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Faculty Honored at 2023 Maryland Research Excellence Celebration

Annual Event Recognizes High-Impact and Transformative Research

MREC honorees pose with the President, Provost, and VPR
Honorees and hosts at the Maryland Research Excellence Celebration

Top row, left to right: Andrea López, Ellen Williams, Xiaoping Zhu, Rod Brunson, Rajshree Agarwall, Gregory Ball, Derek Paley
Bottom row, left to right: Naeemul Hassan, Ruth Zambrana, Jennifer Cotting, Donald Milton, Jennifer King Rice, Jade Wexler, Darryll J. Pines
Photo credits: Thai Nguyen

More than 200 University of Maryland faculty scholars and researchers were honored on March 28 at the 2023 Maryland Research Excellence Celebration.

Provost Jennifer King Rice gives remarks
Senior Vice President and Provost Jennifer King Rice

The event, held at the Hotel at the University of Maryland and co-hosted by Senior Vice President and Provost Jennifer King Rice and Vice President for Research Gregory F. Ball, honors the distinct and notable accomplishments of University of Maryland researchers and offers the opportunity to recognize the high-impact outcomes of the university’s research and scholarship community.

President Darryll J. Pines gives remarks
President Darryll J. Pines

“Our scholarship and research contribute to society in so many ways, from fundamentally changing the way we look at the universe, to generating new insights and innovations that have a very practical impact on our lives,” said Vice President for Research Gregory F. Ball.

Honorees were nominated by the deans of each school or college for demonstrably elevating the visibility and reputation of the university’s research enterprise by meeting one or more of the following criteria: 

  • Developing research findings that are both highly-cited and transformative to their field
  • Obtaining research achievements with demonstrable societal impact, such as change in police or major external press coverage
  • Achieving recognition by a national or international group
  • Publishing in a renowned scholarly journal or publication in their field
  • Selection for award via a funding competition with limited submissions
  • Selection for a Division of Research New Directions Award
  • Receiving significant external research funding from a federal funding agency, foundation, corporation, nonprofit, national laboratory, medical center, or other entity

In addition, one faculty member from each school or college was selected for special recognition as having best exemplified research excellence. Those recognized were as follows:

