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Outstanding Research Award recipients

Twenty-two USF faculty members recognized with Outstanding Research Achievement Awards

TAMPA, Fla. - From improving water quality to advancing mental health care, to pursuing new treatments for Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease, 22 USF faculty members are being recognized next month with Faculty Outstanding Research Achievement Awards. The recipients’ research accomplishments span a variety of fields across biology, business, communication, education, engineering, medicine, psychology and public health.

“The faculty being recognized with these awards have demonstrated extraordinary success in their research and scholarly endeavors," said USF Research & Innovation Interim Vice President Sylvia Thomas. "We honor them for creating and deploying transformative knowledge, solutions and innovations that address important challenges locally, nationally and globally.”

The largest internal recognition of its kind at USF, the annual nominations are submitted by deans, department chairs, center and institute directors, and associate deans for research. The nominations are reviewed by members of the USF Research Council. Each faculty member receives $2,000 and recognition for their accomplishments at an awards ceremony on September 12.

This year’s awardees are:

Norma Alcantar
Norma A. Alcantar, Professor and Associate Dean for Research
Chemical, Biological, and Materials Engineering, College of Engineering

For outstanding contributions in providing drinking water for low-income communities and contributions to disrupting amyloid fibril formation in Alzheimer’s Research

Norma A. Alcantar is a global pioneer in developing innovative, natural technologies for environmental, medical and industrial applications, including improving access to clean drinking water, oil spill cleanup and cancer tumor cell treatment. She received several prestigious honors in 2022. She was inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame, was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. Alcantar was elected honorary fellow of the International Society for Energy, Environment and Sustainability, and elected as the chair-elect of the Biomedical Engineering Society Organizations Leading Diversity committee. As a dedicated educator, Alcantar has also developed numerous graduate certificates in the College of Engineering.  She is the co-founder and director of the interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Water, Health and Sustainability and the director of the Graduate Certificate in Materials Science and Engineering.

Faizan Ali
Faizan Ali, Associate Professor
School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Muma College of Business, USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus

For distinguished contributions to the field of hospitality and tourism management, particularly for developments in recent research methodologies for consumer behavior and human-computer interaction in hospitality and tourism industry

Faizan Ali is an associate professor in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and a renowned expert in recent research methodologies for consumer behavior and human-computer interaction in hospitality and tourism industry. A scholar, teacher and mentor, Ali was ranked in the top two percent of scientists world-wide and declared as a Highly Cited Researcher for 2022 by Clarivate Analytics. He has published 20 research papers and an invited book chapter. He also presented at three conferences and received 2,449 citations. In 2022, he received four internal and external research grants. Ali also serves as a coordinating editor and associate editor for International Journal of Hospitality Management and International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management – the top two journals in the field of hospitality management.

Mauricio Arias
Mauricio Arias, Associate Professor
Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering

For impactful contributions to the field of environmental and water resources engineering, particularly in watershed sustainability and the interplay among climate, infrastructure and water ecosystems

Mauricios Arias is an ecological engineer who studies water resources sustainability in Florida, Southeast Asia and South America. His expertise and interest relate to watershed-scale interactions among climate, infrastructure and water ecosystems in the tropics and sub-tropics. In 2022, he published 11 articles in peer-reviewed journals, including high-impact publications such as Science, Nature Sustainability and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He secured $3.1 million in new funding last year, while continuing to be the PI or co-PI on five projects for a total of $2 million in research funds from a range of sources including the National Academy of Sciences, NASA, US Army Corps of Engineers, US Environmental Protection Agency and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Arias also served as representative of the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, an associate editor in the Journal of Ecological Engineering Design and chair of the 2023 Annual Meeting of the American Ecological Engineering Society.

Jerome Breslin
Jerome W. Breslin, Professor
Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine

For distinguished contributions to the study of microcirculatory physiology with fundamental relevance to alcoholism, shock and cardiovascular diseases

Jerome Breslin's research focuses on the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying microvascular hyperpermeability and lymphatic clearance of edematous fluid. In 2022, he was awarded four new competitive, peer-reviewed grants: 1) a 5-year NIH R35 grant studying microvascular leakage in hemorrhagic shock and trauma; 2) an NIH R21 grant investigating human resistance artery functional changes with alcohol use; 3) an NIH R56 focused on lymphatic dysfunction associated with obesity and metabolic syndrome; and 4) a competitive renewal of the American Heart Association grant that supports the USF Cardiovascular Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program. Breslin's 2022 grant funding totaled $3,008,932. He is also co-investigator on two other NIH R01 grants related to cardiovascular disease. He published three new papers and a book chapter pertaining to this work in 2022 and served as president of the Microcirculatory Society for a two-year term from 2021-2023.

