URI Foundation Excellence Awards on May 17 to individuals who distinguish themselves in the areas of teaching, scholarship, administration and staff service.

University President David M. Dooley, URI Foundation President Lil Breul O’Rourke, and Geraldine Barber, chair of the University’s Foundation Excellence Committee, presented the awards.


The 2016 URI Foundation Excellence Award Winners are:


Teaching Excellence Award

Professor Angelo Simeoni’s courses may be the foundation upon which the Landscape Architecture Department is built, but the Peace Dale resident is a significant and meaningful part of the student landscape that surrounds him.


A constant presence in the department, Simeoni is known for his compassion and is often described as a father figure or a role model with a big heart. He knows how to motivate students to do their best work. Simeoni takes a personal interest in the success of his students early in their URI education, helping them transition into college and into this challenging and rewarding program. With kindness, he creates relationships, learning names quickly and getting to know things about his students while making his lectures engaging and enjoyable.


After more than 25 years on campus, this licensed landscape architect excels at preparing students for their chosen profession and applies cutting-edge technology to his courses. With outstanding communication and interpersonal skills and an impressive knowledge of his field, Simeoni is constantly networking with alumni and employers to provide students with internship opportunities and pass along job openings.


With an open-door office policy, Simeoni goes out of his way to be accessible to students and hear their thoughts and ideas and, perhaps most importantly, their dreams. When he doesn’t see a student in the close-knit studio environment, he will reach out and make sure they are OK. In the words of one student admirer, “It’s a miracle that he ever gets any work done in his office because there is a constant stream of students going in to ask for advice or simply talk about the weekend.”


Scholarly Excellence Award

Known worldwide as a top researcher in lithium ion batteries, Chemistry Professor Brett Lucht’s groundbreaking work focuses on the development of novel electrolytes for lithium ion batteries and on improving the performance of electrolytes for electric vehicles. The Kingston resident’s research has attracted more than $12 million in external funding and he has active contracts and grants totaling more than $5.4 million. He’s received funding from government agencies including NASA, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation; and from major corporations such as DuPont, Procter & Gamble, Duracell, Pfizer, and Yardney.


Lucht publishes at an extraordinary rate: 100 peer-reviewed articles and two book chapters to date. As a source, his work has been cited more than 3,000 times. He has nine patents and has delivered more than 160 invited or keynote lectures across the country and around the globe.


A URI Chemistry Department colleague said, “His productivity is exceptional and the problems he is working to solve are amongst the top for society.”


Lucht’s projects include extending the calendar life of lithium ion batteries, improving the performance of novel high capacity or high voltage electrode materials for lithium batteries, and developing a non-flammable electrolyte. He maintains a dynamic and productive laboratory with many funded students.


While his list of awards and accomplishments is long, so is the praise that students have for him. On the website Rate My Professors, which is known for its brutally honest student reviews, the phrase “the best professor I have had at URI” appears often.


Administrative Excellence Award

Michelle Curreri of Narragansett serves as chief of staff for President David M. Dooley. She keeps communication flowing, advises on sensitive and difficult matters, and does the impossible – she manages the president’s constantly changing calendar and makes sure everything runs smoothly.


Known for her calm determination and far-reaching insight, Curreri takes the time to explain the process behind a decision or action. She sees the big picture, but she also sees the small picture, never missing the details that others mistake as unimportant.


A powerhouse of energy and focus, Curreri’s outstanding organizational and communication skills were prominently on display when she led the URI Commencement team. A University leader said the University was fortunate Curreri was at the helm. “Michelle treated everyone with respect and was open to constantly improving the way we do things and ensuring that commitments were honored and the job completed.”


Commencement is so successful that Curreri, who also teaches a URI course in event planning, presents on commencement at international conferences, and she founded the Rhode Island Association of Commencement Officers.


For four years, she’s chaired the URI Women’s Athletics fundraiser, “An Evening of Grapes and Grain,” and she serves on the URI 125th anniversary steering committee. She serves on and chairs many search committees. Her contributions often reach into the larger community. She is a board member of the Met School, working on policy and helping fundraise and advocate for students.


Staff Excellence Award

For the past eight years, Marsha Mott of Hope Valley has supported all seven graduate programs within the School of Education. “I don’t know, ask Marsha,” is often heard in response to a variety of questions. The go-to person for all things education, Mott monitors the admissions process of each program and maintains records on current students. She organizes the comprehensive exam process each semester and tracks students for graduation, which occurs three times a year. She submits updates to the website, reminds graduate students about essential deadlines, forms, and requirements, and oversees undergraduate student workers.


