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Researcher, educators get federation nod

By Amy Agronis on May 16, 2003 in University

A scientist who seeks to help curb obesity and diabetes, an expert in writing composition and Elvis, and an instructor who helps students read between the lines of great literature will be honored May 20 for their outstanding contributions to research and teaching.

Winner of the Academic Federation Award for Excellence in Research, Peter Havel, and recipients of 2003 Academic Federation awards for Excellence in Teaching, Donald Johns and Donna Reed, will be recognized during a 5-7 p.m. reception in the Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center. Each will receive a $500 award for their contributions.

The awards recognize non-ladder-rank faculty members for their contribution to the research and educational missions of UC.

The research prize honors work that plays an important role in enhancing the campus's research reputation. Teaching awards honor demonstrated classroom excellence by lecturers, including use of innovative teaching techniques and ability to stimulate critical and independent thinking in students. Awardees also are honored for their commitment to student advising.

Peter Havel

Peter Havel is internationally known for his multidisciplinary research in understanding the metabolic and hormonal pathways involved in body-weight regulation and in the pathophysiology of obesity and diabetes. His recent research investigates endocrine, metabolic and dietary factors that regulate the production of leptin and other hormones produced by fat cells that play a critical role in regulating food intake, energy expenditure, fuel metabolism and body weight.

The research associate professor of nutrition graduated in 1988 from the University of Washington with a bachelor's degree in zoology. In 1994, he earned doctorates in veterinary medicine and endocrinology at UC Davis.

After teaching endocrine and gastrointestinal physiology in the School of Veterinary Medicine for two years, he took a research faculty post in nutrition in 1995. Initially focused on the neural control of pancreatic hormone secretion, Havel extended his research into body-weight regulation and obesity.

His lab has been investigating the role of molecular and biochemical mechanisms in regulating leptin and was the first to demonstrate that leptin production in fat cells is regulated by glucose metabolism. The lab also found that higher leptin levels in women compared to men cannot be solely explained by their higher proportion of body fat and that other major gender differences exist in the endocrine regulation of energy metabolism.

Havel's continuing research could definitively link fructose consumption to obesity and type-2 diabetes and further underscore the role of diet in controlling obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

"His work is recognized for its innovation and its meticulous execution," nomination materials said. Colleagues also said they admire Havel's exceptional publication record. During the past five years, he has published 16 book chapters and review articles and 45 peer-reviewed articles that have appeared in major journals including the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Diabetes.

The significance of his work is further reflected in his more than 2,000 citations in scientific literature. Havel has supported his research almost exclusively via extramural funding from sources including the National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association.

Donald Johns

Donald Johns says he is happiest when "my teaching style goes unnoticed, much as the style of effective writers rarely calls attention to itself." Meanwhile, letters from undergraduates, alumni, graduate students and colleagues say Johns' teaching definitely deserves to be noticed.

Whether teaching developmental writers or graduate student instructors or in courses or consultations, Johns is consistently described as a "challenging," "caring" and "inspiring" teacher and a wise and thoughtful mentor.

He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in literature from San Francisco State College and received his doctorate in English and American literature from UC San Diego in 1982.

A lecturer with UC Davis' composition program since 1983, his courses have included first-year expository writing through advanced composition; writing in the professions, including law and education; American literature; Scottish literature and culture; and freshman seminars focusing on the legacies of Elvis Presley. He also has taught graduate courses in composition theory and pedagogy.

Currently the assistant director of composition for lower-division courses, he also mentors instructors -- observing their teaching and offering advice, conferring about classroom problems or cases of plagiarism, and presenting effective-teaching workshops.

Johns earns consistently high student evaluations. He has been recognized for building confidence by challenging, encouraging and offering detailed constructive suggestions, while respecting students as they analyze problems and articulate their understanding. His "laid back" style, "down to earth" perspective and sense of humor create a comfortable learning en-vironment and facilitate provocative discussions, students said. One student noted, "He is dedicated, enthusiastic, and takes the time to know his students as individuals."

"First and foremost," Johns said, "I ask myself what, with the opportunity I have here, can I do to help this student before me now."

Johns also volunteers in the ccommunity -- tutoring, mentoring tutors and serving on a literacy council. He maintains an active writing life, publishing literary articles, reviews, editorials and essays on topics ranging from golf and family camping to literacy, confronting stereotypes and bilingual education.

Donna Reed

In her 22 years teaching at UC Davis students, Donna Reed says she has "sought every means possible to engage both their hearts and their minds."

She seems to have succeeded. Her students and teaching assistants have said that Reed "brings literature to life, in the most vivid sense, engaging the imagination and nurturing that part of a student's mind that loves learning simply for its own sake."

While a graduate student at Harvard, Reed began her teaching career instructing elementary German. Even in basic language classes she tried to center around the students' interests -- resisting the more common role of drill sergeant, she said. Later, as an assistant and associate professor of German at the University of the Pacific, her broad interests spurred her to develop courses in comparative literature and women's studies. Her book The Novel and the Nazi Past was published in 1985; and she has published regularly in the major journal Comparative Literature.

Reed began teaching in UC Davis' Comparative Literature Program in 1981 and has been the "backbone" of the lower-division program, says Professor Brenda Schildgen. "It is hard to imagine how the undergraduate program could have thrived as it has without her committed and constant work," Schildgen said.

Reed has taught courses including the literature and composition Great Books series, large enrollment lower-division courses in fairy tales and fables and fantasy, upper-division courses in women's literature and graduate courses in pedagogy.

Students have said that her intense conversations with them have inspired them to become more active participants in learning. Even in her courses of 150 students, she strives to "convert the large lecture hall into a small classroom community," students said.

Reed's teaching assistants said they admire her attention to students' needs during her lectures. The noted: "She patiently challenges students to make increasingly critical arguments and draw ever more sophisticated connections among the materials. She is able to quickly gauge student comprehension and adjust the pitch of her arguments as each class unfolds, tailoring the information to the level of student understanding."

A teaching assistant wrote: "Donna's approaches to teaching exemplify the principle that the student who is taken seriously will take learning seriously."

Media contact(s)

Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,