Thomas Casale
Thomas B. Casale, Professor
Internal Medicine, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine

For distinguished contributions to the field of medicine, especially in allergy and immunology research, and demonstration of the utility of biologic therapies for the treatment of allergic and respiratory diseases

Dr. Thomas Casale has served as the director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the Joy McCann Culverhouse Clinical Research Center for the past ten years. There he oversaw multiple clinical research projects, many of which he either designed or helped design, funded by a variety of sources including the Immune Tolerance Network, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Reserach Institute, and industry-sponsored funding. He published 28 papers in peer-reviewed journals in 2022, an unusually high number for any researcher. He was an invited speaker at many national and international meetings in 2022 and was an author on more than 35 abstracts presented at scientific conferences. He was named one of the world’s top 2 percent most influential scientists by Stanford University, recognized for his highly cited papers on the wall of scholarship at Creighton University where he previously served on the faculty and named one of the best medicine and immunology scientists in the United States and the world by

Peter Clayson
Peter E. Clayson, Assistant Professor
Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences

For innovative contributions to the integration of psychometric principles and psychophysiological measurement, leading to improved insights, diagnosis and therapeutic interventions for mental health conditions, with broad ramifications for disciplines studying individual differences

Peter Clayson is a leading expert in the field of clinical psychophysiology, earning widespread acclaim for his contributions to the measurement and psychometric evaluation of psychophysiological signals, particularly event-related potentials (i.e., brain waves). In 2022, Clayson was awarded a highly competitive five-year grant of $2,907,897 to optimize paradigms for studying the relationships between psychophysiological signals and mental illness. His work will guide the evaluation of biomarkers of mental illness through high quality psychometrics to pave the way for the better selection of biomarkers and the development of innovative tasks, ultimately improving the clinical utility of these biomarkers. Additionally, in 2022 he published six articles in top-tier journals and secured in-principle acceptances on three Stage 1 Registered Reports. His exceptional accomplishments placed him among the top 2 percent of the most cited scientists globally in 2022 (Stanford University World Top 2% Scientists List).

Liwang Cui
Liwang Cui, Professor
Internal Medicine, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine

For significant contributions to the field of infectious diseases, particularly for advancing research in malaria epidemiology, developmental biology and drug resistance in pursuit of developing an integrative approach to malaria control

Liwang Cui is a renowned malariologist and the director of the malaria research center in Southeast Asia. His innovative research focuses on understanding the complex interactions between the parasite, vectors and human hosts to identify the major drivers of malaria transmission. His work aims to inform evidence-based policymaking for effective malaria control and elimination efforts. In 2022, he had two active grants, including a U19 center grant and a D43 training grant, totaling $2,584,698 in funding. In 2022, he published 26 research papers in high-impact peer-reviewed journals, serving as a corresponding or co-corresponding author on 11 of these publications, and was elected to the American Academy of Microbiology.

Mandie Dunn
Mandie Bevels Dunn, Assistant Professor
Curriculum, Instruction, and Learning, College of Education

For distinguished contributions to supporting teacher wellness, particularly through the study of how teachers who were grieving a death managed their emotions in the context of reading, writing and thinking with students

Mandie B. Dunn studies how English teachers teach while grieving, with particular focus on how dynamics between teachers and students, including identity positions (e.g., race, gender), influence what they share about loss experiences when they read and write together. In 2022, Dunn published three peer-reviewed articles: one in the international journal, English in Education, one in the top global literacy journal, Reading Research Quarterly and one in the top English teacher education journal, English Education. The latter two articles detail findings from her nationally funded grant-project, Teaching Literary Texts While Grieving a Death. Also in 2022, Dunn completed data collection on the grant-funded project, Cultivating Anti-Racist Writing Teachers through the Tampa Bay Area Writing Project, received a USF Creative Scholarship Grant, presented five conference papers, received a Literati Outstanding Paper Award and co-chaired the Early Career Cohort of National Council of Teachers of English, which supports early career scholars in their research.

Professor Prajees
Prahathees Eswara, Associate Professor
Molecular Biosciences, College of Arts and Sciences

For distinguished contributions to the fundamental understanding of bacterial cell biology and the establishment of interdisciplinary collaborations to develop novel antibiotics

Prahathees Eswara’s research aims to understand bacterial cell division and harness this knowledge to develop novel antibiotics. His lab is supported by an NIH R35 grant (~$2.2M; 2019-2024) and he is the first person from USF to receive this outstanding investigator award. He also received an R21 grant (2021-2023) as a co-Investigator. In 2022, he published five research articles including two as a corresponding author in journals such as Nature Communications (IF: 17.7) and Microbiology Spectrum (IF 9.0). In recognition of his expertise, Eswara was invited to serve as a councilor (2020-2023) and as a program committee member (2022-2025) of the annual international Microbe meetings for the American Society for Microbiology. In 2022, Eswara reviewed grants for NSF and was solicited to review for European Research Council Advanced Grant. In October 2022, he delivered the distinguished faculty CAS Trail Blazers Lecture attended by USF alumni and donors.

