Mars exploration, 20th-century politics and the preservation of trees may not appear to have much in common. But at UC Davis, where donations are supporting research and scholarship in these and other areas, they share a common element.
Each year, Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef uses a portion of UC Davis Annual Fund contributions to fund the Chancellor's Fellows awards, which recognize bright young faculty members. The campus has named 27 Chancellor's Fellows since the program began in 2000.
On Monday, this year's awardees were honored during a reception at the Chancellor's Residence. The chancellor, college deans and department chairs recognized 2003-04 recipients John Bowman, Della Davidson, Jesus De Loera, Marjorie Longo, Eric Rauchway, Mark Schwartz and Dawn Sumner.
The fellows receive $25,000 each to put toward their research, teaching and service activities. Some fund specific research projects and hire student assistants. Others produce live performances and art exhibits or present their research findings at peer conferences. Recipients also can use the title "Chancellor's Fellow" for five years.
John Bowman is recognized internationally as one of the leading experts in the field of plant development and the genes that regulate floral organs, according to Venkatesan Sundaresan, professor and chair in the section of plant biology. "It is no exaggeration to say that Dr. Bowman's appointment within this section has enhanced the reputation of UC Davis in plant biology worldwide," Sundaresan said.
An associate professor, Bowman's work has appeared in more than 40 publications, including the prestigious journals Nature, Cell and on the covers of Current Biology and Development.
Bowman earned his doctorate in biology from California Tech in 1991. He was hired at UC Davis in 1995 and has since received awards including the Beckman Young Investigators Award in 1998. He teaches the undergraduate course BIS 101, Genes and Gene Expression, and has been working with Professor Neelima Sinha to redesign the graduate level course PBI 220, Plant Development.
Associate professor of theatre and dance Della Davidson is the artistic director and driving force behind the second of two professional artist-in-residence ensembles at UC Davis -- Sideshow Physical Theatre Company. She was hired in 2001 as a nationally known choreographer, widely recognized for her work with her own San Francisco-based company, Della Davidson Dance.
Davidson has created more than 40 dance works. Successfully winning grants to support Sideshow Physical Theatre Company, she also has earned commissions for new works from dance companies around the world, as well as opera and theatre productions. She is known for engaging audiences with metaphors about the human experience, individuality and gender. As MFA adviser, she has overseen the continuing development of an interdisciplinary program that brings together design, choreography, dance and acting.
Davidson earned her master's degree in dance and theater and the visual arts from the University of Arizona in 1983.
Associate Professor Jesus De Loera earned his doctorate in mathematics from Cornell University in 1995. He was hired by UC Davis in 1998. A leading expert in the rapidly developing field of discrete mathematics, his work combines computational mathematics with aspects of algebra, geometry and combinatorics. A central focus of his work is the study of polytopes, which are multidimensional generalizations of polygons, and he has published extensively about triangulation theory. In addition, De Loera has been the lead and featured speaker at prestigious national and international conferences as well as an organizing committee member of conferences for the American Mathematical Society and others.
Student evaluations have consistently rated DeLoera as excellent. Mathematics graduate students selected him as the recipient of their 2001 award for graduate teaching, noting that not only did De Loera's name and reputation bring them to UC Davis, but also: "His door is always open…He seems genuinely interested in what the grad students are doing…He is a human being in addition to being a mathematician."
De Loera is co-principal investigator on a $3.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) involving undergraduates, graduates and postdocs -- to integrate research at all levels, increase the number of U.S. mathematics doctorates and enhance students' training.
Marjorie Longo, an associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science, has both an engineering and biology background -- enabling her to use a combination of techniques to study and predict interactions between membrane mechanics of viral infection and biomembrane materials. The combination has also made her a highly sought-after collaborator on multidisciplinary studies.
She is currently part of an interdisciplinary group that is pooling its knowledge to battle AIDS. Other applications of her work include gene therapy, new antiviral and antimicrobial drug delivery systems and new diagnostic devices.
Longo also is lead investigator or co-PI on multiple large grants, including one with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and two for the NSF. She earned a NSF Career Development Award 1998-2002 and holds the Joe and Essie Smith Professor of Chemical Engineering chair at UC Davis. Additionally, she has initiated a strong collaboration with the Materials Research Institute at LLNL and is a frequent lecturer at conferences and at universities known for their top chemical engineering programs, including Harvard, MIT and Stanford.
