LAURELS: Honoring Excellence in Mentoring

Assistant Professor Gwen Arnold, flanked by some of her students, in a line facing the camera, with Doug the Dog next to Gwen
Gwen Arnold and some of the students she mentors are pictured at a thank-you lunch she hosted last spring quarter. “I can never gather more than half of them at any given time, but I try every so often,” Arnold says. Pictured, from left: undergraduates Tatjana Kunz, Joy Jia and Emily Radusovsky; Arnold and her dog, Doug; Megan Foster, Ph.D. student, Graduate Group in Geography; and undergraduates Daniela Turner, Jessica Barrett and Mackenzie Johnson.

Quick Summary

  • Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research
  • Dan Sperling to receive U.S. Transportation Research Board’s Roy W. Crum Award
  • New fellows: Michael Hill, American Society of Mechanical Engineers; and J. Kent Leach, Biomedical Engineering Society
  • Nelson Max elected as inaugural member of academy recognizing achievement in computer graphics and interactive technique
  • Sonja Colbert, business and technology executive officer in OCP, receives UC Leadership Impact Award

Before we start the new academic year, we’d like to finish up with some honors from last year — the chancellor’s awards to faculty members, graduate students and postdocs for excellence in mentoring undergraduate research.

“One of the attractive features of UC Davis that draws many bright students our way is the opportunity to conduct research as an undergraduate,” May said. He noted a “truly exceptional” number of 40 percent of undergraduates’ participating in hands-on research under mentorship of professors —  a level, he said, that far exceeds that of most other universities, where student research is largely confined to those pursuing graduate degrees.

“To the faculty members, graduate students and post-doctoral researchers who guide our students in the rigors of scholarly research, I offer my deepest appreciation for your vision, your patience and your stewardship of these fine young minds.”

The award recipients are listed here with excerpts from nomination materials as well as Chancellor May’s remarks.

First, the faculty award category:

Gwen Arnold mugshot
  • Gwen Arnold, assistant professor, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences — Two of her undergraduates and five of her doctoral students wrote in their letter of nomination, “She provides more thorough feedback on students’ work that any other professor. She harnesses each student’s abilities in their internships. She provides students with opportunities to build the skillsets they wish to have. She does not try to mold students in her image, but rather tries to help them achieve their own goals.”
Neil Hunter mugshot
  • Neil Hunter, professor, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, College of Biological Sciences; and Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy, School of Medicine — His research group currently includes an astounding 53 undergraduate students. Many of them have had their work published in high-profile journals, giving them a big edge in applying to graduate and professional schools. In fact, a large percentage of these young authors have gone onto medical schools, Ph.D. programs and the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

Now, the graduate student-postdoc category:

  • Julie Luu, postdoctoral researcher, Center for Neuroscience, College of Biological Sciences — She’s praised for her efforts to promote diversity in undergraduate research in science and technology, and is also known for her talents in helping undergraduates develop their scientific independence — learning how to independently perform experiments, analyze their results and think of follow-up tests.
  • Chris Nosala, doctoral student, Microbiology Graduate Group — Strong promoter of women in STEM and also known as a confidence builder. “His determination and selflessness in mentoring me has allowed me to grow and gain confidence as an undergraduate scientist, and, consequently, over time, I have been able to take on more independent projects,” Kelci Jones wrote in her nomination.

See who won the Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Research.  

Dan Sperling, founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, will receive the U.S. Transportation Research Board’s Roy W. Crum Award in January.

Dan Sperling mugshot

The board is one of seven program units of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which provides independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation. The Crum award, named after a former board chair, honors outstanding leadership in transportation research or research administration.

Sperling, distinguished professor of civil engineering, and environmental science and policy, is recognized for his achievements in transportation research in the areas of energy, air quality, climate change and policy, as well as for the achievements of the many students he has mentored.

The award is due to be presented during the board’s 98th annual meeting, scheduled for January in Washington, D.C.

Congratulations two new fellows:

  • Michael Hill, professor, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering — American Society of Mechanical Engineers, recognizing Hill for his work on residual stress measurement.
  • J. Kent Leach, professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering — Biomedical Engineering Society, which accords fellow status to members for exceptional achievement and experience in the field and who hold a record of membership and participation in the society.

The Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Technique, or ACM SISGRAPH, has a new “academy,” and UC Davis’ Nelson Max is among the newly elected inaugural members.

Academy membership highlights researchers, practitioners, technologists, artists, designers and educators who are having a direct impact on the field of computer graphics and interactive techniques.

ACM SISGRAPH cited Max “for pioneering work in scientific visualization, for deep technical contributions, and for generous encouragement and simulation of ideas and intellectual exchange.”

Sonja Colbert, executive officer of Business and Technology Services in the Offices of the Chancellor and Provost, recently received the UC Leadership Impact Award during the second annual UC People Management Conference.

Sonja Colbert at meeting, with Chancellor May at podium, in the background
Chancellor May puts the spotlight on Colbert at all-OCP meeting. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Chancellor Gary S. May noted the award in his remarks at an all-OCP meeting Aug. 27. “I would like to throw a spotlight on a very friendly and familiar face in the OCP family,” he said.

“Sonja was singled out as an exemplary leader who day-in and day-out manifests the UC principles of diversity, inclusion and engagement,” the chancellor said before asking Colbert to stand up — upon which she received rousing applause.

“I appreciate the personal recognition,” Colbert told Dateline UC Davis. “However, I am accepting this systemwide Leadership Impact Award on behalf of UC Davis, which has exceptional leaders who ‘boldly go’ and make an impact everyday.”

She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from California State University, Sacramento, and earned an MBA from the UC Davis Graduate School of Management in 2006. She became a UC Davis employee that same year, after having worked as a finance executive in the telecom industry.

In making the move to education, she carried on a family legacy — having a grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins who worked in the field. She proudly noted her great-great-aunt Fannie C. Williams, who in 1946 had a girls dormitory named after her at Dillard University (New Orleans), honoring her work at Dillard and in education in general, and who more recently had a charter school named after her in New Orleans.

Colbert has been with the Offices of the Chancellor and Provost since 2013, overseeing the team responsible for finance, human resources, information technology and business support for the units within OCP. She worked previously in Accounting and Finance Services, Information and Educational Technology, and the Shared Services Center.

Dateline UC Davis welcomes news of faculty and staff awards, for publication in Laurels. Send information to

Follow Dateline UC Davis on Twitter.

Media Resources

Dateline Staff, 530-752-6556,

Primary Category