URI honors students, faculty and staff for excellence

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URI Foundation, URI Research Foundation hold joint ceremonies

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 13, 2015 — The University of Rhode Island presented awards for excellence to faculty, students, administrators and staff Tuesday, May 12. The URI Foundation and the URI Research Foundation held the joint award celebration in Swan Hall. Recipients will also be recognized during the 2015 undergraduate commencement ceremony, Sunday May 17.


Administrative Excellence Award

Jerome Sidio, of Exeter, serves as director of Facilities Services, where he is in charge of administrative oversight for all facilities operations, including maintenance, land and grounds, custodial, and utilities operations. He provides leadership in long-term planning and strategies to meet the needs of a growing University. Whether dealing with personnel issues or fighting endless snowstorms, the West Point graduate and former military man is known for staying level headed. He has established a reputation for trust, cares for his workers and he is often praised for his knowledgeable leadership style, considering multiple opinions before making decisions. Sidio serves as an advisor for URI Habitat for Humanity and a staff advisor for URI SAVES and URI’s Habitat Alternative Spring Break Trip. Student volunteers for these groups respect and admire how he goes above and beyond what is needed and makes it all look easy. As one student said, “everyone shines when Jerry is involved.”

Teaching Excellence Award

Cynthia Blanthorne, of East Greenwich, serves with distinction as an associate professor of accounting in the College of Business Administration. With a passion for teaching and taxes, she seizes the attention of her students and creates a captivating learning environment. By developing cases for students to work on involving current issues, Blanthorne makes the material relevant and engrossing.

Blanthorne has vigorously promoted the IRS Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program, which serves low-income and other at-risk taxpayers, as a service learning opportunity for students.

As faculty mentor for the xTax Challenge, she spends countless hours during the two-week competition with her students, listening to practice presentations, answering tax questions, and providing guidance. She even offered to loan students business attire from her own and her husband’s wardrobes for the formal presentation. In addition, she donates the annual stipend she receives from the competition as a scholarship for outstanding student performance.

Scholarly Excellence Award

Mary Cappello, of Providence, is a professor of English and creative writing for the English Department. Her prolific body of nonfiction work exploring the boundaries of self and language has brought international acclaim to campus.

Cappello has published four books, with a fifth title on the way, and she has published 36 creative essays, six of which were named Notable Essay of the Year in Best American Essays between 2005 and 2014. She has also published numerous critical essays, catalog essays for artistic exhibitions, book reviews, poems, and collaborative projects notable for their charting of new interdisciplinary terrain.

Her achievements include: A 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship in Creative Arts/Nonfiction; a Fulbright Fellowship to teach at the Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow; the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize from Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies; and the Bechtel Prize for Educating the Imagination from Teachers and Writers Collaborative.

Cappello has hosted more than 20 writers and scholars at URI in the past nine years. She organizes numerous readings and has been instrumental in the success of the Ocean State Summer Writing Conference.

Staff Excellence Award

Michelle Caraccia, of Narragansett, is a graduate program administrator and, with signature calmness and exceptional professional skills, she is credited with making the English Department and its graduate program better in every way.

Caraccia is unsurpassed in her efficiency, meticulous in her attention to detail, and she has the ability to make a complex and multi-faceted program run, seemingly, without a hiccup. She brings dedication, resourcefulness and generosity of spirit to her work, including opening her house twice a year for the graduate student orientation reception and the end-of-year celebration.

Caraccia’s record keeping encompasses every student and faculty member in the program, as well as the bewildering paperwork for 28 teaching assistants. She embraces technology to make these processes more efficient.

Caraccia has been praised for facilitating operations, simplifying them and making information flow between students and faculty. Depending on whom you talk with, she is described as the backbone, the face, the savior, or, simply, the heart and soul of the department.


The URI Research Foundation recognizes the following award winners for excellence. The URI Intellectual Property Committee recommended these selections to Gerald Sonnenfeld, chairman of the URI Research Foundation and vice president of research and economic development.

Intellectual Property Excellence Award

Physics professors Oleg Andreev and Yana Reshetnyak, of South Kingstown, were honored for their intellectual property achievements in 2014, most notably the formation of the company, pHLIP, Inc. as well as two issued patents from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, two patent applications, and one invention disclosure.

The company was created based on their research and subsequent patent of their pHLIP technology. They have pioneered a groundbreaking method to deliver diagnostic, therapeutic, preventive and research agents to diseased cells in the human body using transmembrane peptides, which respond to physiological processes, such as pH drop in diseased tissue. These pH Low Insertion Peptides could lead to breakthroughs in fighting afflictions such as cancer, stroke, arthritis and more.

pHLIP has allowed Andreev and Reshetnyak to identify and attack the affected cells with greater specificity, while leaving alone healthy cells. This reduces side effects and makes treatment more effective and efficient.

Once the peptides reach the affected tissue, they act as a “nanosyringe” to inject therapeutic or toxic compounds across the membrane and into the cell, where they can find their cellular targets and perform their designated functions.