She provides insightful support, lifts the spirits of others, and finds joy in being productive and helpful. One professor put her influence in these terms: “The wonder and the beauty of Ms. Marsha Mott.”


Mott also coordinates the staffing schedule for School of Education courses with more than 100 sections in the fall, more than 100 in the spring, and still more in the summer. To accomplish this, she communicates with the director and every full-time and part-time faculty member.


She was a critical part of the School’s successful accreditation and Mott was valiant during the flood at the School a year ago. Arriving alongside the emergency crew, she relocated the main office within 24 hours. According to her colleagues, “While there are many gems among URI’s staff, we regard Ms. Mott as the Hope Diamond.”


2016 Research and Scholarship Excellence Awards


President Dooley also joined Gerald Sonnenfeld, vice president of URI’s Division of Research and Economic Development; and Jacqueline Webb, professor and chair of the URI Council for Research that same day to present the 2016 Research and Scholarship

Excellence Awards to the following:


Undergraduate Student Research & Scholarship Excellence Award in the Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering

Samuel Spink is on track to becoming a world-class scientist. The South Kingstown resident is a biomedical engineering major and has worked in Assistant Professor Matthew Kiesewetter’s chemistry lab since the summer following his freshman year. This was made possible through a Rhode Island IDeA for Excellence in Biomedical Research (INBRE) summer undergraduate research fellowship, which is unusual for a freshman. As a junior he was selected as a 2016 Goldwater Foundation Scholar. Spink possesses a scientific intuition unlike anyone his professor has ever known. He has been tremendously productive in the lab. Of the seven extramural proposals his professor had out for review in the last year, six were based on work done by Spink. He is the first author of an article in Macromolecules, the world’s premier polymer chemistry journal. He is finishing up research that will be included in his second and third publications, which will disclose the fastest polymerization catalyst known.


Spink’s research included a potentially transformative observation on how the application of dual hydrogen bond donors in ring-opening polymerization leads to dramatic rate acceleration. As a result of his work, it is hoped to be able to perform polymerizations and depolymerizations in biomedical environments. This will allow scientists to apply expertise in catalysis to disease treatment and detection. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and conduct research at the intersection of polymer chemistry and biomedical engineering.


Graduate Student Research & Scholarship Excellence Award in the Social Sciences

Mehmet G. Yalcin’s research focus is on developing ambidexterity in companies, which he proposes is the key to creating sustainability and innovation. The Narragansett resident’s primary focus is to identify and measure the variable of ambidexterity in the context of supply chains and then testing its relevance on companies that have successfully created sustainability through process innovation. His preliminary work demonstrates his depth of understanding and his ability to combine several abstract concepts into practical theory and application. His work is having a positive impact on a relatively new field of research and has inspired a new research track at the 2017 Northeast Decision Sciences Institute meeting.


Yalcin’s work has received professional recognition by winning the Best Ph.D. Paper Award at the institute’s 2014 annual meeting. He has already published two co-authored articles in prestigious journals, and eight proceedings papers that he has presented at regional and national conferences. He is a mentor not only to undergraduate students, but also to junior Ph.D. students, inviting two students to join him on a research paper presented at a regional conference. He earned the 2016 Ph.D. in Business Administration Award for Outstanding Teaching. Yalcin has taught five supply chain courses at URI since entering as a Ph.D. graduate assistant in 2013. The Global Supply Chain Management course is a case-based class that incorporates computer simulation and many graded assignments. He received high evaluations from his students and peers in this course in addition to high praise teaching the rigorous Lean Six Sigma course, which incorporates a number of assignments leading to a final project.


Graduate Student Research & Scholarship Excellence Award in the Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering

Through her research, Mary Dzaugis has advanced the field of oceanography and areas well beyond it. The Holden, Mass. resident’s work has increased our understanding of sub-seafloor life, chemical hazards in nuclear waste facilities, and the potential of subsurface life on other worlds, particularly Mars. Her work has already had an extraordinary range of scholarly impact. The breadth of her research is illustrated by the diversity of journals in which she has already published: Frontiers in Microbiology (life sciences), Radiation Physics and Chemistry (physical sciences and engineering), PreCambrian Research (Earth and life sciences), and The Journal of Paleontology (Earth and life sciences). Dzaugis has demonstrated significant scientific leadership through her fieldwork.


