Five faculty have been honored in areas from biology to engineering to film to public health.

From left to right, Geoff Gamble, Jincheng Du, Nandika D'Souza, Rebecca Dickstein, Melinda Levin and John Ruiz

From left to right, Geoff Gamble, Jincheng Du, Nandika D'Souza, Rebecca Dickstein, Melinda Levin and John Ruiz

Five University of North Texas faculty members have been honored for their leading contributions to research, scholarship and creative activities in areas ranging from botany to engineering to film to public health.

The annual awards, presented Nov. 7, by the Office of Research and Economic Development, celebrate faculty whose efforts - often nationally and internationally recognized - support the university's goal of growing as the preeminent public research institution in the North Texas region.

"I'm impressed by the impacts our faculty members are having on the world through their research and scholarship. And just as importantly, they are dedicated teachers and mentors who are changing how students think and perceive the world," says President V. Lane Rawlins. "We have an excellent group of faculty members and these winners represent the best of the best."

Honored faculty also serve as mentors to undergraduate and graduate students whose university experiences and degrees will help them support the growth and economy of the North Texas region, the state and the United States.

Award winners
Award summaries

UNT Research Leadership Award -- Nandika D'Souza
Nandika D'Souza

Nandika D'Souza

The Research Leadership Award recognizes the faculty member whose research and leadership has made substantial contributions and has achieved national/international recognition.

D'Souza is a professor in both the departments of Mechanical and Energy Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering. Her work, funded by the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense and others, focuses on developing sustainable products and biosolutions from plants and polymer composite materials that outperform their non-renewable counterparts. These may be used by manufacturers to make consumer products such as flame retardant materials, biodegradable packaging, green-based building materials and durable, lightweight aircraft panels.

D'Souza's work widely influences individuals and research developments, whether she is mentoring high school and college students, serving on university and advisory board committees, coordinating international conferences or collaborating with peers.

Her awards include Engineer of the Year award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, a NASA Faculty Fellowship award and UNT Outstanding Researcher recognition. D'Souza is active in the Society of Plastics Engineers, Materials Research Society and the Society of Women Engineers.

She continues to lead as the cluster coordinator of the UNT-based Renewable Bioproducts research cluster, which explores renewable energy technologies to reduce the carbon footprint and build a green economy.

UNT Teacher Scholar Award -- Rebecca Dickstein
Rebecca Dickstein

Rebecca Dickstein

The Teacher Scholar Award honors the faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in research or creative productivity while excelling as a teacher.

Dickstein, professor of biological sciences, teaches biochemistry, molecular biology, plant signaling mechanisms and plant biology. Both graduate and undergraduate students credit her for providing a comprehensive and stimulating education, and many of her students proceed to successful careers in industry, medicine, science and academia.

Much of Dickstein's nationally recognized and externally funded research is in the area of symbiotic nitrogen fixation, or how nitrogen is transferred from plants to the food chain. These processes have applications for minimally-fertilized, cost-effective commercial production of crops such as wheat, barley and sorghum.

Dickstein's dynamic instruction and mentorship stimulate students to investigate and integrate new areas. Faculty colleagues in other science disciplines agree that a Dickstein student is exceptionally prepared and passionate. These individuals are her teaching legacy and will be the next generation of visionary future leaders in plant technology and related fields.

Rebecca is also active in the Southern Section of the American Society of Plant Biologists, American Association for the Advancement of Science and the UNT Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program.

As one of the founding members of the Signaling Mechanisms in Plants research cluster, she has helped grow research scholarship at UNT with innovative curricula development and support of minority students and female faculty.

UNT Creative Impact Award -- Melinda Levin
Melinda Levin

Melinda Levina

The Creative Impact Award honors the UNT faculty member whose work in the literary or creative arts has had the greatest societal impact.

Levin, associate professor of radio, television and film, is an acclaimed filmmaker whose documentaries are recognized for their compelling investigations of subjects that bridge environmental, cultural and social issues. She has produced and directed documentaries in the North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Her film, The New Frontier, Sustainable Ranching in the American West, was one of 19 official selections by the U.S. Department of State American Documentary Showcase, and it received a media industry CINE Golden Eagle Award.

Levin's Telly-award winning documentary, River Planet, explored the importance of six of the world's major rivers - the Amazon, Danube, Ganges, Mekong, Los Angeles and Rio Grande – and the communities that live along their banks. The film premiered in Beijing and has been screened at film festivals around the world.

She is an active member of the University Film and Video Association, Broadcast Education Association and the International Association of Film and Television Schools.

UNT Early Career Award for Research and Creativity -- Jincheng Du
Jincheng Du

Jincheng Du

The Early Career Award recognizes a faculty member within her/his first 10 years in a tenure-track faculty appointment whose research accomplishments or creative endeavors have been outstanding.

Du, associate professor of materials science and engineering, is an expert in the field of computational materials science. He has published 50 papers and received five grants from the National Science Foundation since 2007.

He uses computer modeling to understand the structure and properties of complex and amorphous materials such as glass to improve the durability and optical quality of consumer products ranging from car windshields to smartphone screens. Top federal and industrial agencies fund his work, including the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and Semiconductor Research Corporation. Du's research has been featured in mass media and academic publications such as Nature and other significant journals. He is sought as a lecturer in national and international conferences, universities and research institutions in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

He was recently appointed as chair of the Atomistic Simulation and Modeling Technical Committee with the International Commission on Glasses.

The honors and accomplishments of his students reflect his commitment to excellence in education through teaching and research. His students have received a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and a Research Exchange Award with the NSF International Material Institute.

UNT Competitive Funding Award -- John Ruiz
John Ruiz

John Ruiz

The Competitive Funding Award goes to the principal investigator who was responsible for the highest total amount of newly awarded competitive research funding during the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Ruiz, assistant professor of psychology, received a grant of $1,585,795 from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health. This project, Social Vigilance and Atherosclerotic Risk, studies how daily stress may contribute to heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

His areas of interests include cardiovascular behavioral medicine and cardiovascular psychophysiology, Hispanic health and health disparities and the psychosocial influences on health.

Ruiz works in both the Clinical Health Psychology Behavioral Medicine and Experimental Psychology programs. He contributes expertise through his professional affiliations, including service on the executive council of the American Psychosomatic Society, chair of the Health Psychology division of the American Psychological Association, and on the editorial board of the Journal of Behavioral Medicine and the Annals of Behavioral Medicine for the Society of Behavioral Medicine.

Faculty awards ranged from $3,000 to $5,000.

The University of North Texas is an emerging public research university. UNT faculty and students produce groundbreaking research in sciences, engineering, music, arts and humanities. The university's strategic plan calls for expansion of research capabilities and higher overall academic achievement that will position UNT as a national research university.

The university's operations boost the Dallas-Fort Worth economy by more than $1.3 billion each year, and UNT alumni impact the area's economy by more than $10 billion annually, according to a 2010 study.

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