George Mason University President Gregory Washington has announced the recipients of the 2021 Presidential Awards for Faculty Excellence honoring the contributions of six Mason professors to the university, Mason students, and the greater community.
Established in 2017, the presidential medals are awarded for excellence in research and scholarship, teaching, social impact, and diversity and inclusion. A fall celebration is planned to honor the recipients as part of the Mason Vision Series.
The Presidential Awards committee review team, which solicits nominations each year, is made up of faculty representatives, including prior award winners, and senior leaders. See past winners here.
The Beck Family Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Research and Scholarship: The recipients are Amarda Shehu, a founder and co-director of the Center for Advancing Human-Machine Partnership in the Volgenau School of Engineering, and Jagadish Shukla, University Professor in the College of Science and director of the Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies (COLA).
In Mason’s Department of Computer Science since 2008, Shehu’s research bridges the fields of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the biological sciences. As one of the founders and co-directors of the Center for Advancing Human-Machine Partnerships, she uses computer science to promote scientific discoveries in other fields, with application to real-world problems. She has developed algorithmic frameworks that shed new light on the molecular dynamics behind the mutations that lead to biological disorders, such as cancer, cardiomyopathy, and, most recently, COVID-19. Her honors at Mason include the OSCAR Mentoring Excellence Award; the Emerging Researcher, Scholar, Creator Award; and the Teaching Excellence Award. She serves as a program director in the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate at the National Science Foundation.
Shukla, in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences, has transformed the field of climate science. At Mason since 1994, he established the Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies. He has challenged assumptions by examining how air-land and air-sea interactions influence climate variability, and his work includes studies of global deforestation, desertification and monsoons as examples of phenomena in which interactions between the atmosphere and the land surface play a critical role. The recipient of the highest awards from two international meteorological societies, Shukla has formed prominent centers and research groups and chaired several World Meteorological Organization programs. He was lead author on a chapter of the Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which, together with Al Gore, received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
John Toups Presidential Medal for Excellence in Teaching: Melissa Broeckelman-Post, hired in 2013 in the Department of Communication in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, innovatively redesigned a required communication course using a combination of online instruction, in-person lab-style workshops, and discussions taught by graduate teaching assistants. The National Communication Association (NCA) awarded this course the Program of Excellence Award in 2016. The redesign also involved the creation of a Communication Center where students practice their communication skills and receive individualized coaching. Broeckelman-Post has co-authored three textbooks on communication instruction, one of which received the Textbook of Distinction Award in 2015 from the NCA.
Earle C. Williams Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Social Impact: Padmanabhan (Padhu) Seshaiyer, at Mason since 2007, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences and associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Science. In his research he develops analytical techniques and computational algorithms in an effort to understand and solve a wide range of problems, including the physiology of the human vascular system, the mechanics of brain aneurysms, the motion of micro-air vehicles, the spread of the Zika virus, and drone-based efforts to prevent elephant and rhino poaching in Tanzania. Seshaiyer has initiated and directed a variety of educational outreach programs and received many high-profile awards for his teaching, research and outreach.
United Bank Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion: The recipients are Christy Pichichero, an associate professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and the Department of History and Art History, both in CHSS, and Gerald Weatherspoon, associate professor in the College of Science.
At Mason since 2011, Pichichero in 2018 took on a dual role as a Provost Faculty Fellow for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Well-being in Faculty Affairs and Development and as the CHSS coordinator of college diversity and global education. She researched best practices for recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty and curated an extensive set of online resources to help departments model those practices. In 2020 she was named the CHSS director of faculty diversity. She is currently writing a book about Chevalier Joseph Bologne de Saint-George, a mixed-race musical composer and military commander in 18th-century France, through the lens of critical race studies. Pichichero is president of the Western Society for French History.
In 2002, Weatherspoon was the first African American faculty member to be tenured in a STEM field at Mason. He joined Mason in 1996 and is chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. In this role he has sought opportunities to hire women and faculty members from other underrepresented communities and mentor and prepare them for leadership positions. He has taken similar steps in graduate student recruitment and retention. Weatherspoon serves as chief diversity officer for faculty in the College of Science and is faculty advisor for the Mason chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.