  • Ruth Zambrana, College of Arts and Humanities
    Ruth Zambrana receives award from VPR Gregory Ball
    Dr. Ruth Zambrana (left) and Vice President for Research Dr. Greg Ball
    • Dr. Zambrana is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Director of the Consortium on Race, Gender and Ethnicity and has a secondary appointment as Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, School of Medicine. She is a medical and community sociologist and an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM).  Her scholarship applies a critical intersectional lens to structural inequality and racial, Hispanic ethnicity, and gender inequities in population health and higher education trajectories. Dr. Zambrana has published widely on health and racial inequity in her major field concentrations: women’s health, maternal and child health, socioeconomic health disparities and life course impacts on health and mental well-being of  historically underrepresented minorities.  Her most recent book is Toxic Ivory Tower: The Consequences of Work Stress on the Health of Underrepresented Minority Faculty (2018). She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2011 Julian Samora Distinguished Career Award by the American Sociological Association, Sociology of Latino/as Section, the 2013 American Public Health Association (APHA) Latino Caucus, Founding Member Award for Vision and Leadership, the 2021 APHA Lyndon Haviland Public Health Mentoring Award, and the 2021-22 Distinguished Research Fellow at the Latino Research Institute University of Texas, Austin.
  • Andrea López, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences 
    Andrea Lopez receives award from VPR Gregory Ball
    Dr. Andrea López (left) and Vice President for Research Dr. Greg Ball
    • Dr. López has over two decades of experience working with unstably housed and homeless people who use drugs, both as a researcher and in a harm reduction direct service capacity (most recently as a volunteer with HIPS DC). Her research on harm reduction initiatives, most recently including harm reduction vending machines, is directly impacting policy and approaches to overdose prevention and other harm reduction initiatives in Maryland and nationally. Dr. López recently completed a state-wide assessment of drug use and services that was funded by the Maryland Department of Health through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Crisis Response Funds). She was recently appointed by the Maryland Secretary of Health to the Maryland Department of Health’s Standing Advisory Committee on Opioid-Associated Disease Prevention and Outreach Programs. She is also an active member in the Maryland Harm Reduction Action Network. Her publications appear in top tier public health and anthropology venues, including the American Journal of Public Health, Medical Anthropology, International Journal of Drug Policy, PLoS Medicine, and PLoS One. She holds affiliate appointments in the Center for Substance Abuse Research, the Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and the Consortium on Race, Gender, and Ethnicity.
  • Derek Paley, A. James Clark School of Engineering 
    Derek Paley receives award from VPR Gregory Ball
    Dr. Derek Paley (left) and Vice President for Research Dr. Greg Ball
    • Derek Paley is the Director of the Maryland Robotics Center (MRC) and a faculty member in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and the Institute for Systems Research. He directs the Collective Dynamics and Control Laboratory, which conducts research in engineering dynamics and control, particularly autonomous vehicles and sensor networks. As MRC Director, Paley led the creation of the Robotics and Autonomous Systems undergraduate minor, which launched in 2021, and the opening of MRC’s labs located in the Iribe Center and IDEA Factory. He is principal investigator of the 5-year $68M ArtIAMAS cooperative agreement with the Army Research Lab on AI and autonomy; ArtIAMAS supports more than 50 faculty members and 120 students across seven universities. Dr. Paley is the faculty advisor of the UMD Autonomous Micro Air Vehicle Team, which won first place in the 2021 NIST First Responder UAS Triple Challenge national competition; the team also won the First Responder Choice Award. He received the 2020-2021 UMD Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Award and has been selected as a UMD University Honors Faculty Fellow for 2023-2025.
  • Donald Milton, School of Public Health
    Donald Milton receives award from VPR Gregory Ball
    Dr. Donald Milton (right) and Vice President for Research Dr. Greg Ball
    • Dr. Milton is internationally recognized for his expertise on the aerobiology and transmission of respiratory viruses. During the past several years he has been investigating SARS-CoV-2 in addition to influenza. This research has been timely, responsive to pandemic changes and challenges, and has informed domestic and global public health practice and mitigation recommendations and procedures. His transformative research has strong social impact, has stimulated national and international partnerships and collaborative research projects, and has attracted significant research funding including awards and gifts. In addition to his research, Dr. Milton devotes substantial time responding to ever-increasing requests by the media, health professions and arts societies, the business community and civic leaders. He is a trusted scientific advisor, outstanding mentor to students, and a committed advocate for evidence-based interventions to promote the public's health. 
  • Rajshree Agarwal receives award from VPR Gregory Ball
    Dr. Rajshree Agarwal (left) and Vice President for Research Dr. Greg Ball
    Rajshree Agarwal, Robert H. Smith School of Business
    • Dr. Rajshree Agarwal’s research has provided important insights into how innovation and entrepreneurship impact the evolution of industries, firms, and individuals. She authored more than 65 articles in leading economics and management journals and received more than 7 million dollars in grants from prestigious foundations. Her research won a large number of research awards (e.g., Best published article award at Academy of Management Journal, Best paper award by the Academy of Management, and research excellence awards at University of Illinois as well as University of Maryland). In addition, Dr. Agarwal has held prestigious editorial positions, including her current role as the (co) editor-in-chief of Strategic Management Journal, a top journal in the field. Finally, Dr. Agarwal is the founding director of the Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets, where she has led multiple efforts to translate scientific findings to the development of students – from high school students through graduate students.
    Jade Wexler receives award from VPR Gregory Ball
    Dr. Jade Wexler (left) and Vice President for Research Dr. Greg Ball
  • Jade Wexler, College of Education