Danielle Gulick
Danielle Gulick, Assistant Professor
Molecular Medicine, Morsani College of Medicine

For distinguished contributions to understanding the neurobiology of alcohol addiction, particularly in the areas of adolescent stress, circadian-sleep disruptions and novel therapeutics to reduce lifelong addiction risk

In 2022, Danielle Gulick earned her first R01 funding as a PI, as well as an Alzheimer’s Association grant, Pharmaceutical funding and Florida High Tech Corridor funding, all to study various aspects of how alcohol addiction can be driven by external factors and how this addiction impairs neurodevelopment in return.  A second R01 submitted in 2022 is pending funding with a percentile score of 12 percent. Gulick also published multiple papers from both her lab’s solo work and collaborations across USF. She earned two awards related to her research in medical education, which she maintains along with her robust teaching responsibilities in both the medical and graduate schools. During 2022, Gulick was also featured in podcasts by the Southern Medical Journal for her research.

David Himmelgreen
David Himmelgreen, Professor
Anthropology, College of Arts and Sciences

For distinguished contributions in research relating to food security, hunger, nutrition and human health

David Himmelgreen is a professor in anthropology and director of the USF Center for the Advancement of Food Security and Healthy Communities. In 2022, he was elected as a Fellow of the AAAS for his research and programs to mitigate global food insecurity, especially for marginalized populations. He received grants from the USDA for the 15th Street Nutrition Education Program in Pinellas County, Florida and was recently awarded an NSF grant for an interdisciplinary research experience in rural Costa Rica. He published six peer-reviewed journal articles and co-authored a book chapter in A Companion to Medical Anthropology, edition 2. Through his center, he has conducted funded community-engaged research and evaluations with non-profit orgnizations including Feeding Tampa Bay, Evara Health, Tampa Family Health Centers, Hillsborough County and the 15th Street Farm. He provided training opportunities to 15 students in 2022 and he served on the board of Feeding Tampa Bay.

Russell Kirby
Russell Kirby, Distinguished University Professor and Marrell Endowed Chair
Community and Family Health, College of Public Health

For outstanding contributions to the field of perinatal and pediatric epidemiology, particularly in birth defects surveillance, genetics and developmental disabilities, and related health policies

During 2022, Russell Kirby had 19 peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals. Kirby served as senior author on 12 papers, collaborating on 13 papers first-authored by current students or former students publishing their dissertation work.  In the College of Public Health, student-first authored publications are accorded the same stature as faculty-first authored papers. Most of these publications have already been cited, and one co-authored senior author paper is a finalist for the prestigious Centers for Disease Control and Prevention internal Charles Shephard Award for best paper published by CDC staff during 2022.  Kirby also served as editor of the most recent edition of the most widely used textbook on maternal and child health in the US and contributed to three of the book’s chapters. He collaborated on several research projects, including an NSF grant funded in 2022, and three on-going NIH and Department of Defense collaborations.

Jennifer Marshall
Jennifer Marshall, Associate Professor, Director of Planning & Evaluation for Sunshine Education and Research Center, Chiles Center Senior Fellow
Interdisciplinary Science and Practice, College of Public Health

For outstanding contributions to the field of child health and development and the public health workforce, particularly in improving access to health care and community support for pregnant and parenting patients with opioid use disorder

Jennifer Marshall's most recent grant, Continuous and Data Driven Care (CADENCE), integrates and streamlines prenatal, obstetric, pediatric and addiction medicine care for patients with opioid use disorder. CADENCE, co-led with OBGYN Dr. Kimberly Fryer, is one of six projects in the U.S. funded by the HEAL Initiative NIH R61/R33 grant. In 2022, Marshall published results from an ambitious secret shopper study on Access to Care in Florida for Pregnant Women with Opioid Use Disorder that uncovered monumental challenges in accessing medication for opioid use disorder (particularly when pregnant) and prenatal care when undergoing methadone treatment. Also in 2022, Marshall was funded by the Kresge Foundation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to re-design the Emerging Leaders in Public Health program, along with Co-PIs Dr. Marissa Levine (COPH) and Triparna de Vreede (Muma College of Business). Their team now serves as the new National Program Office at USF (PHEARLESS) which is a regenerative leadership training program for public health and community leaders across the country. These two grants alone have awarded Marshall $8,178,481.

