4 from UNL receive university-wide honors

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Craig Chandler | University Communications
Susan Sheridan is one of four UNL faculty to earn the University of Nebraska's 2014 university-wide honors. Other recipients from UNL are Shane Farritor, Judy Walker and Donald Weeks.

Four UNL faculty earned the University of Nebraska's most prestigious awards for research, creative activity, teaching and engagement.

Those earning the honors for UNL are Shane Farritor, professor of mechanical engineering; Susan Sheridan, professor of educational psychology; Judy Walker, professor of mathematics; and Donald Weeks, professor of biochemistry.

The university-wide awards, announced April 4, recognize faculty whose work has had a strong impact on students, the university and the state.

“Our faculty are the University of Nebraska’s greatest assets," said James B. Milliken, NU president. "We are incredibly fortunate to have faculty members on all four campuses who are dedicated to serving students and the people of Nebraska through high-quality teaching, important research and engagement with Nebraskans and their communities across the state.

“I’m delighted to have the opportunity to recognize some of the exemplary achievements of our faculty over the past year — and I want to thank all University of Nebraska faculty for their service and commitment to what they do. It’s primarily because of them that the university is in the strong position it’s in today.”

Overall, six of the honors were awarded in three categories to University of Nebraska faculty. The awards will be presented during a luncheon in April.

Farritor received the Innovation, Development and Engagement Award. The IDEA honor recognizes faculty who have extended their academic expertise beyond the boundaries of the university in ways that have enriched the broader community.

Farritor leads UNL’s Robotics and Mechatronics Lab, a research and education program focused on the innovative application of robotics technology. Working with fellow IDEA winner Dmitry Oleynikov, professor of surgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Farritor helped create miniature surgical robots that can be inserted through a tiny incision and perform minimally invasive surgery that significantly reduce the patient’s pain and recovery time. Their collaboration resulted in a new spinoff company, Virtual Incision Corp.

Farritor also leads a team of UNL engineers that devised a method of measuring railroad track integrity to identify weak spots that might compromise railway safety. To date, more than 250,000 miles of railroad track have been tested.

Both Sheridan and Weeks received the Outstanding Research and Creative Activity award. The ORCA recognizes faculty for outstanding research or creative activity of national or international significance.

Along with being a professor, Sheridan is the founding director of the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools.

She has produced dozens of research articles and scholarly books related to children’s positive adaptation, learning and development. Sheridan is dedicated to translating research to practice in order to make a difference in the lives of children and families at risk. Sheridan’s research is internationally recognized and many of her findings have been applied effectively in schools and community programs.

In all, interdisciplinary teams led by Sheridan have brought in more than $32 million in grants from federal agencies.

Weeks’ scientific contributions have earned him international stature and will have a significant impact on biological sciences, agriculture and the biofuels industry well into the future. At UNL, Weeks has served as the director of the Center for Biotechnology, growing the university’s molecular biology program at a time when it had been lagging in expertise. He also was founding director of the Nebraska EPSCoR program, which has attracted over $100 million in research and infrastructure to Nebraska campuses.

Weeks also served as chair of the Department of Biochemistry, providing leadership that grew the department into one of the university’s most prestigious.

Weeks’ research recently resulted in the major breakthrough of engineering dicamba resistance in crop plants, offering farmers a powerful new weed control option.

Walker received the Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award. The OTICA recognizes faculty who have demonstrated meritorious and sustained records of excellence and creativity in teaching.

Since coming to UNL in 1996, Walker has built a sustained record of excellence in teaching, not only in her own classroom but also across the entire department.

She is responsible for taking the lead in reviewing a general education mathematics course that had been difficult for students and faculty alike. Students’ grades in the course have improved significantly since the review, a testament to Walker's ability to explain mathematics and help students understand key concepts.

Walker also helped to spearhead the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics, which attracts hundreds of students annually and has helped change the gender distribution in the profession.

Other university-wide award winners include:

OTICA — Dawn Mollenkopf, associate professor of teacher education, University of Nebraska at Kearney

IDEA — Dmitry Oleynikov, professor of surgery and director of both the Center for Minimally Invasive Surgery and Center for Advanced Surgical Technology, UNMC.

University-wide Departmental Teaching Award (UDTA) — Department of Biology, UNK.

For more information about the awards, go to http://go.unl.edu/awu9.

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