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Mason Science celebrates faculty and staff success

On Monday, December 4, Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm joined more than 150 faculty and staff at the college’s Celebration of Success, an end of year celebration of all Mason Science faculty and staff contributions. 

As those attending the community-building activity learned, due to our collective efforts, Mason Science experienced an extremely productive and successful year. The group gathered enjoyed prize giveaways while honoring 16 specific faculty and staff for their service during the 2023 calendar year. These individuals were selected out of the more than 80 nominees. In addition to public recognition and a certificate, each recipient received $1500 as a thank you for their impactful efforts. See the full list of awards and what they represent.

In addition, the college announced a new mentoring initiative and award, created through an endowment in honor or this year's Dean's Leadership Award recipient, former college administrator, professor emeritus and Physics and Astronomy department chair, Maria Dworchecka.

Dean’s Leadership AwardMaria Dworzecka

Maria Dworzecka (June 19, 1941 – January 16, 2023), Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, was a luminary physicist, two-time chair of the department, and Senior Associate Dean, embodied brilliance and resilience. Her impact as a mentor, particularly for female physicists, prompted the creation of the Maria Dworzecka Mentorship Fund. This fund, a Collegewide initiative, is a testament to Maria's commitment to nurturing leadership and mentorship. Maria’s legacy continues to inspire and shape the future of our academic community, leaving an indelible mark on the College of Science. 

Maria Dworzecka

Dean’s Early Career Excellence AwardGeoffrey Gilleaudeau

Assistant Professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic & Earth Sciences, Geoffrey Gilleaudeau, has a research focus on the evolution of ocean-atmosphere chemistry and its effect on biological development through Earth history. Uniquely blending sedimentology, stratigraphy, geochemistry, and paleoceanography, his group uses a range of geochemical tools (elemental and isotopic) applied to marine sedimentary rocks (carbonates and mudrocks) spanning in age from Proterozoic to Holocene. With over two dozen publications and 1000+ citations, he has been active in sharing research findings with the global scientific community.
Geoff's commitment to mentoring is truly remarkable. He has successfully guided three graduate students, currently mentoring four more, and supervised over seven undergraduate research projects. Additionally, he has provided guidance to four postdoctoral fellows, resulting in a substantial body of published research and presentations at prestigious conferences. His teaching portfolio at Mason is nothing short of remarkable. His courses, spanning various academic levels, are meticulously designed and engaging, making learning an exciting journey. He's not confined to the classroom; his commitment extends to field-based education, including the annual field camp in Italy, two field trips to the Appalachians, and developing a new field trip for graduate and undergraduate students for the upcoming spring in California. Many students have become geology majors after taking his courses, a testament to his impact.


Geofrrey Gilleaudeau

Dean's Big Challenge AwardRobert Axtell

World renowned scientist and Professor in the Department of Computational and Data Science, Robert Axtell, works at the intersection of the computational, social, behavioral and economic sciences. Axtell’s paper in 2005 was the first agent-based computational model in a leading economic journal. About a decade later, another paper first demonstrated how to model whole economies at full-scale, every worker, every firm. A prolific researcher and speaker, this faculty member has organized many conferences, workshops and was the first to orchestrate a weekly virtual exchange of information during the pandemic in summer 2020 to keep program momentum going. A keynote speaker at 25 conferences, this educator also has successfully supervised 35 PhD students at Mason, with a current commitment to supervise another 15-20 which will put him among the top 250 all-time for scientists and mathematicians.