Lisa Meloncon
Lisa Melonçon, Professor
English, College of Arts and Sciences

For distinguished contributions to the field of technical and professional communication, particularly for advances in improving and sustaining curricula and pedagogical practices and for advances to improving health communication practices

Lisa Melonçon is a leading expert in technical and professional communication (TPC). Her two books published in 2022 continue her trajectory of research in TPC.  Assembling Critical Components argues for moving away from defining the field to considering the field’s identity through component parts, examples of which are represented by each of the chapters. Melonçon’s second book, Strategic Interventions in Mental Health Rhetoric, co-edited with Cathryn Molloy, brings together diverse scholars who cumulatively argue for the importance of rhetorical expertise in mental health communication. Recognizing the importance of her work, she was awarded the Ken Rainey Research Award from the Society for Technical Communication and the Kitty Locker Research Award from the Association of Business Communication in 2022, and was conferred as Society of Technical Communication Associate Fellow.

Sunil Mithas
Sunil Mithas, Professor and USF World Class Scholar
School of Information Systems and Management, Muma College of Business

For distinguished contributions to the field of information systems and operations management, particularly for contributing to new research on sustainability, innovation, strategies and governance for organizational transformation

Sunil Mithas received the INFORMS Information Systems Society Distinguished Fellow Award in 2022, one of the most prestigious lifetime achievement awards for information systems scholars for his outstanding intellectual contributions to the information systems discipline. In 2022, he contributed eight published or forthcoming articles, of which seven are in a highly selective list of business journals used in the University of Texas at Dallas and Financial Times lists to rank top business schools. He served as a senior editor of MIS Quarterly and department editor of Production and Operations Management and Management and Business Review and provided the keynote address at a conference in Wuhan in 2022. He also continued his prolific work with doctoral students.

Sami Noujam
Sami F. Noujaim, Professor
Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine

For distinguished contribution to the field of cardiac electrophysiology, particularly, for the development of novel bioengineered blockers of ion channels that may guide the advancement of pharmacological modalities capable of restoring normal rhythm in the arrhythmic heart

Sami Noujaim is a recognized expert in cardiac bioelectricity and arrhythmias research. He has elucidated the role of inwardly rectifying potassium channels in the mechanisms of atrial and ventricular arrhythmogenesis. In 2022, he was awarded a new R01 grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. The grant aims to develop and test, using bioengineering approaches, a novel class of antiarrhythmics capable of potently and safely blocking a specific type of potassium channels shown to play a pathological role in atrial fibrillation, a common and tough-to-treat cardiac arrhythmia. He also published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which demonstrated the ability of these novel antiarrhythmics to safely block ion channels in vivo and in vitro, and when administered intravenously, to reduce the occurrence of atrial fibrillation in a mouse model.

Ankit Shah
Ankit Shah, Assistant Professor
Industrial and Management Systems Engineering, College of Engineering

For distinguished contributions to the research and development of AI-enabled decision-support methodologies for detecting and mitigating physical and digital threats in defense and civilian applications

Ankit Shah is the director of the Artificial Intelligence Research Laboratory for Secure and Efficient Systems at USF. His research focuses on developing AI-enabled methods to assist human decision-making in identifying and mitigating digital and physical threats for both defense and civilian applications. In 2022, he was awarded four research grants, amounting to more than $1.35 million as a PI or Co-PI. One of these grants, from the U.S. Army, was for researching adversarial evolution and its impact on cybersecurity. In 2022, Shah published five papers showcasing his expertise in deep reinforcement learning, optimization and computer vision. He was invited to present his research on improving cybersecurity with an innovative adversarial machine learning approach at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He also delivered a seminar on AI and Automation for Maritime Applications to the Program Executive Office for Maritime. Throughout 2022, Shah’s research group gave seven invited talks on AI and security at leading technical conferences.

