Luminary Awards were presented to UCF faculty who are making an impact on the world.

UCF Honors Luminary Leaders for Changing the World

By: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala on

UCF recognized 45 faculty members Wednesday during the university’s inaugural Luminary Award presentations for making an impact on the world.

The event, themed like Oscar night, honored those who are academic leaders in their field and are making contributions to the world that are having a significant impact.

“Merriam-Webster defines a luminary as a person of prominence or brilliant achievement,” said President John C. Hitt during the ceremony. “At UCF, we dare to dream big. As expressed in our Collective Impact Strategic Plan, we use the power of scale and the pursuit of excellence to solve tomorrow’s great challenges and make a better future for our students and society. Key to our mission is a vibrant and dynamic faculty. In various ways, the honorees help fulfill our vision of enhancing ever more lives and livelihoods through the power of higher education.”

Individuals and teams are changing people’s lives in a variety of ways such as developing a more effective method of helping veterans with PTSD, giving them and their families hope for a normal life once again creating more effective methods to teach English as a Second Language, which are being modeled around the world helping shape the World Health Organization’s guidelines for communicating risk during public health emergencies

The new awards are meant to not only recognize funded research, but also the many kinds of creative works and scholarships that are just as important to the well-being of our society, said Elizabeth Klonoff, vice president of the Office of Research and Dean of the College of Graduate Studies. She and Cynthia Young, a former vice provost, created the Luminary Awards.

Deans, chairs, and directors from across the university nominated candidates based on the nominees’ past three years of performance. A panel from the Office of Research selected the winners.

This year’s recipients are:

Ayman Abouraddy, College of Optics and Photonics

Abouraddy is helping to revolutionize the way we use clothing by working with fellow researchers at MIT to weave optical fibers into textiles. That could mean clothes that conceivably conduct electricity, sense temperature, and body functions, communicate with the internet and report injuries of soldiers on the battlefield. His multimaterial optical fiber devices play a critical role in a $317 million Department of Defense collaboration.

George Atia, College of Engineering and Computer Science

From Big Data to sensor technology, Atia is constantly looking for ways to push boundaries. His current research to advance the processing of neurological signals for real-time brain computer interfaces is gaining a lot of interest and holds the promise of enhancing the quality of life of patients with various paralyzing disabilities. His research offers hope to thousands.

Candice Bridge, College of Sciences and National Center for Forensic Science

Bridge was inspired to pursue forensic science when she was homesick as a young girl. She happened to catch a murder-mystery show. Later, she would go on to become one of the first people in the nation to earn a forensic Ph.D. Not only is her research focus tough – finding new forensic science techniques to aid in sexual assault investigations – but it’s also tough to get people to talk about it. Today, she is bringing victims hope for justice when there may not have been hope before.

Necati Catbas, College of Engineering and Computer Science

People rely on the integrity of bridges to stay safe. Catbas is internationally recognized as a leading expert in civil engineering and structural integrity. He is a founding director of the Civil Infrastructure Technology for Resilience, a partnership among academia, industry, and government agencies to develop and apply intelligent monitoring, sensing, material, and information technologies to create safer and more resilient civil infrastructure systems.

Debopam Chakrabarti, College of Medicine

Chakrabarti is looking for the next generation of drugs to treat malaria, which is responsible for 500,000 deaths a year around the world. Current drugs are rapidly losing their effectiveness because of drug resistance, so his work is critical. His lab is working with marine biodiversity because there is evidence some creatures may hold novel compounds that could be useful in the fight against malaria and other diseases.

Zenghu Chang, College of Sciences and College of Optics and Photonics

Pegasus Professor Chang loves a challenge. He and his team produced the shortest-ever laser pulse in 2012, a 67-attosecond X-ray flash. Then in 2017, he beat his own record, creating a laser pulse of 53 attoseconds. This means he’s essentially developing technology to shoot slow-motion video of electrons and research how they interact with atoms. That would open up the world of quantum mechanics and help researchers leap ahead in the development of the next-generation logic boards and memory chips for mobile phones and computers.

