Academic Senate Announces 2016 Awards

Photo: Lynn Kimsey amid specimen drawers.
Lynn Kimsey oversees the Bohart Museum of Entomology and its collection of 8 million specimens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey/UC Davis)

Quick Summary

  • Faculty Research Lecture: Don Strong, evolution and ecology
  • Distinguished Scholarly Public Service: Lynn Kimsey, entomology
  • 6 faculty members earn Distinguished Teaching Awards

The Davis Division of the Academic Senate is honoring its own with annual awards for Distinguished Scholarly Public Service, Distinguished Teaching and Faculty Research Lecture.

The lecture award, the senate’s highest accolade, goes to Professor Donald Strong of the Department of Evolution and Ecology and the Bodega Marine Laboratory. He is widely regarded for his work on biodiversity, competition and food webs, with a particular emphasis on interactions between plants and insects that feed on them.

 Don Strong mugshot
Professor Strong

He is perhaps the world’s leading expert on Atlantic cordgrass, or Spartina, which is invading bays and estuaries of the West Coast of the U.S. and other locations around the world.

“Over three decades, he has produced original and innovative work that has changed the way researchers think about the field,” said Professor Pamela Lein, who chaired the Senate committee that made the selection. Indeed, she said, Strong’s work has “changed the textbooks.”

Invasive Spartina crowds out native plants and helps to dry up estuaries and wetlands, creating permanent ecological changes. Among other discoveries, research by Strong and his colleagues revealed that invasive Spartina hybridizes with a native plant to create a superinvader. His work has provided the scientific basis for successful management of this pest species, now almost eliminated from San Francisco Bay, saving millions of dollars in ecological damage.

Much of Strong’s work has focused on pests and parasites that attack plants. He has developed new ways to test theories in ecology, advancing our understanding of how plants and insects interact. In honor of his careerlong research on herbivorous insects, a species of fossil beetle (Cephaloleia strongi) was named for him in a paper published in July 2000.

As the recipient of the Faculty Research Lecture Award, he will give a lecture, of course, in conjunction with a reception to be held this spring for all award recipients. Details will be announced at a later date.

Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award

This award goes to Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology. Kimsey's expertise spans a number of specialty areas including insect biodiversity, systematics and biogeography of parasitic wasps, urban entomology and arthropod-related industrial hygiene. Her colleagues refer to her fondly as “The Wasp Woman” for her expertise on aculeate wasps.

“Dr. Kimsey has made outstanding contributions to public service and education through the numerous programs she has envisioned and directed through the Bohart Museum of Entomology,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology. “She is very deserving of this prestigious award.” 

Kimsey developed the Bohart museum from a small campus collection into a thriving museum with 8 million insect specimens, available to schoolchildren, the general public and the global research community. Over the years, she has worked hard to foster an appreciation of insects by developing the museum’s offerings of open houses, workshops and lectures.

She broadly shares her knowledge of insects by consulting with international, national and state agencies. She also identifies thousands of insects every year for scientific collaborators, public agencies and the general public; and annually answers scores of questions about insects from the news media and public.

Distinguished Teaching Awards: Undergraduate

Eric Sanford, associate professor, Department of Evolution and Ecology, Bodega Marine Laboratory and Center for Population Biology — When asked to comment on his teaching, Professor Sanford’s colleagues at the Bodega Marine Laboratory and in the Department of Evolution and Ecology respond with superlatives. According to one, he is “perhaps the best instructor and mentor BML has ever experienced over its many years of in-residence courses.” His students obviously agree — he has received a perfect 5.0 instructor rating in 13 of the last 18 courses he has taught. In addition to his accomplishments in the classroom, Professor Sanford has been heavily involved with BML’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program and in the development of BML's curriculum.

Alessa Johns, professor, Department of English — Professor Johns has established herself as one of the best loved, most valued and most effective teachers currently working in the English department. Her area of specialization is 18th-century British literature. Generally speaking, this field is often something which undergraduate students approach with great dread. Despite this challenge, Professor Johns consistently connects with the students by making the language and history immediate and accessible. Throughout her evaluations, students refer to Professor Johns’ passion for the field, her warmth, her approachability, her facility in encouraging class discussion, and her unstinting efforts to encourage their development as writers and thinkers.

Nael El-Farra, associate professor, Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science — Professor El-Farra is well known for being one of the most enthusiastic, effective and dedicated faculty in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. Students know him as an expert in process dynamics and design who continuously strives to enhance student learning, improve curriculum and integrate advances in the field. One student summarizes his impact with “One of the best professors I have had in all my years in UCD. He truly understands the topic and honestly cares for the students.” As Professor El-Farra says: “Learning should not be an onerous task, but it should be exciting and challenging.”

Distinguished Teaching Awards: Graduate and Professional

Dean Tantillo, professor, Department of Chemistry — Professor Tantillo has developed new tools to make chemistry accessible to the next generation of students, disabled or otherwise. One of his Ph.D. students is blind, and, in order to make visualization of molecules a reality for the visually impaired, Professor Tantillo uses a 3-D printer to print molecular structures. The experience of having a blind student in the group facilitates other group members to see chemistry from a new perspective. They are required to describe their research without reference to visual clues, and this trains students to be unambiguous scientific thinkers and communicators. Another of Professor Tantillo’s students was profoundly deaf, and here the challenge was that all communication had to be purely visual — again forcing unambiguity and clarity. Professor Tantillo is a passionate teacher, and he treats all of his students as respectfully as he would a colleague.

Julie Dechant, associate professor of clinical equine surgery, emergency and critical care, Department of Surgical and Radiological Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine — Her faculty colleagues, residents and students regard her as an exceptional instructor with a creative and effective teaching style. Adjectives used by vet students to describe her teaching include “dedicated,” “amazing,” “enthusiastic,” “well organized,” “approachable” and “empowering.” Residents in the veterinary school appreciate her genuine contributions to their professional development and growth through her mentoring, humble demeanor, sense of humor and exceptional intellect. Her faculty peers value her leadership in redesigning curricular content and her special skills as both a didactic and clinical instructor.

Lavjay Butani, professor, Department of Pediatrics, UC Davis Health System — He exemplifies all of the qualities and remarkable accomplishments one would hope for in a clinical educator. He is an exceptional teacher who cares deeply about his students, he is a distinguish researcher in his field and he has made significant contributions to medical education. Since his appointment in 1999 to the Department of Pediatrics, he has inspired students and won the admiration of his peers. Through his valuable work and dedication, he continues to make an important impact in his field and on the lives of his students, friends and colleagues.

Academic Senate committees made recommendations for who should receive the various awards, and forwarded those recommendations to the Representative Assembly, which approved them unanimously. Dateline UC Davis prepared these write-ups from information provided by the committees.

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