Five LAS faculty receive donor-funded awards

Five faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) have received awards that recognize their excellence in research and their leadership and service in their fields. The awards are made possible through special donor support.

“The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is fortunate to have generous alumni and friends who understand the critical role that superb faculty play for the reputation of the college and the success of our students,” said Beate Schmittmann, dean of the college.

Dean’s Emerging Faculty Leaders Awards

Three faculty members received Dean’s Emerging Faculty Leaders Awards: Matt Hufford, assistant professor in ecology, evolution and organismal biology; Michael Young, assistant professor in mathematics; and Kathleen Hilliard, associate professor of history.

The Dean’s Emerging Faculty Leaders Awards are funded by generous donations from members of the LAS Dean’s Advisory Council as well as LAS alumni to recognize early to mid-career LAS faculty members who are rising stars in their fields and are respected leaders on campus, across the nation and throughout the world.

Hufford was selected based on his research in plant biology, specifically the evolution and ecology of crops and their wild relatives, as well as his strong contributions to teaching and service. Hufford focuses especially on the evolution of maize and teosinte. Recently he received two collaborative grants from the NSF Plant Genome Research Program to map the genomes of 26 lines of corn and to evaluate the genetic basis of high elevation adaptation in corn. The research into corn genetics may uncover a wider diversity of genes for plant breeders and could lead to corn varieties with better yields and stress resistance.

Young was selected based on his research and his significant impact on diversity in the mathematics field. Young worked collaboratively on DEBT-M (Designing for Equity by Thinking in and about Mathematics), an NSF-funded project to improve the learning environment for students of color in the Pittsburgh Public School District. He also started a second NSF-funded project, Building on Strengths, to develop the Mathematician Affiliates of Color Network. The network will be a nationwide network of professionals and academics in mathematics who will serve as mentors to middle and high school students and work with teachers in local school districts to prepare underrepresented students for college mathematics courses. Young will also help all students who need extra support transitioning into graduate school in mathematics as the director of a new postbaccalaureate program in mathematics at Iowa State that will launch this fall. The one-year certificate program, co-developed by Young, will provide additional preparation and an alternative transitional experience from undergraduate study into graduate school in mathematics.

Hilliard was selected for her research on the informal economy during and after the Civil War. Her forthcoming book, “Bonds Burst Asunder: The Revolutionary Politics of Getting by in Civil War and Emancipation, 1860-1867” explores how capitalism and democracy emerged and were contested after the civil war in the south. The book has a special focus on how the everyday decisions of ordinary men and women striving to get by resulted in a transformation of political and economic structure. The research gives insight into the potential payoffs of local reform, the origins of entrepreneurship, and the dynamics of grassroots democracy.

Cassling Innovation Award

Javier Vela, associate professor chemistry, received the Cassling Innovation Award. Established through funds donated by Randal S. and Lori S. Cassling, the award recognizes an outstanding LAS faculty member and supports the expansion on an innovative idea or concept.

Vela was selected based on his highly innovative work on the synthesis and evaluation of nanomaterials for applications in energy conversion and storage, catalysis and imaging technologies.

The award will support the development of two new projects. The first will pursue new materials made of Earth abundant and biocompatible elements for thermoelectric, photovoltaic and battery applications. The other project will work on removing nitrate from water using Earth abundant and biocompatible catalysts, important for land use to reduce nitrate in surface waters.

Trapp Innovation Award

Alan Wanamaker, associate professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, received the Trapp Innovation Award. Established through funds donated by Onnolee U. Trapp and Orlin D. Trapp, the award recognizes a promising researcher in the physical sciences and provides funds for pursuing a new or unusual idea or initiative.

Wanamaker received the award for his highly innovative work developing new geochemical tools and proxy records for paleoclimatic applications.

Wanamaker studies the geochemical and growth histories from clams, corals, and other species to document and interpret ocean climate and global change. The award will allow him to pursue new research problems to obtain initial data. One such project will be to travel and install environmental monitoring instruments in a series of caves in the Andes Mountains in Columbia in order to study the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) dynamics during the last 11,000 years through studying the geochemical signatures in stalagmites. A better understanding of the ENSO system in the past will help climate modelers develop more accurate predictions of ENSO behavior in the future.