Demetrios Christodoulides, College of Optic and Photonics

Christodoulides’ work in optics focuses on nonlinear waves. He has authored and co-authored more than 250 papers. His expertise has earned him multiple awards and recognitions, including being named Pegasus Professor in 2013. He is a Fellow of the Optical Society of America and the American Physical Society. He also has been named Thompson Reuters Highly Cited Researcher for two years running, and he is listed among “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds.”

Alexander Cole, College of Medicine

Cole is an expert in innate immunity and has been researching the natural antibiotics that humans produce. These antibiotics may be useful in preventing AIDS and staph. He has written more than 60 articles, has served on 68 peer-reviewed panels, and is editor of eight professional journals. His work has led to five patents.

Lisa Dieker, College of Education and Human Performance

Dieker believes everyone should have a good education. It’s a mantra that has fueled her passion to use research-based methodology and technology to ensure students get access, and what led her to earn the honor of Pegasus Professor in 2013. Her work in the field of exceptional education has earned UCF national attention drawing big grants and an invitation to the White House. As her nominator said, she’s a force of nature, and we’re lucky to have her.

Juli Dixon, College of Education and Human Performance

Dixon thought she knew education — until her daughter had a stroke. Afterward, her daughter had to relearn how to do everything. What Dixon learned during the recovery not only helped her daughter, it also fueled her passion to help others. Since then, she has published five refereed books and a professional development video that has become the gold standard for K-12 math teachers. Today, she continues to teach the next generation of teachers, and as a bonus, she gets to watch her daughter attend classes at UCF.

Keith Folse, College of Arts and Humanities

Folse is a leader in teaching English as a Second Language. Some of the 67 books he has published are used as textbooks at universities worldwide. Thanks to his efforts in creating and bringing certificate programs to UCF, 15 students earned Fulbright ETA awards to teach English in other countries. And just last year, the Teaching English as a Second Language Association named him one of its “50 at 50” leaders in the field.

Hassan Foroosh, College of Engineering and Computer Science

Foroosh is an expert in computer imaging. He is working on multiple projects for NASA and the Department of Defense that relate to image processing and extracting information from those images. He also is dedicated to his students, working hard to make sure they graduate and get jobs. He has had 11 doctoral and master’s degree students graduate since he joined the university.

Jayanta Kapat, College of Engineering and Computer Science

Kapat works in the area of turbomachinery and is well known for having drawn interest from industry partners such as Siemens, General Electric, and Embraer, among others. He is a Pegasus Professor, and the director of UCF’s Center for Advanced Turbomachinery and Energy Research.

Naim Kapucu, College of Health and Public Affairs

Kapucu is a leader in public policy and administration, emergency management, and homeland security. He has written nine books and 113 journal articles. He has presented at more than 260 conferences and has been invited by dozens of universities to deliver lectures as a visiting scholar.

Alexander Katsevich, College of Science

Katsevich’s work is creating algorithms for modern computerized CT scans that have had an international impact in math and medical fields. Some of the most recent licensees include Siemens, Bruker, FEI (a division of Thermo Fisher Scientific), and Microtec. In 2016, he received the Marcus Wallenberg Prize, which is the highest prize in the forestry industry for scientific achievements that contribute to broadening knowledge and technical development.”

Annette Khaled, Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, College of Medicine

Khaled’s research focuses on finding ways to treat cancer. Her discoveries have attracted grant funding and a commercial partner, which ultimately will lead to better options for cancer patients. She is also a strong advocate for cancer research and demonstrates strong leadership. She was recently named head of the cancer research division at the Burnett School.

Jennifer Kent-Walsh, College of Health and Public Affairs

Kent-Walsh’s work directly impacts the lives of children who have developmental disabilities such as cerebral palsy, childhood apraxia, and Down syndrome. She spends her days researching ways to help children improve their speech and, in the process, she has improved the standard of care and clinical outcomes for children with severe speech disorders who use computerized speech-output devices. She has also secured funding for the FAAST Atlantic Region Assistive Technology Demonstration Center, which gives students a chance to learn and gives local families clinical services.