    • Dr. Wexler's research focuses on improving reading instruction for and achievement of adolescents with reading difficulties and disabilities. She has been the PI and co-PI on federal research grants totaling approximately $8M. She has led or co-led development of reading and professional development interventions for studies that have included hundreds of instructional leaders, teachers, and interventionists who have served thousands of students. She has published three books and over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles on adolescent literacy instruction and professional development for researchers, instructional leaders, and teachers. Her research has been widely recognized, as evidenced by multiple awards and regular invited speaking opportunities. Most recently, she was awarded the inaugural UMD College of Education Dean’s Impact Professorship.
    Jennifer Cotting receives award from VPR Gregory Ball
    Jennifer Cotting (left) and Vice President for Research Dr. Greg Ball
  • Jennifer Cotting, College of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
    • For more than 20 years, Jennifer Cotting has worked to advance local environmental and sustainability initiatives through the University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center (EFC), one of a network of centers in the United States. As Director, Cotting has been instrumental in developing the EFC’s programming, partnerships, reach and reputation; an advocate and ally for community needs, she has leveraged university resources, funding opportunities and partnerships to build transformational programming around stormwater management, water and air quality, resiliency and green initiatives, and apply best practices on the ground in communities across the mid-Atlantic. Signature programs like Sustainable Maryland, for which Cotting helped secure $500,000 in yearly funding from the Maryland State Assembly in 2022, deliver tangible, quality-of-life impact for Maryland residents across the state.
    Naeemul Hassan receives award from VPR Gregory Ball
    Dr. Naeemul Hassan (left) and Vice President for Research Dr. Greg Ball
  • Naeemul Hassan, Philip Merrill College of Journalism
    • Dr. Hassan has several NSF grants and has been the author recently of several peer-reviewed papers related  to fact-checking and computational journalism. He is an innovator and rising star. He is a leader in applying big data and data mining principles to journalism and computer science instruction. He also co-developed a popular automated fact checking and monitoring platform called "Claimbuster," which assists journalists in ferreting out falsehoods.
  • Paul Jaeger, College of Information Studies
    • Dr. Jaeger is a researcher and educator examining the intersections of information and human rights, particularly issues of policy, literacy, access, and accessibility. He is the author of over 200 journal articles and book chapters, as well as 20 books. He is editor of the journals Library Quarterly and Including Disability, and the co-founder/co-chair of the Including Disability Global Summit. His research has been funded by the Institute of Museum & Library Services, the National Science Foundation, the American Library Association, the Smithsonian Institute, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others. In 2014, he received the inaugural Library Journal/ALISE Excellence in Teaching Award. A 2019 study named him one of the two most influential scholars of public library research (it was a tie with Associate Provost John Carlo Bertot) and a 2020 study found his publications to have the highest prestige value in the field of library and information science. He co-directs the Museum Scholarship and Material Culture graduate program.
  • Nathan Hultman, School of Public Policy
    Nathan Hultman receives award from VPR Gregory Ball
    Dr. Nate Hultman (left) and Vice President for Research Dr. Greg Ball
    • Dr. Nate Hultman is the founding director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the School of Public Policy, leading a team of 60 people and a portfolio of 40 projects that link collaborative research with policy engagement to support global climate ambition and action. In the past year, Dr. Hultman’s research and engagement with policymakers has supported governmental and intergovernmental processes to enhance climate action, including innovative research products that examine Indonesia’s pathways for phasing out coal, identify opportunities for U.S.-China collaborations on methane mitigation, and investigate pathways towards rapid decarbonization in China’s power sector. Domestically, Dr. Hultman continues to lead the analytical effort of the America Is All In coalition, releasing a major report assessing the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act on the country’s 2030 target. The Center is also a founding partner in the Subnational Climate Action Leaders’ Exchange, a new partnership between the U.S. Department of State and Bloomberg Philanthropies.  
    Xiaoping Zhu receives award from VPR Gregory Ball
    Dr. Xiaoping Zhu (left) and Vice President for Research Dr. Greg Ball
    Xiaoping Zhu, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
    • Dr. Zhu leads an excellent research program studying mucosal immunology and infection, which is supported by several grants of over $4 million from NIH, USDA, and biotech companies in the past three years. Since January 2020, Dr. Zhu’s research has developed protein-based COVID nasal spray vaccines in the hope of being able to block the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection and thus reduce the risk of emerging new virus variants. His research highlights the importance and feasibility of developing a nasal spray variant-proof vaccine to fight against highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 variants and other respiratory infections. He received a co-inventor of the year in COVID-19 research. Working with UM Venture, he actively engages with biotech companies to move the patented vaccine platform technology to clinical trials.   
    Ellen Williams receives award from VPR Gregory Ball
    Dr. Ellen Williams (left) and Vice President for Research Dr. Greg Ball
  • Ellen Williams, College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences
    • Dr. Ellen D. Williams is a Distinguished University Professor  in the Department of Physics. Since 2020 she has also been serving as the Director of UMD’s Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, which is the largest research center on campus. Previously, she directed the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) of the US Department of Energy. Her scientific research has led to fundamental contributions in the areas of experimental surface chemistry and nanotechnology. She has also worked to bridge policy and scientific considerations for clean energy innovation. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a foreign member of the Royal Society of London.
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