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 SRU salutes 2,500 scholars at annual Academic Honors Convocation 



March 31, 2008
Contact: K.E. Schwab


SRU salutes 2,500 scholars at annual Academic Honors Convocation

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Nearly 2,500 Slippery Rock University scholars will be honored for their academic achievements at the University's annual Academic Honors Convocation April 6 in Morrow Field House.

           The 2 p.m. event is expected to draw more than 1,500 parents and other family members to campus. In addition to scholarship recipients, the event will honor all students named to the 2006-07 spring semester dean's list and those named to the 2007-08 fall semester list.  

           The convocation will also see presentation of:

           The President's Award for Excellence in Teaching to Athula Herat, assistant professor of physics, for his outstanding classroom work; 

           The President's Award for Scholarly and Creative Achievement to Timothy D. Smith, associate professor of physical therapy for his "Evolution of the nose and nasal skeleton in primates" research published in the peer-reviewed journal Evolutionary Anthropology; and 

           The President's Award for Outstanding Service to Mary Ann King, director of academic resources.

           SRU's Presidential Scholars, Graduate Presidential Scholars, Graduate Scholars, Scholar Athletes, Service-Learning Scholars and academic scholarship recipients will also be honored.


           Senior speaker           

           Lisa Kathleen O'Brien, an exercise science major from Pottstown, will be the event's senior speaker. Her selection was based on her broad range of interests, outstanding academic performance, including a 4.0 grade-point average, and community and University service.

           O'Brien is president of SRU's 300-member Exercise Science Society, a member of SRU's Strength and Conditioning Association, the University's Dance Express dance team, SRU Run Club, the Slippery Rock University Dance Theatre and a member of the SRU Bodybuilding and Fitness Club. She recently trained for the Mr. and Ms. SRU Bodybuilding Competition. In addition to working on campus, she is involved in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, the University's Project Christmas Elf, the campus blood pressure screening program and several food drives.

           Winner of numerous awards, O'Brien captured the "Student of the Month" honor last February from the exercise science department after earlier winning the Aebersold Center's "Employee of the Month" honor. 

           A continuous dean's list honoree, she has received the Sheila Drohan Exercise Science Scholarship, the Dance Department Summer Study Scholarship, the Louis D. and Panagiota Pappan Scholarship, and has been an SRU Presidential Scholar since enrolling in 2005.

           Her research project, undertaken with faculty adviser Nora Ambrosio, SRU professor of dance, is titled "A female modern dancer's self-perception and body composition in regard to the influence of a collegiate, modern dance-based program." 

           O'Brien expects to graduate in August and plans to apply to an osteopathic medical school or to specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation work. 

           Teaching excellence

           Herat, an SRU faculty member since 2004, credits his classroom ability to following a philosophy captured in a quote from Confucius. "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand." He uses that philosophy in his SRU classes ranging from "General Physics" to "Quantum Mechanics."

           "I realize science is hard because it simply is hard. Science learning often involves counterintuitive learning while simultaneously covering a great many concepts, so students must study hard to master the material and understand how it applies to their studies and their understanding of science," he said. 

           "A physics teacher's philosophy must be not only to convey the importance and excitement of that pursuit, but also to create an environment that will allow students to experience the thrill of discovery for themselves. I strongly believe students should not be passive observers in the learning process, but active participants."

           Herat is recognized by fellow faculty for implementing a constructivist style of classroom teaching. He says the fundamental premise of his approach is to recognize that knowledge is constructed, not transmitted. In order to implement a constructivist learning environment he provides guided activities where students have the opportunity to develop ideas and answers themselves rather than depend on the instructor. "I see myself more as a facilitator than a provider of facts. The successful result of such teaching produces graduates who are confident, independent thinkers," said.

           Recognized by students and fellow faculty, Herat has been praised as "a teacher that realizes education goes beyond the classroom. He has pushed my classmates and me to pursue many opportunities such as a research experience, internships and contests. Inside the classroom, he is able to take a subject�and explain it in a way that all of his students, even non-majors, can easily understand," wrote

           Duayne Rieger, a computation physics major from Cherry Tree. Another course evaluation report simply said, "I would give Dr. Herat a 20-year extension to his contract. An awesome teacher," and another wrote, "The course made me think�a lot. That is a strength."

           "One salient fact about my teaching career," Herat wrote, "is the continual change, and I am certain it will keep changing. I strive to develop and discover new techniques to improve my teaching, both inside and outside the classroom. I will also persistently look for collaborative, interdisciplinary research opportunities to involve students. Through my teaching, advising and student-faculty research endeavors, I aim to develop my students' skills that will have a positive impact in their lives."

           At SRU, Herat has been an instrumental leader in the Computational Physics Research Group and supervises four undergraduate research projects. His personal research interests include computational high energy physics, application of physical model building and simulation techniques to address complex biological and environmental systems. He is currently examining extended classical solutions of quantum field theories. 

           Active in the Physics Education Research community, Herat regularly attends regional and national meetings of the American Association of Physics Teachers, crediting such meetings with giving him new and important insights on the use of student assessments in his classes. 

