A trio of University of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty have earned the University of Nebraska system’s most prestigious awards for research, creative activity, teaching and engagement.
Those earning the President’s Excellence Awards are Ed Cahoon, Holmes University Professor of biochemistry and director of the Center for Plant Science Innovation; Jody Koenig Kellas, professor of communication studies and co-director of the Peer Review of Teaching Project; and Walter Stroup, professor of statistics.
Announced Feb. 28, the awards recognize faculty across the NU system whose work has had a strong impact on students, university and state.
“The University of Nebraska exists to transform lives and communities. Our faculty, who are among the best in the world at what they do, carry out that mission every day in classrooms, labs and fields across our state,” Carter said. “It’s an honor to serve among such talented and dedicated colleagues and to celebrate their work and impact.
“I thank these faculty for all they do for our 51,000 students and people in our state and around the world.”
A combined five honors were awarded in three categories.
Kellas and Stroup each received an Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award. The OTICA recognizes individual faculty who have demonstrated meritorious and sustained records of excellence and creativity in teaching.
Cahoon received an Outstanding Research and Creative Activity honor. The ORCA recognizes faculty for outstanding research or creative activity of national or international significance.
The other two honors — both Innovation, Development and Engagement Awards — were earned by Armando De Alba Rosales, assistant professor of public health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center; and Sajda Qureshi, professor of information systems and quantitative analysis at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
The awards — selected by an NU-systemwide committee of faculty and community members — will be formally presented at a luncheon in the spring. Biographies for the three Huskers who earned individual 2020 President’s Excellence Awards are below.
Outstanding Research and Creative Activity award
Cahoon is one of the university’s most productive and highly regarded faculty members, having significantly advanced scientific knowledge locally and globally in addition to his service as a mentor to countless students and early-career scientists.
Cahoon’s research is aimed at enhancing the nutritional and industrial value of crop plants, helping to feed the world’s growing population. At the time of his nomination, Cahoon had published 128 papers, was an inventor or co-inventor on 34 U.S.-issued patents, and had garnered more than $35 million in grants and contracts.
Notably, Cahoon led the effort to secure a $20 million National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant to establish the Center for Root and Rhizobiome Innovation, a multidisciplinary effort that will expand Nebraska’s research capacity and competitiveness. Similarly, his leadership since 2010 of the Center for Plant Science Innovation has not only positioned the center as a cornerstone of plant biology research at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, but has also become a magnet for new faculty talent to the state.
“Ed would be a preeminent faculty member at any institution in the world,” said Bob Wilhelm, vice chancellor for research and economic development.
Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award
Kellas’ teaching is guided by the philosophy that the quality of a person’s communication is linked to the quality of their life. She works to help students become tolerant, mindful, discerning and compassionate communicators in an increasingly complex and global world.
Kellas uses one-on-one interviews, lectures and discussions, active applications of material, and other strategies in her courses to enhance students’ learning. She asks for feedback mid-semester so she can make changes to improve her students’ experience, reflecting the link between the quality of teaching and the quality of learning. She also redesigns courses every time she teaches them, incorporating student input and her own assessments to continually improve teaching and learning.
Kellas has made a significant impact on her department’s curriculum, having designed a dozen undergraduate and graduate courses. She has provided key leadership in the area of health communications, which has grown more popular during her tenure.
Kellas’ evaluation scores from students are exceptionally high, with many commenting that she is the “best professor” they’ve had or that her courses were “life-changing.”
A colleague of Stroup’s once told him, “I focus on the topics to be taught — your focus is on the students you are teaching.” It was a high compliment for Stroup, a member of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty since 1979, whose guiding principle is to ask himself what his students need and what he can do to help them get there.
Stroup teaches both students who aim to be professional statisticians and students who will need to use statistics as a tool in their own fields, helping make statistics accessible for those within and outside of the discipline. Outside the classroom, he consults with individuals who need help with statistical design and analysis, serving as a “teacher” in a different way.
He involves graduate students in the process, giving them real-world experience to help prepare them for their own careers. Stroup also designed a class project that pairs non-statistics majors in consumer disciplines with statistics graduate students, having them role-play as researcher and consultant.
Students report that the “dress rehearsal” experience is the most valuable part of the course and helps build their confidence in applying statistics techniques to their work.