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Six outstanding ASU faculty members named exemplars

September 17, 2009

In recognition of their outstanding teaching and research, six faculty members have been named exemplars this year by ASU President Michael Crow. These individuals are “rising stars” whose talent and hard work make them leaders among the finest teacher-scholars ASU has to offer.

They represent a broad array of expertise: an engineer, a poet, a physicist, a psychologist, an evolutionary biologist and a public policy expert. One was promoted to professor, while  the others earned tenure with promotion to associate professor status, from assistant professor.

Laura Tohe was named professor of English. Those promoted to associate professor include Heather Bimonte-Nelson in psychology, Andrei Belitsky in physics and Kevin McGraw in the School of Life Sciences. All are in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Thomas Catlaw was named associate professor of public affairs in the College of Public Programs. Yu (Kevin) Cao was promoted to associate professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

These exemplary faculty have received an extra salary increase in addition to the promotion adjustment, and a $10,000 per year award for five years to assist them in advancing their scholarly and creative activities.

Tohe, an internationally recognized poet and writer of creative nonfiction, is an important voice for Native peoples and has incorporated her Navajo heritage into her work. Her book “Tseyi, Deep in the Rock” won a Glyph Award for best poetry and won Best Book by the Arizona Book Association. It also was selected as the Southwest Book of the Year. “Sister Nations,” an anthology of poetry and short stories by Native American women, is widely read in high schools and college courses in literature and women’s studies.

Last year Tohe was commissioned to write a libretto for the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, “Enemy Slayer: A Navajo Oratorio,” which received wide acclaim. She also is invited to speak before groups throughout the country.

“In her research and creative work, Professor Tohe successfully integrates meaningful discourses of difference, in a way that profoundly impacts audiences in her classrooms and far beyond,” says Maureen Daly Goggin, the interim chair of the Department of English. “Her award-winning books, countless poems, myriad invited essays, chapters and lectures, collaborative projects, public presentations and her extensive outreach to diverse communities align her with the best offered by ASU.”

Bimonte-Nelson is known as a tireless and dedicated scientist whose enthusiasm for science is infectious. She is an expert at involving students in her interdisciplinary research, which characterizes relations between the brain and cognition, with special attention to interactions with hormones and age-related memory deterioration.

She has current grant funding from the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium, and she was named Outstanding Young Investigator of the Year by the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium. She also won the 2007 Woodside Award for her community service that helped make Brain Awareness Week an incredibly popular phenomenon with public school children and teachers.

“Dr. Bimonte-Nelson is an exceptional talent with unbridled enthusiasm, a prolific writer who is engaged with the wonder of discovery, an exquisitely creative scientist and a colleague with a genuine regard for inclusion and collaboration,” says Keith Crnic, the Psychology Department’s chair. “She also is a marvelous classroom instructor and research mentor. She represents the very best of the discipline.”

Belitsky came to ASU five years ago as a young professor to help develop a world-class particle physics and astrophysics group at ASU, a high-profile research program with growing international recognition. He has been successful in recruiting graduate students and has been able to secure increased grant funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his research in hadronic and nuclear physics, despite cutbacks in federal funding for the NSF.

“Professor Belitsky has helped define new directions for his collaborators and other researchers,” says Robert Nemanich, the chair of the Physics Department. “He has generated excitement in the department and has been tremendously involved in bringing together other faculty and researchers to address some of the most significant problems in the field. Andrei also is an energetic teacher who has offered a stimulating course in string theory.”

“Professor Belitsky is one of the most promising theoretical physicists in the world,” says Sid Bacon, the natural sciences dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Even at this early stage in his career, Andrei has had a remarkable impact on the field of particle and nuclear physics.”

McGraw, an evolutionary biologist whose work has focused on coloration and pigments in birds, has been heavily involved in research and outreach since coming to ASU five years ago. He has received two Outstanding Young Investigator awards from the Animal Behavior Society and the American Ornithologists’ Union, and he has co-edited two landmark volumes on bird coloration, published more than 100 journal articles and acts as an associate editor for four journals in his field.

His work has received such wide attention that he has been invited to give seminars at several prestigious American universities and international research institutes. He also is an active student mentor and has received grant funding from the National Science Foundation.

“Professor McGraw is one of the most innovative and energetic researchers I have known,” says Robert Page, the School of Life Sciences’ director. “His contribution to his field and recognition by his peers is way beyond what one would expect from a junior faculty member. He is already a recognized leader in his field.”

Catlaw is an exemplar in every way, having won both the Distinguished Teaching Award and the Distinguished Research Award from the School of Public Affairs since coming to ASU in 2004. His research and teaching are driven by the question of difference: How can we better understand our differences and communicate across them? Catlaw believes that difference rather than sameness, as suggested by integrating political terms such as “the state” or “the people,” could be the basis for everyday practices of democratic self-governing and for finding new ways of living together.

In just a short time, he has gained an impressive reputation in public administration through his publications, conference presentations and the leading journal in the field of public administration theory which he edits.

“Professor Catlaw is a superb teacher, an excellent scholar and a great colleague – a model for faculty at ASU and elsewhere,” says Robert Denhardt, the director of the School of Public Affairs. “In a relatively short time he has made an impact on his discipline nationally and internationally. Moreover, his energy and his enthusiasm for public service are absolutely contagious, affecting both faculty and students with whom he interacts.”

Cao has established himself as a leading figure in the field of electronic design automation, semiconductor technology modeling and design tools behind nanoscale circuit design and implementation. He has achieved a high level of research funding for his work through both external sponsored projects and industry gifts, with an overall contribution exceeding $1.8 million. 

Cao also receives very high student evaluations of his teaching, and he has mentored multiple graduate students who have since joined leading American semiconductor companies.

“Professor Cao’s contributions to teaching through classroom pedagogy and graduate student mentoring, and to research through his publications and funded research projects are truly exemplary,” says Stephen Phillips, the interim director of the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering.

“His particular contribution to his field is in the development of a predictive technology model for new device technologies that are proposed, a model that has been widely adopted in both academic and industry research venues. His student mentorship and teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate level also are exceptional.”