Six Urbana campus faculty members have been recognized as University Scholars. The program recognizes excellence while helping to identify and retain the university's most talented teachers, scholars and researchers.
Now in its 22nd year, the program provides $10,000 to each scholar for each of three years to use to enhance his or her academic career. The money may be used for travel, equipment, research assistants, books or other purposes.
"The University Scholars Program, inaugurated in 1985, recognizes faculty who are nominated by their colleagues as among the very best in their fields," said Mrinalini "Meena" Chatta Rao, university vice president for academic affairs. "The University Scholar designation is not awarded for a specific project or proposal, but rather, it symbolizes the recipient's excellence and the university's commitment to foster outstanding faculty and their work."
Edward Feser, a professor of urban and regional planning, joined the faculty three years ago. "His analyses of regional economic structure are affecting policy decisions of many governments," wrote Lewis Hopkins, emeritus professor of urban and regional planning. "His methodological research has enabled other scholars and practitioners in several countries to use his methods in their research. His own experience with government agencies has positioned him for innovative work on how government organizations can influence regional economic development."
Feser also is a superb teacher to individual students, in framing courses, and in articulating curriculum, according to Hopkins.
Charles Gammie, professor of astronomy, joined the faculty in 1999. Gammie is one of the leading young theorists working in astrophysics, according to You-Hua Chu, chair of astronomy. "Professor Gammie has made pioneering contributions to understanding the structure and dynamics of accretion disks around black holes and newly formed stars," Chu said. "His focus has been on problems that require large-scale computations for solution, and he has helped formulate new approaches and algorithms to tackle long-standing, unsolved problems in astrophysics." Gammie's teaching also has been widely recognized. "He should be commended for raising the competitiveness of the next-generation physical scientists," Chu said.
Romana Nowak, professor of animal sciences, joined the faculty in 2000. Since then she has established an internationally recognized research program that focuses on understanding the mechanisms that regulate remodeling in the uterus and how dysregulation of these pathways leads to the reproductive diseases of uterine leiomyomas and endometriosis, said Neal Merchen, head of the department of animal sciences. Nowak's work is an outstanding example of basic research that is clinically relevant and goes from the bench to the bedside, Merchen said. She was awarded more than $5.3 million in research funding and has provided a broad range of services to the academic community and to governmental and professional organizations.
Catherine Prendergast, professor of English, joined the faculty in 1997. "In her teaching at Illinois, Prendergast has translated the commitments of her scholarship to social action by preparing future teachers for challenges they will face in teaching, writing and literacy in our high schools," said Martin Camargo, head of the department of English. Prendergast won four national awards including the Modern Language Association's Mina P. Shaughnessy Prize for her first book, "Literacy and Racial Justice After Brown v. Board of Education," an examination of the tangled history of literacy and racial justice in the United States. For her forthcoming book, "Buying into English: Language and Investment in the New Capitalist World," she moved her research offshore to reveal the economic and psychic toll of the worldwide chase to learn English.
Richard Sproat, professor of linguistics, joined the faculty in 2003 after 20 years in the private sector. "Richard is a world renowned first-class scholar; a serious, committed and demanding mentor of students; and a forward-looking member of the department and the university," wrote Elabbas Benmamoun, head of the department of linguistics. "He has worked tirelessly to develop the curricular and research programs in language and speech studies, which in turn has made the UI competitive for external funds and the best students in this area." Sproat has done research in many areas related to language, speech and computational linguistics. "He has been able to engage colleagues from the humanities, social sciences and engineering with a full understanding of what each discipline can contribute to the project or plan at hand," Benmamoun said. "Sproat embodies the best of the interdisciplinary spirit and first class scholarship UI is committed to encourage."
Huimin Zhao, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and chemistry is a premier researcher who continues to make profound contributions to the field of directed evolution and protein engineering, according to Deborah Leckband, the Reid T. Milner Professor of Chemistry in the School of Chemical Sciences. "Zhao's advances have numerous important applications in many domains, including, for example, biocatalyst engineering, biofuel production, therapeutic treatments for human diseases and bioremediation," Leckband said. As an independent scientist, Zhao rapidly developed and now maintains an enormously productive research program at Illinois that is centered on the directed evolution of proteins and organisms. "Students at Illinois also are the beneficiaries of Zhao's creativity and enthusiasm," Leckband wrote. "He has been a major force in the modernization of the department's curriculum through his development of biomolecular engineering courses and his key involvement in establishing a new biomolecular engineering minor."