UC Davis: Academic Senate and Federation Honor Top Scholars

They influence policymakers, train those caring for the underserved, have helped the university respond to the coronavirus pandemic, mentor students and more — they are the 16 scholars honored by the Academic Senate and Academic Federation this year.

Celebration surrounding the awards, which honor teaching, research and public service, will again look different this year, as there will be neither an awards reception nor lecture given by the recipient of the Academic Senate’s highest honor, the Faculty Distinguished Research Award. That honor this year goes to Gail Goodman, distinguished professor of psychology.

The Academic Federation’s highest honor, the James H. Meyer Distinguished Achievement Award, goes to Daniel Putnam, Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences.

Read more about Goodman, Putnam and the other recipients of this year’s awards:

Academic Senate
Faculty Distinguished Research Award
Gail Goodman
Distinguished Professor Gail Goodman
Gail Goodman, distinguished professor, Department of Psychology, College of Letters and Science — She has made foundational contributions to the fields of developmental, cognitive, and clinical psychology. Her research spans multiple topics — including memory in children and adults with histories of maltreatment, true and false memory for traumatic childhood events, eyewitness testimony and forensic interviewing, foster care experiences, developmental psychopathology, and trust in government — and has led to the current core knowledge regarding child witnesses and their capabilities and needs. Her work has also informed governments and influenced laws and legal practices in a number of countries, and has helped shape the best practices in child protection, and child and youth well-being. Goodman’s research is often cited in courts of law and was cited pivotally in the US Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Maryland v. Craig (1990); her research was at the core of the court’s decision and of the Justices’ rationale for an interpretation of the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment.

Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Awards
Michal Kurlaender
Michal Kurlaender, professor, School of Education — She addresses the barriers that impede educational and career success for the most marginalized students in California, working closely with agencies and policy makers across the state to create an equitable educational system aligned with the state’s economic needs. She impacts policy through her work with the California State Board of Education and the UC Provost’s Advisory Council on Educational Equity. She rapidly pivoted her research to understand how the pandemic is impacting California’s students, and she is guiding changes in policy and practice through her position on California’s Higher Education Recovery with Equity Taskforce.

Mark Lubell
Mark Lubell, professor, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences — His research, public service, and policy engagement focuses on improving governance to address California’s most pressing environmental challenges. He actively participates in advisory groups, collaborates with community groups, and educates public policy makers. His work improves environmental decision making to reflect the latest science, shift to a proactive approach, and address environmental injustices. His activities include sea level rise planning, decision making in the California Delta, resolving conflicts in the development of new groundwater agencies and policies, and addressing issues of nutrient management and water quality in California agriculture.

Richard Michelmore
Richard Michelmore, distinguished professor, Department of Plant Sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, College of Biological Sciences; Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine — Michelmore, who serves as the founding and current director of the UC Davis Genome Center, led efforts to envision and actualize UC Davis’ COVID-19 rapid testing, which has allowed the campus to continue its teaching, research, and service missions through the pandemic. Michelmore employed techniques common in plant genomics to develop a novel approach to COVID-19 testing and was persistent in his efforts to convince the university that his approach was feasible and cost effective. He then led an ambitious and rapid mobilization in equipment procurement, regulatory approval, staffing, and training to enable rapid testing at such a large scale. This testing was also extended to the City of Davis through the Healthy Davis Together program.

Distinguished Teaching Awards: Undergraduate
Caitlin Patler
Caitlin Patler, assistant professor, Department of Sociology, College of Letters and Science — She is recognized for her excellent teaching in sociology, particularly with immigration topics. In a public sociological tradition, her teaching and mentoring contextualizes individual experiences within broader social structures and processes, and she connects the real world with the classroom in important ways. She combines coursework with research, having mentored 48 undergraduate students in various projects, such as undergraduate research with the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center and through the Mentorships for Undergraduate Research in Agriculture, Letters and Science program. Many of her undergraduate students go onto graduate school, work in government, and work in non-profit sectors.

Jeanette Ruiz
Jeanette Ruiz, assistant professor of teaching, Department of Communication, College of Letters and Science — She is recognized for her outstanding contributions to teaching in communication. In less than five years Ruiz has demonstrated a track record of excellence not only in the classroom but in every facet of undergraduate teaching — curriculum development, instructional innovation, project-based learning, ongoing professional development, and mentoring, particularly to students from first-generation backgrounds. Students consistently praise her enthusiasm and commitment, her real-world knowledge, and her caring demeanor. As one nominator states, “Dr. Ruiz is a rare gem who has made a huge, positive impact on the lives of many UC Davis students both in and out of the classroom.”

Jaroslav Trnka
Jaroslav Trnka, associate professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, College of Letters and Science — He is celebrated for his exemplary record in undergraduate teaching. Trnka teaches introductory physics to more than 1,400 students and consistently receives rave evaluations. He excels in presenting difficult concepts clearly and uses a variety of innovative techniques and in-class demonstrations to enhance learning. He goes above and beyond to connect with his students; his nominators noted how “we felt talked to, not talked at, and our mistakes were expected, respected, and inspected.” With both a heavy teaching load and an active research program, Trnka is an outstanding undergraduate educator.

Lawrence Torry Winn
Lawrence “Torry” Winn, assistant professor of teaching, School of Education — He is recognized for his exceptional thoughtfulness and dedication in creating unique and inclusive learning experiences. Both his students and colleagues characterize him as someone who is genuine, humble, and caring. Professor Winn’s students reflect on his impact, stating, “We are thankful for the role that Dr. Lawrence T. has played in inspiring and developing us into being the next generation of community leaders and critically conscious educators, in a sociopolitical climate that is desperately in need of young, educated voices to help empower the minds of the nation’s youth.”