Dr. Axtell

Dean’s Emerging Leader AwardKathleen Hunt

Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology, Kathleen Hunt, has been and continues to perform exceptional and exciting research on whales, that encompasses evolution, ecology, conservation, sustainability, ecobalance, animal physiology, and contribution towards saving a very endangered species. She has had 30 publications since 2019, thus averaging at almost five per year. She has mentored 16 students, including graduate and undergraduate students. Seven of these have already successfully defended, and moved on to very successful positions nationally. Kathleen has taken her outreach internationally with her new graduate faculty appointment at the University of Sao Paulo Brazil, which allows her to bring students here and mentor students there to work with Brazil's main antivenin & vaccine institute (Butantan institute) on research relevant for human health. She also mentors two South African students at University of Praetoria, one Fulbright scholar from Argentina, and a scattering of Brazilian grad students at various places in the U.S. She also works with Native Inupiaq and Inuit communities in both Alaska & Greenland on a variety of arctic marine mammal projects - including outreach with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, inviting Native speakers to talk to Mason's marine mammalogy students. Kathleen is also involved in three societies: recently named Chair of the Division of Comparative Endocrinology for SICB, just elected as Secretary of the International Society of Wildlife Endocrinology, and served as Conservation Chair for the Society of Marine Mammalogy. She also gives talks regularly every summer at the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment. Not only does Kathleen care about these animals, but she cares about encouraging and supporting minorities in STEM, youth engagement in science and community education. 

Mason biology professor Kathleen Hunt is part of a team of researchers working to understand how whale foraging and reproduction changes over time. Photo courtesy of Northern Arizona University

Dean’s Creative Educator AwardGreta Ann Herin

Associate Professor in the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience (IPN), Greta Ann Herin, leads her lecture courses with hands-on, unique activities. She uses miracle berries for taste testing (to demonstrate taste receptors) with undergraduates and modeling clay to build mammalian brain structures in her graduate level neuroanatomy course. Over the last two years, Herin developed and refined the NEUR 328 Cellular Neuroscience lab to reinforce NEUR 327 concepts to enrich the major curriculum. She spent considerable time evaluating equipment systems to run the lab course and settled on a system that is more teaching work intensive but allows more flexibility in lab activities. One activity includes crayfish “surgery” to isolate the third nerve for action potential recording. Herin is also responsible for leading the development of the Neuroscience Research and Technology in Germany study abroad program. With help from Wendy Lewis, Herin created a two course/six credit (financial aid eligible) summer program and collaborated with Biology, Psychology, Bioengineering, and Interdisciplinary Studies departments to ensure the courses would be included in their elective curriculum.

Greta Ann Herin

Dean’s Mentorship AwardGeraldine Grant

Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Biology, Geraldine Grant, is incredibly supportive of all her department members. While continuing to maintain her own research program and teaching commitments, Geri always addresses everyone in an equal plane, professionally and respectfully, regardless of what stage of career the individual is at. She always has a patient ear for everyone and is thoroughly professional in how she tackles the concerns, problems, or issues. She is consistent in how she mentors her staff members and is always ready to give a pleasant greeting or a meaningful word of support. This ability of her to be balanced through the good and the bad, the great and the unfortunate, makes her a wonderful chair for the department. In manifesting these traits, she is a living mentor for any and all who have such a career path in their mind. 

Geraldine Grant

Dean’s Engagement Award Catherine Sausville

Director of Undergraduate Studies and Senior Instructor for the Department of Mathematical Sciences, Catherine Sausville, embodies all the true values of a Patriot, going above and beyond, serving in Mason’s Faculty Senate for several terms, and volunteering for many strategic planning committees in addition to being in charge of the department’s undergraduate committee and the extremely busy Math Testing Center. She has led numerous academic and recruitment initiatives resulting in significant improvements in the quality of mathematics education, impacting thousands of students across Mason. She is a true team player and a natural leader. She is a driving force behind most departmental recruitment and outreach events and is always eager to help her colleagues by creating promotional materials and lending them a hand with putting together major activities. Catherine is incredibly selfless with her time, energy, and ideas. Her energy, ingenuity and genuine dedication to her work, coupled with unique perspective she has as an alumna, make her an invaluable asset to the department and to the Mason Science community. 

Catherine Sausville

Dean’s Rising Star AwardKrista Knieriem

Lab Manager for the Department of Biology, Krista Knieriem, has done an exemplary job of not just fulfilling her responsibilities, but doing so with a smile, collegiality, respect, and enthusiasm. With a clear manifestation of patience, maturity, and professional attitude, she addresses issues, like lab flooding, quickly, without causing too much interference to the students to be able to do what they needed to do. Her peers and her supervisor have nothing but good things to say about her. 