Lawrence Stern
Lawrence A. Stern, Assistant Professor
Chemical, Biological, and Materials Engineering, College of Engineering

Recognized for seminal contributions in developing high-throughput protein engineering methods for new signaling domains and inhibitory molecules to augment cell therapy and engineering natural molecules for therapeutic impact on cancer and cardiovascular disease

Lawrence Stern leads a research group that studies synthetic receptor and protein design to augment cell-based therapies for cancer. In 2022, he received an NIGMS Maximizing Investigator’s Research Award (MIRA) R35, providing $1.8M over five years to study protein engineering methods for new synthetic receptors and protein-based inhibitors and apply these technologies to study cell signaling. Dr. Stern published two invited contributions in 2022. The first, published in the AIChE Journal Futures Issue, which recognizes rising stars in chemical engineering, was an original research manuscript detailing an optimized high-throughput screening platform to study cell signaling. The second, published in the prestigious Methods in Molecular Biology book series, was a book chapter that detailed the methods in the AIChE Journal manuscript to increase their accessibility to the scientific community. Stern’s professional service includes serving as vice chair for AIChE Area 15C (bioengineering). He is very committed to mentorship, currently leading a lab of 13 young scientists.

Gopal Thinakaran
Gopal Thinakaran, Professor
Molecular Medicine, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine

For distinguished contributions to the field of Alzheimer’s disease, particularly in understanding the molecular pathogenesis of the disease, characterizing the functional role of BIN1, the second most prevalent risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease

Gopal Thinakaran has contributed significantly to cell and molecular characterization of BIN1, the second most significant Alzheimer's disease risk gene. In 2022, he was awarded two 5-year R01 grants from NIH with total funding of $7,255,070 to investigate how variations in BIN1 elevate someone's risk for Alzheimer's disease. His research investigated BIN1 function using cell-type-specific conditional knock-out and transgenic mouse models of Alzheimer's disease. He published four papers in 2022, including one in Brain (Impact Factor, 15.26) highlighting BIN1 regulation of region-specific tau pathogenesis and neurodegeneration in a novel mouse model and another in Molecular Neurodegeneration (Impact Factor, 18.88) detailing the discovery of BIN1 function in neuroinflammation. His work has been cited 567 times in 2022. He also organized a successful workshop to train USF researchers on how to apply the state-of-the-art nanoString DSP spatial transcriptomics approaches in their research.

Maya Trotz
Maya Trotz, Professor
Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering
Director, Collaborative National Research Traineeship: Strong Coasts

For outstanding contributions in the nexus of water quality/treatment, global/community sustainability and education, and in non-traditional university partnerships with local and international entities, especially those in the Caribbean

Maya Trotz's students are currently working in interdisciplinary teams and with diverse community partners in Tampa, Barbados, Belize, Iowa and the US Virgin Islands on projects to reduce nitrogen pollution to both freshwater and marine ecosystems and broaden participation in the engineering research. Trotz was awarded four NSF awards as a principal investigator in 2022, totaling $26.7 million. Also in 2022, she published two peer-reviewed proceeding abstracts and served as PhD advisor to an awardee of the American Water Resources Association Florida Section, William V. Storch Student Award and the American Water Resources Association, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Scholarship.

Steven Wilson
Steven R. Wilson, Professor
Communication, College of Arts and Sciences

For distinguished contributions to the field of interpersonal communication, particularly for advancing theory and measurement regarding how people navigate difficult conversations and create resilience in the face of disruptive life events

Steven Wilson is an internationally renowned expert on interpersonal communication whose research offers important insights about how people navigate difficult conversations (e.g., families talking with military veterans about behavioral health) as well as create resilience in the face of life disruptions (e.g., challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic). During 2022, Wilson was recognized with a major career award from the National Communication Association, published two peer-reviewed articles, a handbook chapter and an encyclopedia article, received two top-paper awards from national and international conferences, co-edited a flagship journal in his discipline, had his first doctoral graduate receive two dissertation awards and performed important service in support of military veterans and their families in the Tampa Bay area and beyond.

Yasin Yilmaz
Yasin Yilmaz, Associate Professor
Electrical Engineering, College of Engineering

For outstanding contributions in machine learning applied to monitoring climate change and its impact on mobility, soil recovery mechanism and its impact on landslide hazards, authentication and security of a novel antenna system

Yasin Yilmaz’s research on machine learning  in 2022 received three National Science Foundation and two Department of Defense grants, with his share of more than $1 million, and resulted in seven journal and eight conference papers. As PI, he received a grant from the NSF-NIFA partnership to study soil recovery mechanisms and landslide hazards after wildfires using machine learning in collaboration with forest and environmental engineers from Oregon State University and University of Vermont. In another NSF grant as equal share Co-PI, Yilmaz will investigate machine learning-based authentication and security of a novel antenna system. In another new project funded by the  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, his team uses novel machine learning algorithms to monitor changes in the permafrost regions in Alaska from drone-based radar and lidar imagery. He also received an SBIR grant from the DOD to develop an anomaly detection platform and an NSF grant to publicize the effects of nitrogen pollution.

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Learn more about USF research by viewing articles from past years (2010-2019).

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