Five Faculty Receive University's Highest Honor
By Claudia G. Chamberlain
After paving pioneering ways in their fields of study, and giving so much of themselves as attentive mentors to students, five UConn professors were on the receiving end of collegial appreciation and congratulation April 16, at a reception in their honor at Shippee Dining Hall.
Earlier in the day, the Board of Trustees unanimously endorsed naming the five to the University's highest-ranking honor, that of Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor.
The five are: Yaakov Bar-Shalom, a professor of electrical and computer engineering; Richard D. Brown, a professor of history and director of the University's new Humanities Institute; David A. Kenny, a psychology professor; Alexandros Makriyannis, a professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular and cell biology, and director of the Center for Drug Discovery; and William C. Stwalley, professor and head of the physics department.
The honor was the culmination of a painstaking nominating process involving faculty colleagues, that was orchestrated by the Chancellor's Office.
With some 100 guests - family members, students, and colleagues - looking on, University President Philip E. Austin, Chancellor John D. Petersen, and Roger A. Gelfenbien, chairman of the board of trustees, lauded the five professors.
"The University is a special place, and these five distinguished professors are an example of the kinds of things that go on at UConn," said Gelfenbien. "We're on a roll, and people like this have allowed us to get the kind of support that we have from the state legislature."
Austin said the title of distinguished professor is reserved for superb people who have generally built their reputations at the University.
"Honoring them gives us an opportunity to remember that, no matter how much progress we make - with the completion of UConn 2000 and with 21st Century UConn, with the increase in numbers and quality of students, and in so many other ways - we're building on a foundation laid over the decades by an extraordinary group of scholars."
Petersen introduced the five professors, each of whom already celebrates extraordinary achievements in engineering, history, psychology, and science.
Collectively, the five have national and international standings in their respective fields; have authored leading textbooks; hold dozens of honors, including prestigious fellowships; and have served as exceptional mentors to students.
Bar-Shalom, who is listed in Who's Who in Technology Today, is considered one of the world's foremost authorities in the area of target-tracking, a field with wide-ranging commercial and defense-related applications.
Bar-Shalom has introduced state-of-the-art graduate courses in support of his research program, and developed associated textbooks and software that are used not only at UConn, but at the Naval postgraduate school, MIT, and other universities. During the past 16 years, nearly 1,000 people worldwide have participated in his national and international short courses. In addition to graduating 17 Ph.D. students at UConn, he has co-advised doctoral students at other leading universities in the United States, Europe and Australia.
Brown is considered a prolific historian, is recognized as a leading scholar of early American history, and is regarded as one of the foremost scholars of Revolutionary and Early National America. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1998-1999, in recognition of his work.
Brown has published several acclaimed books, including Strength of the People, that has been described as the "definitive analysis" of an informed citizenry in early America.
In his three decades at UConn, Brown has contributed significantly as a mentor to students, and his graduate-level seminars are considered among the most rigorous and popular in the department.
Kenny is one of the best known social psychologists in the United States, and his pioneering work focusing on the perceptions that people have of each other has made him a leading figure in the field of interpersonal perception. He is widely considered one of the most important methodologists in contemporary social psychology.
Kenny's methodological, empirical, and theoretical contributions have been widely cited - more than 5,000 citations - and have had a major impact on theory and research in the social sciences.
On the UConn front, Kenny has inspired graduate students, many of whom have gone on to important positions at top research institutions in the United States. He was also one of the first recipients of the Chancellor's Research Award.
Makriyannis, who established the Center for Drug Discovery at UConn in 1997, has made critical contributions in the field of drug discovery and molecular recognition. This includes the development of a model describing the method in which drugs and hormones interact with the cellular membrane, and the discovery of a new system that transports the hormone anandamide into the cell.
His best known contributions are in the field of cannabinoids.
During his nearly 30 years at UConn, he has mentored more than 150 postdoctoral students, graduate students, and undergraduate scholars. One of his former students is regarded today as the top discovery research scientist at Abbott Laboratories, one of the world's major pharmaceutical companies.
Stwalley, who has been called the world's leading authority on long-range interaction of atoms, is hailed by colleagues for his strong support of the integration of the physics department's research program into the undergraduate experience. In 1995, he established a National Science Foundation-funded "Research Experience for Undergraduates" summer program that greatly benefited not only UConn physics majors, but students from other institutions.
He has also driven a number of curricular initiatives, including the development of a photonics minor enabling physics majors and some students in the school of engineering to prepare for careers by enhancing their education with practical training in laser-based technologies.
The five professors join 11 other colleagues named to this top award since its inception three years ago.