Dean Rewards Faculty, Staff for Excellence

Award winners and their department chairs join the dean for a post-ceremony group photo. From left: Kumar Wickramasinghe, EECS chair; Vasan Venugopalan,  ChEMS chair; Abe Lee, BME chair; Mo Li; Joshua Dibble (accepting for Alon Gorodetsky); Sunny Jiang, CEE chair; Farzin Zareian; Jennifer Wilkens; Brian Demsky; Anna Grosberg; Zoran Nenadic; Syed Jafar; Dean Washington. Not pictured: Kerry Athanasiou. Photo: Debbie Morales.

May 28, 2018 - Dean Gregory Washington recognized eight Samueli School faculty and one staff member for excellence last week at an awards ceremony following the spring faculty meeting. Each recipient was presented with an engraved glass plaque.

Three faculty received research recognition:

Anna Grosberg, biomedical engineering associate professor, won the Early Career Excellence in Research award. Since joining the faculty in 2012, Grosberg, who researches cardiac tissue engineering and modeling, has published 15 peer-reviewed journal articles, which have been cited more than 1,400 times. She also has raised $2.5 million in grants, including a prestigious five-year NIH R01 award in collaboration with the UC Irvine School of Medicine.

The Mid-Career Excellence in Research award went to Alon Gorodetsky, associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science. Washington called Gorodetsky, who designs and characterizes biologically inspired electronics, “the leading authority in reflection-based and cephalopod-inspired materials,” and noted his success in intellectual property development and technology transfer. Gorodetsky has attracted much media attention for his work, meeting with representatives from several high-profile companies and recently initiating a research partnership with sport apparel manufacturer Under Armour. He also has secured a joint grant through the Advanced Research Program Agency - Energy.

(UCI Applied Innovation and the Beall Family Foundation also honored Gorodetsky this month at the UCI Innovator Awards, held May 14. He won the Emerging Innovation/Early Career Innovator award, which came with a $5,000 prize.)

Zoran Nenadic, biomedical engineering professor, is the recipient of this year’s Senior Career Excellence in Research award. Nenadic has worked on the development of a biomimetic brain-computer interface system that is helping paralyzed patients regain walking function. The system reconnects the brain and muscles of those with paralysis in a fully implantable device. Nenadic’s work has been featured in more than 1,000 media outlets worldwide, including Time Magazine, Reuters, ABC News, CBS News, Newsweek and more. His published research paper ranks second on the all-time list of most accessed articles by the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation.

The dean also presented three awards for excellence in teaching:

Mo Li, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, won the Early Career Innovation in Teaching award, for integrating rigorous teaching with unconventional approaches. Li, who has consistently received excellent teaching evaluations, engages her students through active learning, demonstrating important concepts with kids’ toys or popular cartoons. Washington said of Li: “She encourages open-ended discussions and student participation, engages students with examples and demonstrations, and puts considerable emphasis on developing physical intuition and insight into the subject matter.”

Brian Demsky, electrical engineering and computer science professor, was awarded the Mid-Career Innovation in Teaching prize. Washington praised him for his consistent contributions to improving teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate level. “Students’ feedback shows that he is excellent at explaining difficult concepts through fun, real-world analogies,” Washington said, “and that they [students] can feel his passion for teaching.”

Syed Jafar, whom students ranked at 3.9 (on a scale of 4) in their evaluations, was the winner of the Senior Innovation in Teaching award. Washington commended Jafar, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, for his outstanding contributions to teaching, saying his students consider him clear, comprehensive and passionate. They especially appreciate his online notes, which allow them to focus better on the subject matter while they’re in class. Students also noted Jafar’s clear PowerPoint slides and “sharp outfits.”

The final three awards were for innovation, faculty service and staff accomplishment.

The Innovator of the Year award went to biomedical engineering Distinguished Professor Kyriacos (Kerry) Athanasiou, who researches tissue engineering and has developed 15 FDA-approved technologies and products that span orthopedics, emergency medicine, diabetes, plastic surgery and craniofacial surgery. For example, his infusion product is found in ambulances and emergency rooms around the world.  Medical schools teach his intraosseous (through the bone) approach to drug delivery. And his bone-marrow-aspiration invention won the top medical award in the Wall Street Journal's innovation competition.

(Athanasiou also was recognized for innovation earlier this month with a 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Beall Family Foundation and UCI Applied Innovation at the UCI Innovator Awards ceremony. The award included a $5,000 prize and certificates of recognition from the California State Assembly, the California Senate and the U.S. Congress.)

Farzin Zareian, civil and environmental engineering associate professor, was the recipient of this year’s dean’s award for Faculty Service. Zareian has been an energetic advocate of UCI, the profession of structural engineering and earthquake engineering in general. He has been active on several departmental, college-level and campuswide committees, serving as chair on some of them, and is UCI’s representative on the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research (PEER) Center’s Institutional Board. Additionally, he has been involved in enhancing CEE graduate program stature and enrollment numbers.

Finally, the dean presented Jennifer Wilkens, his executive assistant and director of special projects, with the Outstanding Staff Member award. Wilkens collaborates with staff, faculty, administrators and students throughout UCI, as well as donors and prospective collaborators, to support the Samueli School in its mission and values. Washington praised her for promoting students and staff success through her daily efforts, noting her embrace of diversity and ongoing inclusivity. “Her daily, behind-the-scenes efforts deserve recognition,” he concluded.

- Anna Lynn Spitzer