Krista Knieriem

Dean’s Excellence in AJEDI AwardPritha Roy

Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Pritha Roy, has consistently demonstrated an exceptional commitment to fostering an inclusive and diverse learning environment within her classroom. She consistently creates an atmosphere where all students are welcomed and treated with respect, feel empowered to actively participate in the course, and makes it enjoyable for all (including co-instructors and learning assistants). For the CHEM321 final project, students had to research and present on a topic meaningful to their own experiences and cultural backgrounds. This allowed students to not just showcase their knowledge in chemistry, but also infuse their own cultural backgrounds into the course. Pritha is not only an advocate in the classroom, but she pushes the envelope and provides recommendations to create a more inclusive and equitable environment within the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, College of Science, and at the University.

Pritha Roy

Dean’s Creating Unity AwardNatasha Gilliam

Graphic Specialist for Marketing and Communications, Dean's Administration, Natasha Gilliam, is a shining example of how all in the College of Science should interact with one another. Serious and focused when working on projects, listening to the needs of departments and programs to ensure they're able to promote themselves and run initiatives, and kind in the way she manages tasks and works with a project's point of content.  Often juggling 10 things, many of them for newly formed ABCE initiatives, she still puts in the time to help make each effort a success. This often includes working weekends and having to do more with less, but she has always stepped up. 

Natasha is also fun, funny, and lighthearted—creating a safe and comfortable space for all. As part of the newly formed Staff Advisory Committee and the College of Science Assessment, her personality and professionalism will permeate through the college. 


Dean’s Centricity AwardRhonda Troutman

Senior Grants and Finance Analyst for the Research Administration Pre-Award Team within the Dean's Administration, Rhonda Troutman, is a key player in the pre-award proposal submission process in the College. Rhonda has played an integral role in the submission of 90+ proposals in just the year 2023 (with 100s over the past several years) to our key federal sponsors including the NIH, USAMRAA and the DoD. She works with several PIs in the college, while she routinely works with approximately 6-8 PIs who submit multiple proposals to these agencies very regularly. Approximately 13 proposals that she worked on with the PIs, to line them up for submission in the year 2023 have been successfully funded. She knows when a PI needs that little bit of additional support, which goes a long way in decreasing the workload for the PI. She is prompt, polite, very responsive, timely, and proactive. Above all, she is very consistent. When you work with Rhonda on a proposal submission, you know where you stand with the packet on day one. Rhonda is an important cog in our proposal wheel and to keep that wheel turning steadily. 

Rhonda Troutman

Dean’s Student Service AwardKeanah Turner

Undergraduate Advisor and Adjunct Faculty for the Department of Environmental Science and Policy (ESP), Keanah Turner, has created an ESP undergraduate ambassador program and recruited students, working with them to get the word out about department opportunities, faculty, and courses as well as talking to our students about what they could do after college with an environmental science degree. 

Keanah is extremely proactive, sharing ways to expand department outreach for the department, including efforts to survey the job market/businesses to understand what skills are needed and understand how businesses interpret our concentrations with the intent to see which ones are needed. She works directly with college counselors at high schools to make sure students understand the Mason Science pre-reqs before coming on campus. 

She really cares about student success and making sure students complete all requirements to graduate. Additionally, Keanah is interested in continuing her own education to become a better undergraduate advisor, attending a yearly NACADA conference (the association of professional advisors, counselors, faculty, administrators, and students) working to enhance the educational development of students. Finally, Keanah is a pleasure to work with—she has a great attitude and is a joy to have around the office. 

