Each year the UC Davis Academic Senate looks within its ranks to recognize “distinguished” work, while the Academic Federation gives awards of “excellence.” Today, we present this year’s recipients of the senate's Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Awards and Distinguished Teaching Awards, as well as the Faculty Research Lecture Award; and the federation’s Excellence in Teaching and Excellence in Research awards.
Faculty Research Lecture Award
The Academic Senate’s highest honor goes to Peter Wainwright, professor, Department of Evolution and Ecology, and the Center for Population Biology — an extraordinary, world-class scientist with a global influence; deeply appreciated by his peers and the many undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral researchers he has mentored and is mentoring.
His research focuses on elucidating the principles of functional morphology, using fish skulls as his primary model. Fish diversity is especially obvious in their feeding strategies and associated skeletal morphology, and Professor Wainwright has done more than anyone else in the world to illuminate both how fish feeding structures work and how they evolve.
“Wrasses, Cichlids and Honeycreepers: Will the Real Adaptive Radiation Please Stand” — topic of Professor Wainwright's Faculty Research Lecture
His research is unique in its breadth and depth. He is uniquely creative in integrating mechanistic and comparative approaches, from applied physics and engineering to phylogenetic analysis and ecology, and he is a technological innovator who creatively employs cutting-edge statistical comparative methods to synthesize functional and ecological data to elucidate the forces driving animal diversification and the organization of marine communities.
His work has led to major conceptual breakthroughs concerning the role of morphological innovation in promoting diversity. His work has had far-reaching impact beyond biomechanics or the group of animals he studies, and has shaped much of our current understanding of the interplay between morphological innovations and environmental context in shaping evolution and biodiversity.
Professor Wainwright’s publication record attests to a far wider variety of topics, approaches and model systems than simply the area of functional morphology. Prominent scientists from national and international institutions emphasize his integrative abilities and achievements. A prominent colleague is quoted as saying, “What I find most impressive about Wainwright’s research program is that it is interdisciplinary, and yet each aspect of his work is done with the depth and rigor of scientists working in only one field.”
Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Awards
Christine Kreuder Johnson, professor, Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine — Professor Johnson has been a leader in working closely with state and federal agencies to provide evidence to support decision making for challenging environmental issues. To inform on the impacts of lead on California’s wildlife, including the critically endangered California condor, she fought for science-based decision making together with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Parks Service, and other organizations charged with protecting California wildlife. Professor Johnson modeled exemplary leadership in investigating the impacts of lead-based ammunition used to shoot wildlife. In the face of opposition from special interest groups, she provided expert testimony and shared data on the evidence of harm posed to wild animals that feed on hunted carcasses. Ultimately, scientific evidence prevailed with the passing of Assembly Bill 711 into law in 2013, banning the use of lead ammunition for all wildlife shooting purposes in California.
Frank Zalom, distinguished professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology — Professor Zalom has been an outstanding leader in state, national and international organizations focused on integrated pest management (IPM). As president of the 7,000-member Entomological Society of America, he pioneered initiatives aimed at identifying sustainable solutions for some of the world’s most important insect-based problems. He co-chaired the Summit on the Aedes aegypti Crisis in the Americas that brought together more than 70 researchers, public health officials, entomologists and government agencies to identify steps to control the yellow mosquito that can carry dengue fever and Zika fever viruses. He also organized and co-chaired with the presidents of four other entomological societies from around the world the first ever International Entomology Leadership Summit spanning two days within the 2016 International Congress of Entomology meeting intended to identify how entomologists worldwide can collaborate to make unique and powerful contributions to improve the human condition. Professor Zalom is also known for his leadership in the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities IPM Committee, for being a founding member of the nonprofit organization IPM Voice, and for serving on the Board of Counselors and as past president of the Entomological Foundation.
Nolan Zane, professor, Departments of Psychology and Asian American Studies — For more than 30 years, Professor Zane has supported community-based organizations (CBOs) that serve ethnic minority communities. His technical assistance and grant writing has resulted in millions of dollars for CBO initiatives, such as his work in writing a contract bid for $6 million to fund mental health care at the largest Asian American mental health care agency in Los Angeles. Moreover, Professor Zane has testified or consulted on the mental health issues of ethnic minority communities for the Presidential Task Force on Evidence-Based Psychological Practice, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the California Legislature, and other nonprofit organizations that serve minority communities.
Distinguished Teaching Awards: Undergraduate
Hussain Al-Asaad, associate professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering — It is a standard feature of teaching evaluations that students will attest to the instructor’s mastery of subject matter. Rarely do evaluations express heartfelt affection for the instructor coupled with genuine admiration for pedagogical style. In nominating Professor Al-Asaad for the Undergraduate Distinguished Teaching Award, five students give testament to all three. They note Professor Al-Asaad’s rich use of examples, often drawn on contemporary culture familiar to his students, to make tangible the abstract concepts essential to required courses. Students write of Professor Al-Asaad’s “friendly and kind nature,” of his dedication to “inspiring students to find their passion,” and his commitment to resolving the questions of each student. A colleague attests to his ability to deliver “superb” lectures.