She was particularly important to a 2014 North Atlantic research expedition on the Research Vessel Knorr. All of the senior expeditionary scientists agreed that she rose to the occasion of the expedition and stood out among a very large, strong group of participants to lead her shipboard research team. A senior scientist from this expedition said Dzaugis would be one of the first people he would recruit for a future cruise. She has played a very positive role in graduate student life at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, through the graduate student organization and as a teaching assistant for oceanography courses enrolling 90 students.


Dzaugis has also done an extraordinary job of bringing her research to the broader Rhode Island community. She has enthusiastically participated in many public engagement opportunities, working with Guiding Education in Math and Science (GEMS-Net), Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), and GSO’s Office of Marine Programs to improve science literacy of K-12 students, teachers and families.


Early Career Faculty Research & Scholarship Excellence Award in Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities

Assistant Professor of History Erik Loomis has established an impressive record of scholarly accomplishments. Colleagues recognize him as “phenomenal, easily the most productive member of the department in terms of output,” and of course, “excellent.” The Providence resident has already published two well-received, sole-authored books. Empire of Timber: Labor Unions and the Pacific Northwest Forests was published in September 2015 by Cambridge University Press. It weaves together the fields of environmental and labor history, with its thoughtful thematic combination of work, health and resource sustainability, and sits at the cutting edge of scholarship in these fields. Out of Sight: The Long and Disturbing Story of Corporations Outsourcing Catastrophe was published by The New Press in June 2015. It demonstrates how Americans tamed corporate exploitation of workers and nature through the twentieth century and how corporations have escaped labor and environmental regulations today by outsourcing production across the globe, creating a race to the bottom and undermining the American middle class.


His next book, American History in Ten Strikes, will be published by The New Press in May 2017. It will retell American history through its major labor struggles, beginning with the Lowell Mill Girls strikes in the 1840s and concluding with the Justice for Janitors strikes of the 1990s. He has also begun work on another book, titled Soil and Steel: The New Deal Roots of Labor-Environmental Coalitions. Additionally, he has published 16 book and film reviews and presented 17 conference papers. He has also delivered eight invited lectures, and published five peer-reviewed articles and two government documents. Additionally, Professor Loomis serves as the Rhode Island coordinator for the Labor and Working-class History Association.


Early Career Faculty Research & Scholarship Excellence Award in the Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Matthew Kiesewetter’s research area is in the development and mechanistic understanding of new methods for polymer synthesis. Polymers and plastics are among the foundations of chemical technology. New, efficient methods are constantly being sought to create these useful materials. The North Kingstown resident has pursued research that uses relatively simple organic compounds as catalysts for polymerization. While organic catalysts for polymer synthesis have been known for more than a decade, their adoption by the community has been hindered by their inefficiency. Kiesewetter’s research group is addressing this liability by generating highly efficient organic catalysts, the most efficient of which rivals any known catalyst in reaction rate and efficiency. Even though he is in the early stages of his academic career in the chemical sciences, Kiesewetter is developing methods and materials that will open new avenues of research in science. He has published in the world’s leading polymer journal, Macromolecules and has published 27 peer-reviewed articles in leading journals, 15 as lead or corresponding author.


Kiesewetter has delivered 17 presentations including papers at the American Chemical Society national meetings and at Gordon Conferences. He has one U.S. issued patent and filed for a second patent. He is mentoring six doctoral students and has supervised numerous undergraduates, including the 2016 Undergraduate Student Excellence Award Recipient and 2016 Goldwater Scholar Samuel Spink. Professor Kiesewetter has received more than $900,000 in extramural grant funding as sole investigator, including a highly prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award. He has also received a highly competitive Petroleum Research Fund grant from the American Chemical Society.


Advanced Career Faculty Research & Scholarship Excellence Award in the Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities

Marketing Professor Ruby Roy Dholakia of Narragansett is one of the most distinguished faculty members in the College of Business Administration. Her research examines the relationships between marketing, development, and technology with a focus on social marketing, macro-marketing and technology and consumer behavior. She has published 58 papers in peer-reviewed journals and trade publications, 50 book chapters, and is the co-author and co-editor of more than 11 books. Her most recent book is Technology and Consumption: Understanding Consumer Choices and Behaviors. Her work has more than 5,000 Google Scholar citations — a first for the URI College of Business Administration. Dholakia has presented her research at numerous conferences nationally and internationally.