The peptides can also deliver nanoparticles of materials such as gold, which absorbs radiation better than human tissue. This allows doctors to lower the dosage of radiation given to oncology patients, reducing the side effects.

pHLIP technology also allows doctors to deliver imaging agents to help them better visualize cells in diseased tissue. It also helps deliver potent polar toxins to kill afflicted cells, as well as therapeutic compounds to treat the cells.


The URI Division of Research and Economic Development recognized the following award winners for excellence. The URI Council for Research recommended the following selections to Sonnenfeld.

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

Brett Lucht, chemistry professor, is a world-renowned authority on lithium ion batteries, particularly in respect to electrolyte and interfacial chemistry. He has also done notable research on thermochromic pigments. He is the most highly-funded faculty member in URI’s chemistry department. He has received more than $12 million in external funding from government agencies such as NASA, the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Additionally, he has earned funding from private companies such as BASF, DuPont, Duracell, Pfizer, Samsung, and Yardney.

Lucht, of Kingston, has an impressive publication record, including 89 peer-reviewed articles, two book chapters, 14 proceedings, 14 trade and news articles, and seven patents. He is held in high regard by his academic peers, as evidenced by the fact that he receives more than 100 requests a year from journal editors to review papers. He has an h-index of 32 and more than 2,300 citations. The h-index indicates he has published 32 scholarly works that have been cited at least 32 times each by other scientists and scholars.

He is often a featured speaker at national and international professional meetings and he has been invited to give lectures on his research across the world, including Germany, France, Israel, China, Japan, Korea and the U.S.

Lucht has also been an active member of the Sensors and Surface Technology Partnership and served as the co-director of the Partnership for Energy that produced substantial research, conferences and intellectual property.

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

Brian Krueger, political science professor, is an internationally-recognized and national award-winning scholar who studies government monitoring and political behavior, polling, use of metadata for improving survey research, and political participation.

His early work regarding the Internet and politics continues to receive substantial attention from scholars, and he was invited to deliver the keynote address at an International conference hosted by the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain.

He published multiple studies that investigate the influence of post-Sept. 11, 2001, domestic government surveillance on ordinary individuals’ political opinions and behaviors. His work foresaw much of the current debate a decade before government whistleblower Edward Snowden brought the issue into the international spotlight.

Krueger, of Wakefield, recently published the first comprehensive analysis of metadata’s potential to overcome the limitations of post-stratification as a solution to the crisis in survey non-response, which threatens the validity of political polling and census data alike.

Krueger has published three books and 18 peer-reviewed journal articles, and his research has been cited 1,600 times.

He has received national awards from various sections of the American Political Science Association, including the 2005 Best Publication Award for his book on cultural politics, the 2007 Best Article Award for his research about the shortcomings of online political mobilization, and the 2013 Best Instructional Software Award for his open-access elections website.

He also worked as a national CBS news real-time exit poll analyst and has written for The Washington Post, CBS News, Huffington Post, and London School of Economics politics blogs. His research on exit polling has often been cited in The New York Times, among other outlets.

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

Alison Tovar, of East Greenwich, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, focuses her research on the public health issue of childhood obesity. Specifically, she collaborates on community-based interventions to prevent early childhood obesity among disadvantaged populations.

She is collaborating with researchers at Brown University and Tufts University on two grants funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to test the efficacy of interventions to prevent childhood obesity among 2- to 5-year-olds across different environments. She is also collaborating with researchers at the University of North Carolina on an early-career NIH award to explore feeding practices of family childcare home providers.

She has received awards from the Rhode Island Foundation, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and the Rhode Island departments of health and education.

Tovar is the major professor for six master’s students and two doctoral candidates. She includes graduate students in all her projects, and brings her research expertise to the classroom. She created the nutrition and food science department’s first undergraduate public health course and redesigned the graduate-level community nutrition course by bringing in guest speakers, connecting students to community agencies and guiding students to participate in scholarship and to develop grant proposals that traditionally fund community health programs.

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

Ashish Chadha, assistant professor in the Department of Film/Media, is a prolific filmmaker and scholar of critical film studies, who has published many peer-reviewed articles and presented papers at conferences exploring critical issues in film and art.

Art Review selected the New Haven, Conn., as a Future Great Artist of 2014. His 2013 film, “Rati Charayvuh,” 105 minutes in length was remarkably captured in a single shot. He completed “Kalkimanthan Katha” in 2014 and will complete “Devi Namostute” in 2015. “Girish’s Vrindavan” is in post-production to be released in 2016, and “Vidhvastha” is in pre-production for a 2017 release.

During 2013 and 2014 Chadha’s films were screened at 23 film festivals, gallery and museum screenings around the world, as well as six solo and group shows receiving widespread press recognition.

He delivered his paper, “Sound and the City: Experimental Documentaries of Films Division in India (1965-1970),” at the prestigious Society of Cinema and Media Studies. In 2014 he published articles in Art India and Deep Focus, and wrote a curatorial note for Hundred Years of Experimentation (1913-2013): A Retrospective of Indian Cinema and Video. He was also invited to speak at the Curated Retrospective, Films Division, in Mumbai, India in 2013.

