Edwards, Heng-Moss, Calkins earn highest university honors

President James B. Milliken announced the 2012 winners of the university’s most prestigious awards for research, teaching and engagement.

The university-wide awards recognize faculty whose work has had a strong impact on students, the university and the state, according to Milliken.

“A university’s greatest asset is its faculty – and the University of Nebraska is home to some of the country’s best,” Milliken said. “Our faculty are deeply committed to providing high-quality education to students, conducting research that benefits Nebraska and the world, and engaging with people across the state. The results are numerous: well-educated students, new knowledge and innovation, improved health, a vibrant economy and culture in Nebraska, and other positive outcomes. I’m proud to take this opportunity to recognize the faculty who play such an important role.”

Awards will be presented during a luncheon this week. Winners are:


Outstanding Research and Creative Activity (ORCA) Award: recognizes individual faculty members for outstanding research or creative activity of national or international significance.

Carolyn Pope Edwards, Willa Cather Professor in the Department of Child, Youth and Family Studies and the Department of Psychology at UNL. Edwards has made significant research and creative contributions to three fields – cultural anthropology, moral development in psychology and early childhood education. She has used her research – much of it done across disciplines – to inform policy, particularly in the early childhood arena, and has written and spoken widely on the topic. Edwards has attracted significant grant funding to UNL, having served as principal or co-principal investigator on more than $15 million worth of grant-funded activities. One of Edwards’ recent projects is a National Science Foundation-funded grant to study and improve math and science education in early childhood. Edwards also has been appointed as coordinator for the university’s new Buffett Early Childhood Institute, which aims to improve the success of children, particularly those at risk, from birth to age 8.

Howard Gendelman, M.D., chairman of the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience and Larson Professor of internal medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Gendelman came to UNMC in 1993 and quickly built a successful laboratory focusing on the neurologic complications of HIV/AIDS. According to his nominator, Gendelman developed the theory that the interplay between the immune system and the brain can be harnessed to counter the death of brain cells due to viral infection or during neurodegenerative processes. The theory wasn’t immediately embraced – but time has proven his theory to be valid. Gendelman continues to forge new collaborations focused on developing treatments for neuro-AIDS, Parkinson’s and other types of dementia. Gendelman is recognized as being one of the top 0.5 percent most-cited scientists in the world and has mentored more than 40 graduate and post-doctoral students. Under his leadership, his department has grown to more than 140 members with National Institutes of Health funding of $15 million for 2010-11.


Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award (OTICA): recognizes individual faculty members who have demonstrated meritorious and sustained records of excellence and creativity in teaching.

Tiffany Heng-Moss, professor of entomology at UNL. Heng-Moss joined the university in 2001 and has since become what one of her nominators called “truly the epitome of a faculty member in a land-grant university.” She has developed an innovative teaching program that spans grade school, undergraduate, graduate and adult education; established a successful research program; and contributed to one of the university’s most effective distance education programs. Heng-Moss is committed to building personal relationships with her students and incorporating active learning into her courses, even in large lecture sessions. Heng-Moss has provided leadership in the development of interdisciplinary degree programs within the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and has developed an online version of her Insect Biology course that is available to high school students, among other teaching accomplishments. She is also involved in outreach education efforts to K-12 teachers and students.

Richard MacDonald, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the College of Medicine at UNMC. Despite having no formal educational training before taking his first faculty position at UNMC, MacDonald has emerged as one the leading teachers on campus. He has won UNMC’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year award three times, has developed new courses, and routinely receives high evaluations from his students for his dedication to helping them understand complex scientific topics. In fact, one student noted that the only complaint he had heard about MacDonald was that students wished he taught more sections. MacDonald is known for his thoughtfully prepared handouts and his willingness to be available for students whenever they need him. He even pays attention to small details: Recognizing that medical students commonly experience “lecture fatigue,” MacDonald encourages small exercise breaks during class to help keep students focused and engaged.


Innovation, Development and Engagement Award (IDEA): recognizes faculty members who have extended their academic expertise beyond the boundaries of the university in ways that have enriched the broader community.

Chris Calkins, professor of animal science at UNL. Calkins’ research team’s efforts in muscle profiling led to the development of the flat-iron steak, the petite tender, and other beef products that came from parts of the animal previously underutilized and undervalued. Because of this, consumers have more choices at the grocery store and producers and processors in Nebraska and elsewhere have more profits. In fact, the flat-iron steak and other cuts pioneered by Calkins are now favorite choices of restaurant diners. Currently, Calkins is working to commercialize a beef tenderness classification system that can measure the tenderness of beef well before it’s eaten, giving the industry an opportunity to label tender beef as such and charge a premium price for it. With this model, Calkins is positioned to significantly impact Nebraska’s economy – again.

Jonathan Vennerstrom, professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy at UNMC.Vennerstrom is one of the world’s leading experts in anti-malarial drug development. This is critical work, given that there are more than 300 million cases of malaria each year and that malaria causes more than 2 percent of deaths worldwide. The parasite that causes malaria, however, has developed a resistance to many current drugs. Vennerstrom has worked to develop new treatments which have on multiple occasions won the “Project of the Year” award from the Medicines for Malaria Venture, established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A recent drug Vennerstrom has developed has the potential to be a single-dose cure for malaria when used in combination with other drugs – an extraordinary possibility for the hundreds of millions of people impacted by this disease.

Award recipients are selected by committees of outstanding peers. The ORCA originated in 1978, the OTICA in 1992 and the IDEA in 2006.

- Melissa Lee, NU Central Administration