Glenn Lambie, College of Education and Human Performance

Lambie is a leader in the field of educational counseling. He has been recognized nationally for his work through 23 peer-reviewed articles, as well as dozens of awards, including the American Counseling Association Extended Research Award, among many others. He leads a partnership between Seminole County Public Schools and UCF that provides mental health counseling services to students and their families at two Title I elementary schools. His group has provided more than 1,100 counseling sessions.

Richard Lapchick, College of Business Administration

Lapchick has had a big impact on society. He is a human-rights activist, a pioneer for racial equality, and an international expert on sports issues. He brings all that to educating the next generation of students who will change the world.

Katherine Mansfield, College of Sciences

Mansfield is a biologist who uses cutting-edge technology to research threatened and endangered sea turtles with the goal of understanding their behavior and life cycles to guide conservation efforts. She translates her research so the general public can understand what she and her team do and why it matters, which makes her not only a highly respected scientist but also a tremendous spokesperson for the STEM fields, conservation, and women in science.

Ann Miller, Lindsay Neuberger and Timothy Sellnow, College of Sciences

Miller, Neuberger and Sellnow combined their expertise in global health research, collaborating with community partners and risk communicators to have a major impact on the world. Their work has helped shape the World Health Organization’s guidelines for communicating risk in public health emergencies.

Megan Nickels, College of Education and Human Performance

Nickels’ research focuses on ensuring critically ill children have the opportunity to learn STEM. Her innovative approach has led to some fun projects for children and unique partnerships for UCF, including a relationship with Lego Education. The only other university to have such a partnership is MIT.

Griffith Parks, College of Medicine

Parks has been researching anti-viral immunity, human immunity, and pathogenesis for his entire career. He is the College of Medicine’s highest-funded investigator and also works tirelessly to enhance the school’s graduate program. He is considered one of the experts in his field and has a long history of serving at the National Institutes of Health in a variety of capacities. Recently, he is researching ways to attack the Zika virus.

Jonathan Powell, College of Sciences

Powell’s work has been recognized by academia and the international stage of politics, where his area of expertise is conflict studies. He has been sought out by national agencies and foreign governments for his counsel after coups in different parts of the world. And his teaching has been adopted into the syllabi of multiple institutions such as the University of Chicago, Ohio State, University of Oslo, and others.

Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz, College of Arts and Humanities

Raimundi-Ortiz is a gifted artist who is best known for her performance pieces. In her Queens series, she develops regal characters who speak to broken relationships, racial intolerance, anxiety, and other issues often affected and defined by race and ethnicity. Her work was showcased this past summer at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Lauren Reinerman-Jones, Institute for Simulation and Training

Reinerman-Jones’ research focuses on explaining, predicting, and improving human performance and systems. Her Prodigy lab is working on more than $4 million worth of projects primarily funded by the U.S. Armed Forces. She is so well known in her field, that in 2016 the assistant secretary of Defense invited her to contribute to a classified summit on artificial intelligence and human-robot teaming. She was the only civilian asked to contribute.

Anastasia Salter, College of Arts and Humanities

Salter’s work focuses on the impact of emerging platforms on the experience and authorship of stories. In addition to presenting her work internationally, she has also helped design an alternative reality game for an art-history class and a U.S.-Russia cultural exchange game.

Swadeshmukul Santra, NanoScience Technology Center and College of Sciences

Santra is using nanotechnology to develop new tools that will aid doctors and farmers in the safe delivery of compounds to prevent and treat disease in people and plants. Santra has established a cutting-edge highly interdisciplinary program. His work earned recognition from the USDA earlier this year, which awarded Santra a $1.9 million grant. The grant helped launch the Materials Innovation for Sustainable Agriculture Center at UCF.

Mubarak Shah, College of Engineering & Computer Science and College of Optics and Photonics

Pegasus Professor Shah has received international recognition for his work in the area of computer visioning. He has made contributions to enhancing video surveillance and visual crowd analysis. He also oversees the National Science Foundation’s longest-running REU site, which prepares students for jobs after college.