Chadha’s students receive the benefit of his global perspective in the classroom and his unique position as an important artist and scholar. His courses emphasize pre- and post- film production, preparing students to envision, prepare and produce their own narrative films.

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

Nicole Serio, of North Kingstown, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry, has worked to help first responders efficiently address spill events, by developing tools to detect and extract harmful toxins from the materials that have spilled. Serio’s research has significant applications for public health, environmental remediation, and disaster response. She has identified a non-toxic, renewable molecule, cyclodextrin, which can detect toxicants via array-based detection; it also effectively removes some of the most toxic components from oil spills, helping resolve many oil-spill related problems. This work has resulted in seven publications and two submitted papers, eight of which are first-author publications. These manuscripts have been published in prestigious journals, including Chemical Communications and ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Serio has presented her research several times, including at two National American Chemical Society meetings and two Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Conferences. Her research helped secure significant funding from national and local agencies: the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, the National Cancer Institute, the National Science Foundation, the Rhode Island Foundation and the URI Council for Research.

Serio has twice received the Bruno Vittimberga Research Award for outstanding organic chemistry research, and has earned travel fellowships from the Division of Organic Chemistry and Graduate Women in Science. She participates extensively in science outreach, such as running the Chemistry Camp for Girls, a week-long program focused on encouraging 40 Rhode Island middle school girls to pursue STEM careers.

Graduate Research and Scholarship Excellence Award in the Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities

Jingyi Duan, a graduate student of marketing, has been exploring the academic side of global marketing communication while at URI. She has combined her interest in communication with learning new research techniques and examined the changing global economy and the impacts of social media.

Duan, of Xiamen in the Fujian Province of China, is the first author of the paper “The Reshaping of Chinese Consumer Values in the Social Media Era: Exploring the Impact of Weibo” in the journal Qualitative Market Research. She co-authored the paper “Production and Marketing of Art in China: Traveling the Long, Hard Road from Industrial Art to High Art” in Arts Marketing: An International Journal, based on changes in the economy of her hometown of Xiamen. She is the first author of the paper “Social Media and Transforming Consumption Practices in China: The Role of Weibo” which was invited for revision at Consumption Markets & Culture. Her co-authored paper “Country of Origin and Made in the World: Can the Two Co-exist?” examines how consumers make purchasing decisions based on the country in which a product is made. It is under review at International Marketing Review. She has presented her research findings at several marketing academic conferences in the U.S. and Canada.

While finishing her dissertation Duan is teaching a course on social media marketing in URI’s College of Business Administration as well as a core marketing class.

Duan received her bachelor’s degree in drama and film literature from Xiamen University in China and a master’s degree in global communications from The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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

Caitlin Masterson, a senior chemistry major, earned one of only four national Eastern Analytical Symposium Undergraduate Student Research Awards in 2014 for her research in nanoscience and bioanalytical chemistry.

Masterson, of North Smithfield, also earned an American Chemical Society I.M. Kolthoff Award to present her work at Pittcon 2015 – the preeminent global conference on chemical analysis and scientific instrumentation. She also co-authored an article in the American Chemical Society publication Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Masterson’s research has focused on turning a process known as electroless plating into a tool for nanofabricating better chemical and biomedical sensors. Her contributions to this effort have included exploring how the plated thin films respond on the nanoscale to classical treatments such as heating, and have extended to more exotic investigations such as optimizing the gold-plating of a host of materials, including paper, to create low-cost, high-performance sensors.

In addition to her independent research and course work Masterson also works part-time at Hanna Instruments Inc., a Rhode Island-based global manufacturer of analytical instrumentation. She graduates from URI this May with her bachelor’s degree in chemistry and will pursue her doctoral degree in chemistry at Brown University.

Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Excellence Award in the Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities

The research team of gender and women’s studies students Rachel Dunham, of Norwich, Conn., Lucy Tillman, of Narragansett, and Faith Skodmin, of Swansea, Mass., completed a study on cases of human trafficking in Rhode Island. The team’s “Analysis of Human Trafficking in Rhode Island” is original and unique research.

The researchers identified seven prosecuted cases of human trafficking in Rhode Island and developed detailed narratives using primary law enforcement documents from local police departments and the U.S. District and Superior Courts of Rhode Island, as well as local media stories.

They presented their research at a national conference, regional conference and University colloquium. Their research and the three presentations attracted the attention of Peter Neronha, Rhode Island’s U.S. Attorney, and Peg Langhammer, director of Day One, the state agency that provides services to the victims of human trafficking. The research and analysis of the human trafficking cases have already had an impact on federal prosecution policy in Rhode Island, as law enforcement will now arrest buyers along with the human traffickers involved in such cases. Neronha mentioned the research this team was doing at the 2014 Children, Trauma, and the Integration of Care conference hosted by Rhode Island Family Court.

In addition to majoring in gender and women’s studies, Dunham also majors in psychology, while Tillman majors in communications studies. Skodmin is a psychology major with a minor in gender and women’s studies.

Images by Jess (Jessica Vescera)