She has been a visiting professor all over the world including India, Bangladesh, Finland, Norway, New Zealand and Japan. She is dedicated to scholastic leadership. She has taught undergraduate, graduate, and Ph.D. students, leaving a lasting impression on their lives and careers. Professor Dholakia is committed to serving URI and the marketing discipline community. She pioneered the Research Institute for Telecommunications and Information Marketing, which brought industry participants and research scholars to URI. Students and faculty worked on projects supported by several companies including AT&T, Telecom Italia, Motorola and the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission.


She co-chaired the URI Branding Committee, chaired the first URI Committee on Reshaping Health Education, Research & Outreach and leads an internal taskforce for the College of Business Advisory Committee on Branding. She served as the first president of the International Society of Markets and Development. In addition, she was a coordinator for the URI Honors Colloquium “Demystifying India” and initiated the Rhode Island 8th Grade Gandhi Essay Contest administered by URI’s Center for Nonviolence & Peace Studies.


2016 Advanced Career Faculty Research & Scholarship Excellence Award in the Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering

Oleg Andreev of Saunderstown is a distinguished professor of physics whose research is in the areas of biological physics, medical physics and nanotechnology. His work is in the field of disease detection and treatment. Andreev is a prolific and well-known scholar with more 60 peer-reviewed research articles in prestigious scientific journals such as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Biophysical Journal, Biochemistry, Journal of Molecular Biology, Cancer Research, Chemistry Today, Journal of Molecular Membrane Biology, and Journal of Molecular Imaging and Biology. He presented at more than 40 invited seminars and conference presentations in the U.S. and internationally, including the European Biotechnology Congress, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.


Andreev and his collaborator, Physics Professor Yana Reshetnyak, have developed an exceptionally strong research and education program at URI in biological and medical physics that has attracted 17 grants totaling several million dollars, including several RO1 grants from the National Cancer Institute and Institute of General Medicine, as well as grants from the Department of Defense Breast and Prostate Cancer Programs. Andreev and Reshetnyak founded the company pHLIP, Inc. in 2014, which was created based on their research and subsequent patent of their pHLIP™ technology. pHLIP™ allows the delivery of imaging agents that can identify and attack the diseased cells with greater specificity, while leaving healthy cells alone and it can deliver therapeutic compounds to treat the cells. This targeting reduces side effects and makes treatment more effective and efficient. This research could lead to breakthroughs in fighting afflictions such as cancer, stroke, arthritis and more.


2016 Research Foundation Excellence Award


President Dooley, Vice President Sonnenfeld and Michael Katz, executive director of the URI Research Foundation presented the 2016 Research Foundation Excellence Award to:


2016 Intellectual Property Excellence Award


Professor of Mechanical, Industrial and Systems Engineering

Mohammad Faghri of East Greenwich and Adjunct Professor Constantine Anagnostopoulos of North Kingstown were recognized for their U.S. issued patent “Systems and Methods for Providing Microfluidic Devices.” They invented a lab-on-paper technology that enables fully autonomous point-of-care diagnostic testing using multiple reagents. The potential application of this technology is not limited to medical diagnostics. It is also applicable to environmental, agricultural, and security fields. The lab-on-paper’s current design is innovative and elegant.


Using a computer-aided design system, the professors draw up and fabricate a three-dimensional structure of valves and channels along which the fluid sample travels in paper, triggering additional reagents at the appropriate time to generate accurate results comparable to conventional laboratories. Five more patents are pending, for which they hope to secure investments through the URI Research Foundation. In 2011 they co-founded Labonachip, LLC, a start-up to commercialize this technology. Faghri joined URI in 1983 and is internationally known for his work on fluid flow and heat transfer in micro scale devices with applications to electronics cooling, heat exchangers and fuel cells. He has published more than 250 articles and co-authored seven books on a wide range of topics in heat transfer. He was the principal investigator for a $2.5 million award from the National Science Foundation for the development of the lab-on-chip device that was miniaturized to a hand-held biosensor with smart phone application for detection of C-reactive protein, a marker for various cardiovascular diseases.


Anagnostopoulos worked for Eastman Kodak Co.’s Research Laboratories for 32 years before joining URI in 2007. At Kodak he led a number of research teams first in inventing new technologies and products, maturing them and moving them to development and manufacturing. He did this for CCD image sensors, CMOS technology and microfluidic inkjet print heads for high-speed printing. He holds more 70 patents. In 2011 he was the recipient of $200,000 STAC award. He is currently serving as president of Labonachip, LLC.