College Announces 2017 Employee Award Recipients

The University of Maryland’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS) hosted its annual academic festival on Friday, May 5 to honor the college’s 2017 employee award recipients.


Board of Visitors Outstanding Graduate Student Award
Krista Smith, Graduate Student, Department of Astronomy

(L-R) Karen Carleton, Liliana Gonzalez, Fawzi Emad, Catherine Plaisant, Scott Taylor, Joanna Patterson, John Merck, Bonnie Miranda, David Yim, Melissa Hayes-Gehrke, CMNS Dean Jayanth Banavar and Niranjan Ramachandran. Not pictured: Suvi Gezari and Krista Smith. Photo by Faye Levine.Smith is being recognized for her outstanding research on active galactic nuclei. Her work has helped uncover a previously unknown relationship between radio morphology and star formation in active galaxies. Smith’s research also examines the relationship between star formation and the presence of an active galactic nuclei in a galaxy. Smith’s previous awards include the prestigious NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship, the Astronomy Department’s John Chi-Lin Wang Award for Academic Excellence, the Michael J. Pelczar Award for Excellence in Graduate Study and the Department of Astronomy’s Andrew S. Wilson Prize for Excellence in Research. Smith is co-advised by Richard Mushotzky, professor in the Department of Astronomy, and Stuart Vogel, professor and chair of the Department of Astronomy.


CMNS Board of Visitors Creative Educator Award
Melissa Hayes-Gehrke, Principal Lecturer and Undergraduate Director and Advisor, Department of Astronomy

Hayes-Gehrke is being recognized for her inventive and productive teaching methods. Her course titled “Astronomy in Practice,” a 48-student Scholarship in Practice course, gives non-majors an opportunity to conduct and publish original research. In 2016 she redesigned ASTR 310, “Observational Astronomy,” into a more effective course that received an enthusiastic response from the students. Hayes-Gehrke also developed ASTR 220, "Collisions in Space: The Threat of Asteroid Impact." With a combination of science and public policy, the course has inspired many students to study astronomy further.


The Board of Visitors Junior Faculty Award
Suvi Gezari, Assistant Professor, Department of Astronomy

Gezari is a world leader in time-domain astronomy and has been recognized internationally for her work on tidal disruption events, in which a star is torn apart by a supermassive black hole. She pioneered the technique of using variations in light emissions to estimate two key black hole parameters, mass and spin. Gezari has won multiple awards, including a National Science Foundation Early Career Faculty Development Program award.


CMNS Board of Visitors Distinguished Faculty Award
Karen Carleton, Professor, Department of Biology

Carleton, a world expert in the biology of vision, is honored for her research record. She has made landmark discoveries in the molecular, genetic and evolutionary biology of visual systems in fish. Her research simultaneously touches on the fields of chemistry, physics, neuroscience, evolutionary biology and organismal biology. Carleton is also an outstanding mentor who has helped her students obtain NSF fellowships and publish peer-reviewed journal articles.


Distinguished Research Scientist Award
Catherine Plaisant, Senior Research Scientist at the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies and Associate Director of Research of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab

Plaisant is an international research leader in human-computer interaction and information visualization with an extensive record of applications in digital libraries, transportation, health informatics and digital humanities text mining.  Her accomplishments span the development lifecycle with major work in requirements gathering, interface design and rigorous evaluations. Plaisant has designed innovative user interfaces for personal computers, web-based environments, touchscreens and mobile devices. In 2016, she was elected to the Association for Computing Machinery’s CHI Academy, an honor given to field leaders in human-computer interaction.


Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching
Niranjan Ramachandran, Professor, Department of Mathematics

Ramachandran was praised by many students who nominated him for his teaching of MATH 340: Multivariable Calculus, Linear Algebra and Differential Equations I (Honors). One student commented that Ramachandran’s “passion for the topics we covered was clear and it was evident to me that his enthusiasm motivated the class as a whole to learn and engage,” and another credited Ramachandran for the inspiration to take up mathematics as a second major.


Dean’s Outstanding Lecturer Award
Fawzi Emad, Lecturer, Department of Computer Science

Many students had a great deal to say about Emad, with one stating that he was “not only the best Computer Science professor I've ever had, he was also the best Instructor I've had here period.” A number of students stated that they decided to major in computer science because of Emad. Words describing him include engaging, passionate, amazing, enthusiastic, and helpful. One nominator wrote that he “teaches the class with such enthusiasm and passion that I can't wait for his lectures!”


Thelma M. Williams Advisor of the Year Award
John Merck, Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Geology

One of Merck’s nominations called him “a genuinely nice outstanding professor that is absolutely brilliant.” Another student wrote that Merck was always supportive, encouraging and kind, concluding: “My college experience would not have been the same without his guidance, and I am extremely grateful for all his help in my four years at this university.”


Dean’s Outstanding Employee Award (non-exempt)
Joanna Patterson, Accounting Associate, Department of Geology
Scott Taylor, Engineering Technician III, Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry

Successful research relies on accurate grant accounting and efficient sourcing of laboratory supplies and equipment. Patterson was nominated for her exemplary work keeping the Department of Geology on track. Her nominators also called her a reliable, hard-working and extremely efficient professional who is a wonderful person and a pleasure to work with.

Taylor is a dedicated employee who consistently goes above and beyond the expectations of his position. His nominators noted that Taylor is an expert in dealing with equipment failure in teaching and research laboratories, and that he often assists with troubleshooting problems for researchers in other departments. During times of staff shortages, Taylor has stepped in to fill roles outside his normal scope. One nominator wrote that his “great support and service is a major reason that our laboratory program persists in a nearly flawless fashion and befitting the University’s reputation as a top-notch institution for education.”


Dean’s Outstanding Employee Award (exempt)
Liliana Gonzalez, Coordinator, Department of Mathematics
Bonnie Miranda, Coordinator, Department of Biology

Gonzalez has been nominated for her extraordinary contributions to the Department of Mathematics. In addition to handling travel, visas and financial expenditures, she has been instrumental in helping to run special programs and events. Gonzalez has assisted with grant proposals and helped to solve problems with a departmental fellow’s H1B visa application. Her nomination notes that she has gone above and beyond what was required of her in order to help the department succeed in its mission.

Miranda has consistently gone above and beyond expectations to make certain that the administrative lifeblood of the department—such as appointments, promotions & tenure packages, faculty recruitment efforts and unit assessments—proceeded efficiently and with the highest degree of professionalism. Miranda is also praised by her nominators for being exceptionally kind and hardworking.


Dean’s Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award
David Yim, Undergraduate Student, Biological Sciences

Yim was nominated for believing in his students and helping them to achieve their potential. Yim made himself available to all students in the course, not just those in his own discussion section. Many students attended Yim’s section in addition to their assigned sections, citing his effective and fun method of teaching.


Media Relations Contact: Irene Ying, 301-405-5204,

University of Maryland
College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences
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College Park, MD 20742

About the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences
The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 7,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college’s 10 departments and more than a dozen interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $150 million.

About the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences

The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 8,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college's 10 departments and nine interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $250 million.