Keanah Turner

Dean’s Teaching Excellence AwardDavid Luther

Associate Professor for the Department of Biology, David Luther's, teaching, research, and mentorship span a wide range of topics, each of which includes some component of ecology, evolution, or conservation biology. When Tom Lovejoy passed away, David "inherited" Lovejoy's students, who, as one can imagine, would not only have been traumatized, but also faced the unknown of what was going to happen to their degrees. Not only did four such students successfully get their degrees, but thanks in part to David’s support, research was published, shared across national media, and two of them even received Fullbright Scholarships.

Luther teaches three highly enrolled undergraduate classes, all with superior levels of student satisfaction. David is grounded, polite, respectful, humble and balanced. One nominator remarked “I have seen how he approached faculty P & T procedures - he was proactive, strongly supportive, and ensured that the candidates felt that the committee had their backs!” While he does all of these departmental activities, he also maintains an exciting research program which has brought in significant funding and visibility for Mason. His research activities in the Amazon are absolutely fascinating and gives the college an opportunity to highlight its contributions towards building a better sustained, protected planet. 

Photo of Dr. David Luther

Dean’s Research Support Award Patricia Theimer

Senior Procurement Officer for the Center of Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine, Patricia "Patty" Theimer, has consistently exceeded the expectations of her role. She has provided support to not only CAPMM but to other departments and the famous ASSIP Summer Internship Program. Her extraordinary attention to detail and ability to foresee potential roadblocks have been crucial to the success of CAPMM and beyond. Patty embodies CAPMM's values and family-oriented environment. She continues to demonstrate tremendous adaptability flawlessly as we continue to navigate new systems and policies/procedures. 

She brings a wealth of knowledge and real life experiences to help guide her colleagues to be successful in their jobs and they appreciate her teamwork and collaborative nature. 

Patricia A Theimer

Dean’s Research Scientist AwardLiping Di

Professor in the Department of Geography and Geoinformation Science, and Director of the Center for Spatial Information Science and Systems (CSISS), Liping Di, is well known for his contributions to geospatial information (GI) science and the development of geospatial interoperability technology and standards in particular. His impact is monumental, with over 500 publications cited more than 10,278 times and securing over $64 million in research funding. This recognition affirms his dedication to advancing knowledge and securing a sustainable future. Di's groundbreaking contributions resonate across disciplines, reinforcing Mason Science's commitment to research excellence and innovation.

Liping Di

Dean’s Outstanding Staff Award Caitlyn Ford

Office Manager and Development Coordinator for the Dean’s Administration, Caitlyn Ford, has a personal goal to leave a positive impact on everyone she comes in contact with while working at Mason, and it shows in not only her attitude and actions, but also in the ways she strives to improve herself professionally by attending AJEDI-related trainings so that she can not only better serve the diverse community of the College, positively impacting their experience at Mason in general. In the nearly four years Caitlyn has been in the Dean's Administration, she has grown professionally and become an asset to the College in providing a positive and productive community.

Caitlyn Ford

Dean’s Impact AwardPaul So

Professor and Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Paul So, has been a remarkable and steady hand who has led the department for 6+ years. When Paul became Chair in 2016, the Physics and Astronomy department was undergoing a messy conversion from a School of Physics, Astronomy, and Computational Sciences to our present form, a challenging situation for a Chair. Political alliances and emotions ran rampant and could have led to serious damage to camaraderie in the newly formed department. Paul expertly navigated us through this process with his trademark characteristics: strong leadership, creative compromises, and a deep empathy and respect for each individual. We emerged stronger and unified in a common purpose of furthering our excellence in research and academics. Navigating through the Covid pandemic brought additional challenges. He was inundated with endless emails from our faculty and students asking questions about how to operate in this chaotic new environment. Paul’s responses were always professional and productive, and he worked hard to make sure that everyone had the resources, both technological and emotional, to succeed during this challenging period.  

He's demonstrated great empathy for faculty, staff and students alike, and always handles difficult situations with a calm and civil demeanor. Paul made time for people, perhaps not prioritizing his own research or teaching; he put the department first. While all good things must come to an end, we wanted to properly honor Paul’s contributions and impact as chair of the physics and astronomy department.

Paul So
Mason Science faculty and staff group photo