           The SRU Lambda Sigma Society, a college sophomore honor organization, named him "Teacher of the Month" last April and the SRU Chemistry and Physics Club named him "Chemistry and Physics Faculty of the Year" in 2004-05. 

           Herat serves as Webmaster and department server administrator for the SRU physics department and is adviser to 14 physics and pre-engineering majors. He is a reviewer for the SRU Research and Scholarship Symposium and served as a judge for the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science annual meeting at SRU. 


           Research award

           Smith, who joined the SRU faculty in 1996, had his research published in the July-August 2007 issue of Evolutionary Anthropology. Reviewers noted the work contains the most comprehensive available information to date on internal nasal anatomy of non-human primates. The work also updates the genetics and function of olfaction in non-human primates and humans. It examines a multitude of olfaction in primates, citing its importance to social, reproductive and dietary strategies. Smith notes there is indirect evidence in how the olfactory sense relates to sniffing and scent-marking as a form of communication. The paper also examines a multitude of other behaviors directly linked to olfactory abilities found in primates. 

           Joining Smith in the research were Kunwar Bhatnagar, professor emeritus in the department of anatomical sciences and neurobiology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and James Rossie, assistant professor in the department of anthropology at Stony Brook University.

           One reviewer wrote, "This is an excellent review of primate olfactory anatomy and historical ideas on the evolution of the primate olfactory system." The reviewer cited an overall lack of literature on primate olfaction, adding, "With their review, Smith, Rossie and Bhatnagar have single-handedly corrected this oversight and brought the primate literature into the 21st century. I suspect that this review will be widely cited for many years and it will certainly be required reading in several of my courses."

           Smith has published more than 50 papers during his career. 


Service award

           King's nominations cited her previous work as assistant to five deans and her current service in academic resources. "Mary Ann King is one of the most competent people I have worked with at Slippery Rock University," wrote one nominator, who cited King's organizational abilities and her outstanding ability to offer solutions to nearly every presented problem. King, who joined the University in 1989, was also credited with being able to work with a vast number of constituents across campus with ease. "She is particularly invaluable when acting as a liaison between different departments and offices. She has a way of bringing diplomacy to the table and getting people to cooperate," wrote one nominator.

           Nora Ambrosio, chair of the dance department, wrote, "On a number of occasions, the dance department has relied on Mary Ann in order to plan, execute and complete projects that were of the utmost importance to the internal functioning of the department. When the department hosted two dance festivals, one in 1999 and a second in 2004, she was instrumental in helping with the coordination of assistance from different departments and planning the logistics of the festival schedules, including building use and other facility matters. Mary Ann was instrumental in helping secure a Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Technology Grant to establish a state-of-the-art dance laboratory at SRU. The development of this lab was crucial to the department and now allows our faculty and students to create works that are on the cutting edge of dance and technology. Mary Ann helped oversee the project and made sure everything ran smoothly. Today, we have a dance lab similar to some of those in the largest institutions in the nation."

           The Presidents' Award for Outstanding Service was first made possible in 1981 through the generosity of the late Robert and Donna McMullen, long-time Slippery Rock University patrons. It continues through the support of their son Doug and his wife, Linda. The award recognizes a University staff member who consistently contributes in ways that support the University's advancement as did Mr. McMullen, a member of the Class of 1951 and chair of the Slippery Rock University Foundation Inc. board of directors. Both he and his wife were involved in campus programs and offered continuing support to SRU throughout their lives.


           Syed R. Ali-Zaidi Award

           The ceremony will also see Nadya Mamoozadeh, a senior biology major, honored as the University's candidate for the Syed R. Ali-Zaidi Award for Academic Excellence presented by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The selected recipient of the $1,000 award will be honored at the student's home campus during spring semester commencement. 

           The award, established by Dr. Ali-Zaidi, a charter member of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education board of governors and a strong advocate for the system's universities, honors students who excel in the pursuit of knowledge. The award was inspired by Ali-Zaidi's memory of his grandfather, Mir Wilayat Husain. Criteria for the award include outstanding academic performance in the student's academic major and other areas of study; recognition of scholarship by university faculty; participation in extra- or co-curricular activities as an undergraduate; and submission of an essay on how the university has prepared the student for the next step.

           Mamoozadeh was chosen following a rigorous internal procedure that solicited nominations from the entire academic community. Her nomination came from biology department faculty and was endorsed by Dr. Susan Hannam, dean of the College of Health, Environment and Science.

           She has a 3.794 cumulative grade-point average and has participated in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field while working two, part-time jobs. Dean DeNicola, SRU biology professor, wrote, "Nadya has taken an even more difficult path by doing minors in chemistry and marine biology. The latter requires an extra commitment of marine biology courses taken over the summer at the Marine Science Consortium field station on Wallops Island, Va." Dr. Simon Beeching, another an SRU biology professor, wrote, "Few students complete the marine biology minor. Nadya has fulfilled her requirements with a 4.0 grade-point average and is interested in earning an advanced degree in marine biology."

           Her career plan is to continue her education in a master's program in marine biology. She credits her desire to continue her studies with the learning experience she has had at SRU.

           The ceremony is open to the public.


           Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.



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