She earned her doctorate in chemical engineering from UC Santa Barbara in 1993. Since her appointment at UC Davis in 1996, Longo has authored 21 papers -- 10 in the last year. Meanwhile, she is consistently ranked among the top teachers in the department, which includes three recipients of the Distinguished Teaching Award.
An expert in 20th century American politics, associate professor of history Eric Rauchway came to UC Davis from Oxford University in 2001.
Rauchway earned his doctorate in history from Stanford in 1996. The author of two books, he has a third on the way.
His most recent book, Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt's America, sheds new light on the dynamics of the Progressive Era and Teddy Roosevelt's leadership strategy on politics and cultural issues of the times. It was released recently to critical praise in the Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and elsewhere. Rauchway also wrote The Refuge of Affections: Family and American Reform Politics 1900-1920.
Mark Schwartz is a plant conservation biologist best known for research concerns relating to rarity and decline in plant populations and is considered a leading researcher in the demography of endangered trees. He has studied effects of fire, climate change and diversity on invasibility with the ultimate aim to develop ecosytem management schemes that protect and enhance habitats for threatened plants.
An associate professor of environmental science and policy, he earned his doctorate in biology from Florida State University in 1990 and was hired by UC Davis in 1994.
In 1999 he received the Most Valuable Professor Award from the ecology graduate students group. He has served as principal and co-principal investigator on California Department of Parks and Recreation and CALFED grants, respectively. Also, he has headed a contract for the California Energy Commission.
Associate professor of geology Dawn Sumner was hired in 1996 after earning her doctorate in geology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1995. Sumner's research addresses the role and history of microbial processes in the early history of the Earth and other planets. She is widely recognized as an expert in microbial-mineral interactions and ancient seawater chemistry.
Students and peers have recognized Sumner for her high quality of teaching and her innovative use of interactive instructional technology in the classroom, as well as her commitment to involving undergraduates in her research program and to giving students encounters with real-world geology via frequent field trips. Recent trips have included the geologist "must visit" sites Death Valley and the Grand Canyon.
Sumner also has worked with the NASA Mars Exploration Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and serves on a NASA committee revising goals for Mars exploration. She is also developing techniques for probing the structure of rock samples with the neutron imaging facilities at UC Davis' McClellan Nuclear Radiation Center. If Martian rocks were brought back to Earth, these methods might be used to study samples for traces of life without removing them from airtight containment.
The broad impact of fellows, their fellowships
Whatever they do, the fellows make an impact in the sciences, the arts, business and technology -- not just at UC Davis but around the world. For example, the award is advancing former recipient and microbiology professor Wolf-Dietrich Heyer's research on Brca2, a tumor-suppressor protein that is defective in about half of hereditary breast cancer cases.
"We are trying to purify this protein and understand its molecular function," Heyer said. The fellowship has paid for preliminary work, generating the data he needs to apply for additional funding from the National Institutes of Health.
With her fellowship, Kim Elsbach, an associate professor of management, hired an assistant to help her study how telecommuting, office-sharing and other nontraditional workplace practices affect employee morale and operating costs. "About 25 percent of workers in such environments have trouble dealing with the lost face-time in the office and connections with their colleagues," she said.
Students sometimes benefit when their professor receives a fellows award. Rick Robins, an associate professor of psychology, used his fellowship to send doctoral student Jessica Tracy to Burkina Faso, in remote Western Africa, to conduct her dissertation research and help his study of facial expressions and nonverbal behaviors. "Scientists have proven that people from various cultures have similar ways of expressing emotions like anger, fear and happiness," Robins explained. "This research will test whether expressions of pride are universal as well."
Meanwhile, some recipients have brought cultural programs to their students and the community. Jeffrey Thomas, associate professor of music, used his award to fund performances and recordings of the nationally recognized American Bach Soloists, which he directs. He also produced a free performance of the University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra to honor victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Above all, the fellows awards are a source of pride for the faculty who receive them. "It shows the university's tremendous support and confidence in my work," Thomas said.
Alexis Raymond, senior writer in the Office of Development Communications, contributed to this story.