Friday, Aug. 25, 2017
Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao, Ph.D., marked the beginning of the academic year Wednesday by recognizing distinguished faculty. First, he delivered an unwavering message about the university’s values.
“As a research university we have to continue to be mindful of the fact that we are leading in a very challenging time,” Rao said at VCU’s Opening Faculty Address and Convocation. “In light of a lot of things that have gone on in the last week or two, I want you to know that I absolutely abhor racism. I abhor anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, sexism, genderism, ageism and religious intolerance. I will not accept these anywhere at VCU, and violence or discrimination toward others simply because of who they are is unacceptable at our institution.”
Rao’s remarks, typically congratulatory and light at the annual gathering to recognize notable faculty, were still lofty but also resolute Wednesday following the Aug. 11-12 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
“As a faculty I call on every one of us to come together to address the most challenging issue we face as human beings, and to do it together,” Rao said. “We have a vision of what the human experience needs to be, and we need to share that vision and continue to live in ways that enable us to be very strong in our commitment to realize this vision.”
Rao was not alone in using convocation as a forum to discuss community and academic values. Marcus Messner, Ph.D., one of six faculty honored at the event, came to VCU in 2007 to teach journalism. He never dreamed the field would be an institution under attack.
“I could have never imagined that reputable media organizations in this country would one day be accused of being 'crooked,' 'fake,' and ‘enemies’ of the American people,” Messner said. “I see the months and years ahead as the most challenging period for me as a journalist educator.”
Messner, honored with the Distinguished Teaching Award for his work as an associate professor at the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences, said the recognition he received Wednesday is additional motivation for him to continue educating aspiring journalists.
“When they graduate, [they will be] ready on the first day to perform in this very challenging information environment,” he said. “They will be able to seek the truth, call out the falsehoods and the lies, and report the facts so the public can make informed decisions — because without a strong fourth estate, democracy can be really severely weakened.”
Faculty recognized for service, research, scholarship
Rao and Gail Hackett, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs, presided over convocation, which honors distinguished faculty with annual awards for excellence, service, teaching and scholarship.
“These are six remarkable members of our faculty who are helping position VCU as a premier research university with a prestigious academic health center,” Rao said. “Together, we're working to help reshape higher education, and to help redefine what it means to be a research university.”
The recipients, he said, embody those efforts in many ways. Supriyo Bandyopadhyay, Ph.D., commonwealth professor in the School of Engineering, received the University Award of Excellence, which recognizes a faculty member who has performed in a superior manner in teaching, scholarly activity and service.
Bandyopadhyay, named Virginia’s Outstanding Scientist in 2016 by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, leads the Quantum Device Laboratory. His work centers on improving the speed and performance of electronic devices — and lowering their cost. The last piece is very important, Bandyopadhyay said.
“An electronic gadget means absolutely nothing if it is affordable to only a tiny fraction of the world’s population,” he said. “What has motivated, informed and guided my research is to make things cheaper in a more efficient way so they become more accessible. Science is never for the 1 percent; it is always for the 100 percent.”
Michael C. Neale, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine, received the Distinguished Scholarship Award. He has dedicated his research to making connections between how genetic, environmental and behavioral factors interact and contribute to illnesses such as substance abuse and psychiatric disorders.
Neale created an open-source computer program widely used by researchers in modeling data to determine whether genetic variants are linked to outcome variables. The program has been cited more than 3,000 times in scientific literature.
“At any point in history, it [has been] a great privilege to work as an independent scientist tackling major health and social problems facing our species and planet,” he said. “I hope these tools will be further developed by future generations of researchers.”
Therese A. Dozier, Ed.D., an associate professor in the School of Education, received the Distinguished Service Award. Dozier, director of the Center for Teacher Leadership and the Richmond Teacher Residency Program, passionately described her work to improve Richmond-area schools through teacher preparation and retention.
“This work is messy, it is difficult, and it is critical to the future of our city, our state, and our nation,” Dozier said. “There is no more important place that we can make a difference than in strengthening public education. Through the preparation and ongoing support of K-12 teachers, we do that.”
Early career and term faculty awards
VCU also recognized faculty with term faculty and early career faculty awards.
Harinder S. Dhindsa, M.D., associate professor and chief of emergency medicine in the School of Medicine, received the Outstanding Term Faculty Award, which recognizes accomplishments in the areas of teaching and service. Dhindsa, medical director for the university’s critical care transport team, emphasized Wednesday that service and teaching are not independent activities.
“They are reflective of broad, multidisciplinary activities and efforts to promote teamwork, critical thinking and accomplishments of specific goals,” he said. “I am fortunate in my various roles at VCU to work with so many eager, talented and motivated colleagues from many disciplines.”
Pramit A. Nadpara, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy, received the
Outstanding Early Career Faculty Award. His work focuses on improving treatment-related health outcomes in patients with chronic diseases and identifying and eliminating inequalities in health care.
Nadpara said he was humbled and honored to be recognized Wednesday.
“Being at the early stages of my career as an academic researcher and educator, an award like this truly confirms my strong belief that my experiences to date have led me to exactly where I should be,” he said.
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