College of Sciences Staff and Faculty Win 13 Awards
Three administrative and 10 academic staff of the College of Sciences have received accolades and awards for the 2015-16 academic year. They are being recognized for innovation and excellence in administration, education, and scholarship. Awardees will be honored at the Faculty & Staff Honors Luncheon at noon on April 22 at the Student Center Ballroom.
“People are every organization’s most precious resource,” says College of Sciences Dean Paul M. Goldbart. “I am so proud and inspired by my colleague’s outstanding accomplishments.”
College of Sciences’ Dian Chung and David Moore, together with College of Engineering’s Emily Howell and Lynda House are the recipients of the Outstanding Staff – Innovation Award, in recognition of their creativity in establishing a staffing structure for the Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB).
EBB houses faculty from multiple colleges and schools. Research labs are organized in “research neighborhoods” bringing together scientists, engineers, and researchers from different fields around common themes or areas of interest. A big challenge was figuring out how to effectively support faculty who are housed in the interdisciplinary environment of EBB.
Chung is the director of administration and human resources, and Moore is the director of finance, in the College of Sciences. With Howell and House, they formed what had been called “the EBB Four.” Together, they conceived a shared-services model to allow for one-stop, concierge-type support for faculty on each floor of EBB. In this model, the faculty support coordinator and finance personnel support all faculty on the floor regardless of school or college affiliation – faculty support without borders.
Alba Gutierrez, of the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC), is the recipient of the Outstanding Staff – Service to the Community Award, in recognition of her outstanding and exemplary service to Georgia Tech and the Atlanta community.
Gutierrez is the educational outreach coordinator for the GoSTEM Pathways to College program. This program aims to enhance the educational experiences of Latino students and to strengthen the pipeline of these students into college science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.
In this role, Gutierrez has been tireless in opening educational doors to Latino students. She has recognized barriers to Latino enrollment and taken steps to eliminate them. For example, realizing that an English-only campus tour does not serve Latino students well, she translated the campus tour highlights into Spanish and made sure it was offered on the Office of Undergraduate Admission’s website as a resource.
“The College empowers its staff to think outside-the-box in serving our constituents and managing the resources entrusted to us,” Goldbart says. “Congratulations to Dian, David, and Alba for innovations that are making a big difference to the Georgia Tech community.”
David W. Garton, of the School of Biology, and Ronghua Pan, of the School of Mathematics, are recipients of the Geoffrey G. Eichholz Faculty Teaching Award, in recognition of their outstanding teaching of core and general-education undergraduate courses.
For more than 10 years, Garton has had primary responsibility for teaching BIOL 4401, Experimental Design and Statistical Methods. Over the years, he has redesigned the course to incorporate problem-based learning methods and an active learning style. No longer a lecture-based experience, each class period is dominated by small-group problem solving sessions.
Typically, he assigns students sets of data or an experimental set-up, and the students select and apply the appropriate statistical method to test their hypotheses.
In addition, Garton adopted Learning Catalytics, a Web-based assessment tool that enables immediate feedback on “right” or “wrong” approaches to a problem. Used in class, the tool improves students’ confidence in applying analytic methods, as well as Garton’s own teaching effectiveness by identifying the concepts that are difficult for students to grasp.
Pan has taught more than 4,000 Georgia Tech students in 13 years of teaching introductory math courses. “Mathematics could be very dry, abstract, or even very difficult for most college students,” he says. For this reason, his major goal in teaching is to find ways to help students understand and, indeed, enjoy the beauty of mathematical theory.
Toward his goal, he has taken many initiatives, including finding the appropriate textbooks for calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra. In addition, he meticulously organizes his lecture notes, optimizing them for each course, and shares them with students. With other colleagues, he also began a pilot of MyMathLab, an online homework system for calculus. Their pilot testing was so successful that MyMathLab is now a standard component of calculus courses at Tech.
Edwin Greco, of the School of Physics, is the recipient of Undergraduate Educator Award, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to undergraduate education. In addition to his teaching responsibilities as an academic professional, Greco serves as an undergraduate academic advisor and the faculty advisor of the Society of Physics Students. He also helps with the school’s outreach activities, including coordinating many activities, and organizing the first-ever science parade, for the Atlanta Science Festival.
Greco’s commitment to undergraduate education shows up in many ways. His physics problems are very carefully thought out and often related to real-life examples. He makes himself available to students outside of the classroom – during consultation hours, in videos showing detailed solutions of physics problems, and in regular emails summarizing lessons and providing additional resources. Greco epitomizes service to students beyond the call of duty.
Dana Hartley, of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, is the recipient of Outstanding Undergraduate Academic Advising – Faculty Award, in recognition of her compassion and genuine concern for students, transcending traditional advising. Most notable is her advocacy for those who are homeless or had just come out of foster care. She has worked with the University System of Georgia, the Georgia Tech Academic Advisor Network, and other student support services to build awareness of homeless students and the challenges they face.
Each semester, between five and 10 students in Georgia Tech are homeless for at least some time. Hartley’s work has enabled students in need to get food and a safe place to stay until accommodations could be arranged. She is the rare faculty member who passionately goes above and beyond the classroom to improve the lives of students.
Thomas D. Morley, of the School of Mathematics, is the recipient of the Faculty Award for Academic Outreach, in recognition of his extraordinary service in distance education.