Distinguished Teaching Awards: Graduate and Professional
Laura Grindstaff
Laura Grindstaff, professor, Department of Sociology, College of Letters and Science — She is recognized for her exceptional contributions to graduate education in the Department of Sociology and on the campus more broadly. For the past five years, Grindstaff has chaired her department’s Graduate Program Committee, which oversees the annual progress of all students in the Ph.D. program, and over the course of her career she has served on an extraordinary number of individual graduate student committees — 133 in all, many of them as chair. A feminist ethnographer focused on U.S. media and popular culture, she particularly attracts women, first-generation, LGBTQ and underrepresented minority students across multiple disciplines, including cultural studies, performance studies and the feminist theory and research-designated emphasis. According to her students, she consistently challenges them to consider issues of power and inequality in knowledge-production, not only in the world around them, but in the research process itself. In the words of the nine students who nominated her: “Laura is fiercely committed to graduate students’ needs and interests. … She acts more like a coauthor than an advisor, despite knowing the conventions of qualitative research will not appropriately recognize the depth of her contributions. … Her dedication to graduate mentorship, diversity and retention, and innovative pedagogy has made a profound, invaluable mark on our department and the UC Davis community as a whole.”

Chih Ling Tsai
Chih-Ling Tsai, distinguished professor, Graduate School of Management — He is recognized for excellence in the teaching of advanced statistics. His nomination letter, signed by 16 current and former students, talks about how Tsai teaches far more than just time series analysis and linear models — he teaches from the heart. He emphasizes discussion and digestion of the material to help students build confidence and develop creativity and independent thinking skills. Colleagues laud Tsai’s holistic approach, which combines practical knowledge with lessons in empathy, morality, ingenuity, and persistence. Tsai has enormously impacted his students’ educations and lives; indeed, students at the Graduate School of Management have voted him “Teacher of the year” 15 times in his 30 years of teaching at UC Davis.

Academic Federation
James H. Meyer Distinguished Achievement Award
Daniel Putnam
Daniel Putnam, Cooperative Extension specialist, Department of Plant Sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences — In his 27 years at UC Davis, he has developed an outstanding applied research and outreach program in alfalfa — the largest acreage crop in California — and in other forage crops. He is a global expert on forage quality and water use efficiency under irrigation and on mitigation strategies for sub-optimal conditions, with a focus on the critical issue of salinity. He has developed a network of collaborators across the University of California and in industry, and he helped found the California Alfalfa and Forage Association, National Alfalfa Alliance, and the Western Alfalfa and Forage Symposium. Putnam’s leadership and service to the broader agricultural community, both nationally and internationally, exemplify the qualities that are celebrated with the James H. Meyer Distinguished Achievement Award.

Distinguished Service Award
Anita Oberholster
Anita Oberholster, associate Cooperative Extension specialist, Department of Viticulture and Enology, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences — As California’s only extension enologist, she supports more than 4,500 wineries. In response to catastrophic wildfires, Oberholster pivoted her research to battling the ravage of smoke taint on grape and wine production. She developed and donated technology to detect and mitigate smoke exposure issues, which alleviated crushing backlogs at commercial testing centers. By translating findings into hundreds of talks, press interviews, website resources (including a weekly live question-and-answer session and video), she has been a lifeline to a changing industry. Her outstanding efforts over the past decade are extraordinary and exemplify distinguished service.

Excellence in Research Award
Selina Wang
Selina Wang, associate Cooperative Extension specialist, Department of Food Science and Technology, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences — She is responsible for bringing chemistry into practice as the standard method of determining olive oil quality. Her work brought new analytical methods to the broad question of what genuinely represents quality in olive oil. Moreover, her work was the research foundation that led the California Department of Food and Agriculture to adopt California olive oil standards and for the Food and Drug Administration to establish a standard of identity for olive oil, forever changing the basis of quality in the global trade of a major commodity. Wang’s work has since expanded to other high-value oils, with the aim to bring the same quality standardization to other sectors of California food and agricultural industries.

Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching
Sarah Lievens
Sarah Lievens, lecturer, Department of Chemistry, College of Letters and Science — She is recognized for her remarkable and accessible teaching of organic chemistry, a notoriously challenging subject. Her ability to make this material comprehensible for students, particularly during a period of remote teaching during the pandemic, is outstanding. The humor, compassion and enthusiasm that her students and colleagues describe in their reviews distinguish her as an excellent teacher.

Monica Torreiro Casal
Monica Torreiro-Casal, lecturer, Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, College of Letters and Science — A devoted teacher committed to supporting every student, she creates dynamic, engaging, and interactive classrooms that support learning from shared experiences. Her curriculum is rigorous, and her teaching methods help students think critically, reflect on their lives and learning, incorporate self-care as part of their academic paths, and broaden their skills in taking the role of the other. Nominated by her students for this award, Torreiro-Casal has positively impacted her students’ growth, academic success and future careers.

Excellence in Graduate and Professional Teaching or Mentoring
Alicia Gonzalez Flores
Alicia Gonzalez-Flores, associate clinical professor, Department of Internal Medicine, School of Medicine — She has been mentoring and precepting students at the Sacramento County Primary Care Clinic for over 10 years, and is the executive director of the Accelerated Competency-based Education in Primary Care, or ACE-PC, track at the School of Medicine, an accelerated track that brings increased challenge for students. The success of the ACE-PC track is largely due to Gonzalez-Flores’ ability to identify and recruit promising students, mentor them to believe in themselves, teach them skills to be an exceptional doctor, and be an unfailing role model for them. Her programs and courses have created inclusive learning cohorts of students interested in careers caring for California’s most medically underserved communities.

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