Matthew Stratton, associate professor, Department of English — He administers the undergraduate program in his department and, in his own teaching, exemplifies the best qualities of UC Davis faculty, with one student describing him as “the epitome of what any youth entering college hopes to find: a professor who pushes you to challenge your assumptions about the world around you, exposes you to new ways of thinking critically and coherently, and motivates you to do original and high quality work.” A passionate and rigorous teacher, Stratton has earned outstanding evaluations from students in introductory and advanced courses alike.
Dirk Van Vuren, professor, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology — Professor Van Vuren uses simple and diverse techniques to convey complicated information in a conversational, engaging manner. Students who have taken his classes consider him to be a captivating lecturer who shows a genuine interest in their grasp of the knowledge as well as their personal growth as future scientists. Whether learning takes place in the classroom, the office, or in the field, Professor Van Vuren’s students and colleagues all rave about his linear style of communicating, his humble demeanor, his ability to tell a compelling story and his innate wisdom.
Distinguished Teaching Awards: Graduate and Professional
John Richards, professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, School of Medicine — His colleagues in the Department of Emergency Medicine use superlatives to describe his teaching and mentoring. One writes that “quite frankly, he is the best (educator) I have ever known” and “when I hear Dr. Richards teach, I am captivated — and often learn something myself.” His students are no less effusive; according to one, “He is one of the most unique, dedicated and effective clinician-educators in our university.” Another notes his “unique ability to have full awareness of the 20-plus patients in his section — many of whom are critically ill — while giving his residents the autonomy and independence to learn by doing.”
William Vernau, professor, Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, School of Veterinary Medicine — Professor Vernau is regarded as dynamic, knowledgeable and approachable. He sets clear expectations for his courses, designs learning experiences to facilitate student understanding, and is recognized for his reflective and flexible style encouraging dialogue and feedback from students. He is also recognized for his contributions to curricular development and efforts in developing better methods for peer evaluation of teaching. He has demonstrated the capability to teach in all sorts of venues — large national continuing education events and workshops, didactic professional teaching, clinical teaching of residents, and faculty mentoring.
Colin Milburn, professor, Gary Snyder Chair in Science and the Humanities — Professor Milburn has wide-ranging interests — as you can tell from his faculty positions in the Departments of English, and Cinema and Digital Media; and in Science and Technology Studies. His work focuses on the relations of literature, science and technology. Professor Milburn’s courses, covering subjects as diverse as video games, cyberpunk culture, the history of science and Jacques Lacan’s contributions to critical theory, received accolades from students and colleagues. “I wish I could just keep taking this course forever,” one student wrote. In addition to teaching, Professor Milburn has served on 34 dissertation committees and is director of the ModLab, an experimental laboratory for media research and digital humanities.
Excellence in Teaching
Marguerite “Maggie” Knipe, assistant health sciences clinical professor, neurology and neurosurgery, School of Veterinary Medicine — Dr. Knipe is a gifted teacher not only in helping students understand complex subjects, but in her ability to make learning fun and to make every student feel supported in their learning. Her nominator stressed her role in the School of Veterinary Medicine’s new system of presenting curriculum in integrated blocks of material built around body systems with normal and abnormal taught together. The aim is to promote learners who are independent and who possess problem solving, clinical reasoning and lifelong learning skills. “While it might have been more appropriate for a senior faculty in a professorial appointment to step up as a new block leader, it was in fact Dr. Knipe who singularly led the neuroscience component of this block for the first three years,” he nominator wrote. “In summary, Dr. Knipe is a talented didactic and clinical instructor who stepped outside her expected role of clinical teaching to embrace a different style of teaching and to commit to helping students take responsibility for their learning. In addition, she serves as an excellent mentor and role model for veterinary professional students and residents.”
Excellence in Research
Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr, extension specialist, Department of Nutrition — She is being recognized for a record of accomplishment in nutrition education and obesity prevention programs, backed by research and published papers. “Nutrition to Grow On,” for example, used throughout the state today, introduces children to different foods, and how they are grown and produced. Dr. Zidenberg-Cherr is a leader in the use of school gardens to teach nutrition and as a means for introducing children to novel fruits and vegetables. Most recently her group has been responsible for spearheading a new research/educational program entitled “Shaping Healthy Choices.” This effort is a school-based, multicomponent intervention program aimed at reducing the incidence of childhood obesity. This successful program has now been adopted for use by the UC CalFresh program in a number of counties around the state, providing broad reach to many low-income and underserved children and families.