Four faculty earn NU system’s top honors


Tiffany Lee, April 5, 2017 | View original publication

Four faculty earn NU system’s top honors

Four University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty have earned the University of Nebraska system’s most prestigious awards for research, creative activity, teaching and engagement.

Those earning the honors for the university are Erin Blankenship, professor of statistics and associate dean of agricultural sciences and natural resources; Eileen Hebets, professor of biological sciences; Jason Kautz, professor of practice, chemistry; and Yongfeng Lu, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The awards, announced April 5, recognize faculty from across the University of Nebraska system whose work has had a strong impact on students, university and state.

“The University of Nebraska has an enormous impact on economic vitality and quality of life in our state and around the world. Our faculty, who are some of the best in the country, deserve much of the credit,” said Hank Bounds, NU president. “Nebraskans can be proud of the teaching, research and engagement efforts led by their university. I know I am — and I’m reminded daily of how fortunate I am to work among such talented and dedicated colleagues.”

Overall, six of the honors were awarded in three categories to faculty across the four-institution system. The awards will be presented during luncheons in May.

Blankenship and Kautz each received an Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award. The OTICA recognizes individual faculty who have demonstrated meritorious and sustained records of excellence and creativity in teaching.

Erin Blankenship

Through research and teaching, Blankenship is making students’ classroom experience more engaging. Since joining the university in 1999, she has placed a high priority on students by improving not only her own teaching methods, but making her colleagues better teachers in the process.

Blankenship has developed or co-developed eight courses at the university and, in 2015, “The American Statistician” published her research about modernizing undergraduate statistics curriculum. Her involvement in Math in the Middle, a National Science Foundation-sponsored math-science partnership, changed the teaching of statistics at the K-12 level and has been effective in helping teach Nebraska math educators how to engage students.

Blankenship has received many teaching honors, including Mu Sigma Rho’s William D. Warde Statistics Education Award, a national honor recognizing lifetime achievement in statistics education. She is also a Fellow of the American Statistical Association.

Jason Kautz

Kautz is a chemistry professor by title, but he teaches with the goal of instilling problem-solving skills in his students that translate to all aspects of life. He joined the university faculty in 2004, and since then he has played a central role in both course and teacher development.

Kautz is the lead coordinator of the university’s freshman chemistry program, which serves more than 2,500 students each academic year. He consistently receives instructor evaluation scores above the departmental average. His teaching effectiveness has manifested itself in three Association of Students of the University of Nebraska Outstanding Educator Awards and the Hazel R. McClymont Distinguished Teaching Fellow Award (2016), among other recognition throughout his career.

Kautz also developed a graduate course in teaching methods of chemistry, which is designed to improve the development of graduate students as teaching assistants and as teachers upon graduation. He is also currently designing and authoring a digital chemistry course-learning program.

Yongfeng Lu

Lu received the Outstanding Research and Creative Activity award. The ORCA recognizes faculty for outstanding research or creative activity of national or international significance.

Lu joined the university in 2002 after earning a doctorate in electrical engineering from Osaka University in Japan and spending 11 years as a lecturer and professor at the National University of Singapore.

Lu is a leading researcher in laser-based material processing, characterization and imaging. He currently has 13 projects funded, totaling more than $6.4 million. Since 2003, Lu has received more than $25 million in research funding from sources like the Department of Defense and National Science Foundation.

Lu established the Laser Assisted Nanoengineering Laboratory, a state-of-the-art research laboratory in 2002. In 2016, the Laser Institute of America awarded the Schawlow Award to Lu, recognizing his career-long contributions to laser science research. He also earned the outstanding Postdoc Mentor Award from the university in 2016.

He has been adviser to 27 graduated doctoral students, and currently advises 12 doctoral students, 31 master’s students and more than 50 undergraduates. He also serves as the mentor to dozens of post-doctoral researchers and visiting professors in the international science community.

Eileen Hebets

Hebets received an Innovation, Development and Engagement Award. The IDEA recognizes faculty who have extended academic expertise beyond the boundaries of the university in ways that have enriched the broader community.

Since 2005, Hebets’ teaching, research and outreach have made her a central part of the university’s School of Biological Sciences and the broader scientific community. She is an accomplished arachnid researcher, appearing in more than 85 publications, and she has three active grants totaling more than $1.1 million.

Hebets’ research has generated coverage in publications from The New York Times to National Geographic. She is heavily involved in outreach programs, earning the T.O. Haas Outstanding Faculty Award for Outreach in 2014.

Hebets developed the university’s Community Science Through Outreach course, in which students develop interactive programs and bring them to Lincoln after-school science clubs. In 2016, funding from the Nebraska Department of Education extended the reach of the program and its ability to engage elementary and middle school students. Her Eight-Legged Encounters Event started at Morrill Hall and has been adopted as a family-friendly traveling exhibit appearing in museums like the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C.

Hebets has also developed youth summer camps that have reached hundreds of Nebraska children over the last decade.

Overall, the university earned five of the seven 2017 system-wide honors. The fifth, the University-wide Departmental Teaching Award, went to the university’s Department of History. The honor was announced March 6.

Other 2017 system-wide award winners include:

ORCA — Roni Reiter-Palmon, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Collaboration Science, University of Nebraska at Omaha.

IDEA — Dr. Ann Anderson Berry, associate professor in the Division of Newborn Medicine, University of Nebraska Medical Center, and medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit within Nebraska Medicine.