Through the Distance Calculus Program he began in 2005, high school students in the Georgia Public School system can take college credits for Calculus II and Calculus III. Participating by audio or video links, they take the courses at the time they are taught on campus, and they take the same quizzes and tests as on-campus students.
Now serving close to 500 Georgia high school students per year, the program is a classic win-win proposition. It offers public high schools an inexpensive way to teach college-level courses, and it enables Georgia Tech to recruit the best mathematics students of Georgia. That’s because almost all of the students in the program apply and are admitted to Georgia Tech, making up 6-7% of the freshman class when they get here.
Nepomuk Otte, of the School of Physics, is the recipient of the Class of 1940 W. Roane Beard Outstanding Teacher Award, in recognition of his extraordinary success in teaching and inspiring students. One way he does it is by entrusting students with projects for which one would hire experienced engineers and technicians. For example, he constructed the focal plane of a multi-million-dollar telescope with the help of undergraduate students. Another student project is a fusion reactor, in which hydrogen atoms react to form helium atoms. By recruiting undergraduate students, Otte communicates trust and confidence in them.
Otte’s introductory physics courses often have 150 students. The size itself is a huge challenge; another hurdle is students’ unfamiliarity with scientific reasoning. Otte’s way of teaching, however, enables him to reach out and change students’ attitude about the subject. Students say that he has had a positive impact in their lives.
Chrissy Spencer, of the School of Biology,is therecipient of the Innovation and Excellence in Laboratory Instruction Award, in recognition of her innovative approach to the genetics lab courses BIOL 2345 and BIOL 2355. These are core lab requirements for biology majors, and Spencer has transformed them from traditional or inquiry-based labs into a project-based format.
In the project-based format, students work in teams to propose and complete a research project involving key elements central to genetics work, such as DNA isolation and gel electrophoresis. Over the semester, students learn basic lab skills and improve their understanding of genetics concepts. In addition, they get to practice every aspect of the scientific method, from asking a question and designing the experiment to collecting data, analyzing results, and presenting the results.
Mark Hay, of the School of Biology, is the recipient of the Outstanding Faculty Research Author Award, in recognition of his highly impactful publications. He is an experimental ecologist who is revolutionizing marine conservation and management and the founder of the field of marine chemical ecology. For the past four decades, he has led scientific expeditions to remote regions to study the processes and mechanisms that control the organization, function, and sustainability of natural ecosystems.
Recently, his work has enabled scientists to “listen” to the conversations of marine organisms, carried out with chemical signals. Hay is learning to treat marine environmental collapse by understanding the chemical communication of critical marine organisms.
A skilled science communicator, Hay has shared his discoveries with various nonexpert audiences, including village chiefs in Fiji. His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times. BBC, NPR, and many more global media outlets. For being at the forefront of conservation science, Hay received the prestigious Lowell Thomas Award from the Explorers Club in 2015.
Peter Webster, of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, is the recipient of the Sigma Xi Sustained Research Award, in recognition of his seminal contributions to atmospheric science for more than four decades. He is an internationally recognized expert in tropical meteorology, monsoons, ocean-atmosphere interactions, and precipitation hydrology. Over his career, he has mentored 30 PhD students, published at least 170 peer-reviewed papers, and written two books.
Among his numerous notable accomplishments is the Climate Forecast Applications in Bangladesh Project. For this project, he developed and implemented a way to forecast rainfall and river discharge for two major rivers in Bangladesh, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. During the heavy rains of the monsoon season, these rivers overflow, causing massive loss of life and property.
In 2007 and 2008, his forecasts of three major floods in Bangladesh alerted the government of impending disaster. The country mobilized to evacuate people at high risk, and farmers were able to take measures to minimize loss of crops, livestock, and personal belongings. This work has saved many lives and has increased the resilience of rural society.
Class of 1934 Distinguished Professor Award
Robin Thomas, of the School of Mathematics, is the recipient of this award – the highest award given to a faculty member – in recognition of his outstanding achievement in teaching, research, and service.
Thomas’ research is in an area of discrete mathematics known as structural graph theory. The problems he has solved, often motivated by real-world problems in computer science, are extremely difficult: One was unsolved for more than a century, and the others were open for decades until Thomas and collaborators found the solutions. His research includes several major results, any one of which could be considered as the highlight of a lifetime.
As a teacher, Thomas has had a profound impact on the lives of many PhD students and postdocs. He is known for his generosity with his time and ideas, teaching students to appreciate the elegance of math and that serious math research could be fun. Former students credit their success to his wise advice on the kinds of problems to solve. As a mentor, he counsels about the ethics of not overstating the importance of one’s results and of acknowledging the work of others.
Since 2006, Thomas has served as the director of the PhD in Algorithm, Combinatorics, and Optimization Program. This interdisciplinary graduate program is jointly offered by the School of Mathematics, the College of Computing, and the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial Systems Engineering. Colleagues credit Thomas’ leadership for catapulting Georgia Tech’s combinatorics program to 4th rank in the country in 2016.
“The College of Sciences aims to nurture intellectually curious students and enable them to build for themselves empowering foundations in the sciences,” Goldbart says. “We achieve this through researchers who are relentlessly pushing the frontiers of human understanding and teachers who are passionately educating and guiding the next generation of scientists and engineers. Our award-winning colleagues embody these aspirations. I extend to them my warmest congratulations.”
A. Maureen Rouhi