John Schultz, College of Sciences

Schultz is a biological anthropologist with a worldwide reputation. His research focus is forensic anthropology and grave and body detection. He is often called as an expert witness in criminal cases. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. His work is highly cited, and his partnerships give graduate students hands-on opportunities that lead to jobs in the forensic field.

Eileen Smith, Institute for Simulation and Training and College of Arts and Humanities

Smith’s research out of her E2i Creative Studio focuses on enhancing human performance over a lifetime. Her current research portfolio is at $3 million and aims to help train people in everything from teaching people to operate oil rig equipment to maintenance therapy for people with dementia.

Mary Lou Sole, College of Nursing

Sole is a Pegasus Professor and an internationally recognized expert in the area of critical care. She is a fellow of both the American Academy of Nursing and the American College of Critical Care Medicine. She also serves as a permanent member of the National Institutes of Health Study Section.

Gunes Murat Tezcur, College of Sciences

Tezcur’s work asks the question: “What motivates ordinary people to risk their lives and join insurgent movements.” His research, published in the highest-ranked political science journal – a first for any UCF professor – is based on data collected from more than 9,000 insurgents from Kurdish areas. His work is helping us better understand terrorism recruitment and potentially how we can prevent it.

Jennifer Tucker, College of Health and Public Affairs

Tucker’s work in the area of health professions and physical therapy has gained national attention for its innovation and community impact. Through her efforts, the Go Baby Go! program came to UCF. The program provides common-sense solutions for children and adults with mobility issues. Earlier this year, she took the Go Baby Go! model to Europe to collaborate with international partners.

Geoffrey Turnbull, College of Business Administration

Turnbull is the Jim Heistand-NAIOP Eminent Scholar Chair in Real Estate at UCF. He received the 2015 David Ricardo Medal from the American Real Estate Society, which is one of the highest recognitions for scholarly work in the real estate discipline. He was selected as a fellow of the Weimer School of Advanced Studies in Real Estate and Land Economics and advises local governments, firms and organizations in the business services, energy and hospitality industries.

Deborah Beidel, Clint Bowers and Sandra Neer, UCF RESTORES Team in the College of Sciences

This team of experts piloted a program to help veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts who are suffering from combat-related PTSD. The program uses established behavioral methods augmented by virtual reality to provide an enhanced treatment experience. Early research shows RESTORES is more effective than traditional methods. The work is so promising that state and federal agencies have provided more than $2 million to continue their effort.

Subith Vasu, College of Engineering and Computer Science

Vasu’s research focuses on combustions. He has published more than 26 articles this year, adding to 50 previous papers. He has more than $2.5 million in grant funding and has mentored six doctoral students, six master’s degree students, and three post-doctoral students. He also has received multiple special recognitions, including the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Young Investigator Award.

Stephanie Vie, College of Arts and Humanities

Vie is an internationally known scholar for her work in digital rhetoric. She is a leader in the area of social media and digital activism. Her expertise has been featured in publications such as Research Gate News and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Linda Walters, College of Sciences

Walters’ research quantifies and seeks to understand the long-term coastal ecosystem impacts and responses. Her work helps resource managers make informed decisions. In addition to her lasting impact as a Pegasus Professor, she has created a legacy program at UCF. Walters has more than $4 million in grant funding and is collaborating on at least $8 million worth of projects.

Gregory Welch, College of Nursing and Institute for Simulation and Training

Welch has gained international fame for his work in health care simulation as a way to train future nurses before they work with real people. He has served on numerous National Science Foundation panels and has given several keynote speeches at universities around the world.

Pavel Zemliansky, College of Arts and Humanities

Professor Zemliansky is an expert in the field of writing and rhetoric. His work is regularly featured in the highest-ranked journals in the field, and he has won several national and international awards. His diverse background and knowledge of five languages helps give students a realistic look at their work before entering the job market.

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