2023 Faculty and Staff Award Recipients

2023 recipients

In 2023 CNAS is recognizing outstandging faculty and staff for the 12th straight year.  The award winnders were monimated by departmental personnel committees, department heads, or students. The nominations were then reviewed by a faculty committee for the faculty/staff awards and a student committee for the student nomated award. I am proud to annouce the following award winners for 2023 along with Associate Dean Jorge Rebaza. The award winners receive a certificate and a small monetary award.

Atwood Research and Teaching Award

The Atwood Research and Teaching Award was endowed by Dr. Jerry Atwood a 1964 graduate of MSU and now an internationally known chemist.  He started his career at University of Alabama in 1967 and was the department head at University of Missouri-Columbia from 1994-2016.  In addition, he was appointed a Curators Professor starting in 1999. The award winner receives a certificate and $5000 to be spent over the next year on students, research supplies, summer salary or travel.  Previous award winners include: John Havel (2012, BIO), Day Ligon (2013, BIO), Bob Pavlowsky (2014, GGP), Paul Durham (2015, BIO), Nick Gerasimchuk (2016, CHM), Bob Mayanovic (2017, PAMS), Kyoungtae Kim (2018, BIO), Kartik Ghosh (2019, PAMS), Kevin Mickus (2020, GGP), Razib Iqbal (2021, CSC), and Steven Senger (2022, MTH).


The 2023 recipient of the Atwood Research and Teaching Award is Dr. Deb Finn from the Department of Biology.

Although Dr. Finn only joined the faculty in 2017, receiving tenure and promotion last year, she has numerous outstanding achievements in both teaching and research. Her expertise is in stream ecology, with particular interests in alpine headwater streams, with approaches ranging from genetics to ecosystems and topics ranging from endangered species to climate change.  In addition to Ozark streams, she has research sites in the US Rocky Mountains, in Ecuador and most recently, Australia. She is adept at organizing and working with external collaborative teams.  Her positions with international societies, particularly the Society for Freshwater Science, attest to her strong standing in the research community. She also has made substantive contributions to the publication Freshwater Illustrated, serving as secretary of the board of directors.
In the last 6 years, Dr. Finn and her co-authors have published 16 peer-reviewed scientific papers, averaging 2.7 papers/year, and has received 1750 citations since 2018.  This research output was made possible by her sustained effort to secure external funding from a range of sources, including NSF, Australian Research Council, National Park Service, Teton Conservation District, Missouri Department of Conservation, and City of Springfield.   
Dr. Finn’s commitment to quality teaching, advising, and serving as a research mentor is also of the highest quality; she also supervises service-learning students each year.  She teaches a large lecture section for General Biology II, upper-division lecture/labs in aquatic biology, and has developed a scientific writing course for graduate students. Her student course evaluations are very strong, with one student saying, “Probably my favorite course I've ever taken; I learned the most and had the most fun”.   Overall, her students report that she has boundless energy and enthusiasm for teaching.  The quality of her courses is excellent, with approaches including primary literature discussions, analytical skills, real-world applications, and discussions of science ethics.
She is an excellent mentor of undergraduate and graduate research, in terms of both quality and quantity, and serves as a member of numerous thesis committees each year. Her students have co-authored peer-reviewed publications and made many conference presentations. Her lab averages about 11 conference presentations per year.

CNAS Excellence Awards for Staff








Brian Hays - Brian was nominated by the personnel committees from both the Department of Mathematics and Department of Computer Science.  One faculty member said "I am delighted to express my strong and enthusiastic endorsement for Mr. Brian Hays to receive the CNAS Staff Excellence in Service Award. I have been consistently impressed with Brian's exceptional IT expertise, unwavering dedication to supporting CNAS academic initiatives, his unparalleled enthusiasm and positive energy in addressing the needs of both faculty and students." Another faculty member said, "Brian understands faculty's needs very well. For example, in one of our conversations, I mentioned that my research work involves heavy computing.  He brought two retired computers to my office to help me conduct my research projects. Whenever I had a computer issue, either the office computer or the computers in classrooms/labs, Brian can always have it resolved in a timely manner.

Dylan Welker - Dylan does his duties as an administrative assistant for CNAS in an exceptional manner. These include serving as secretary to college council, sending out thank you notes several times/year to alumni and friends who make monetary donations to the college, sending out Discoveries twice each year, keeping the screen outside of Temple 143 up to date with announcements and videos, writing CNAS NEWS each week, transferring information to the CNAS Blog for all to read and so much more. Dylan has a gift for being able to get usable data out of Argos that we need for the college, for grant proposals and grant monitoring. With the university's IR unit understaffed - this has been so very helpful for many in the college. In 2020, we lost the director for the regional Science Olympiad and then our world turned upside down with COVID. State regional coordinators worked together in 2021 to office a virtual Science Olympiad competition. Dylan was perfect to lead this effort as he had the organizational skills to make this happen. The 2021 event was a huge success due to Dylan's organizational skills. As we have converted to "live" Science Olympiad competition on campus Dylan has continued to provide leadership. The events have been a huge success with many compliments from coaches (H.S. teachers in the area who volunteer to coach teams from this school). In 2022, we bravely hosted, for the first time ever, then state Science Olympiad competition. Dylan corrdinated the entire event.  The other regional directors as well as the sate director were so impressed they invted us to host again in 2023. None of this would be possible without Dylan's leadership.


CNAS Faculty Excellence in Service Awards


Jamil Saquer, professor of Computer Science, has served on numerous departmental committees as member and chair. He has advised more than 50 undergraduate students each semester. He has participated in the Learning Management System (LMS) Review Project conducted by the Office of the Provost and FCTL. He has served on the editing board of the International Journal of Data Mining, Modeling, and Management (IJDMMM) for many years. He has served on the program committee of the ACMSE conference. In addition, he regularly reviews papers for the ACMSE and CCSC conferences and the IJDMMM. In the last few years, the CSC Department has had about 10 searches to hire new faculty members, department head, and visiting faculty members. Dr. Saquer served as chair or member on almost all of these search committees.


Day Ligon, professor of biology, chairs two departmental committees and is also a member of the biology personnel committee.  He also serves as a member of college- and university-level committees, including the University Hearing Committee and the Academic Affairs Budget Committee.  At the community level, he serves on the Board of Governors for Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education. Dr. Ligon is Associate Editor for the journal Herpetological Conservation and Biology and continues to provide reviews for manuscripts for other journals.  He is a member of the Board of Governors of the Southwestern Association of Naturalists. Dr. Ligon established a private field research station in Belize, and he meets regularly with representatives of the Belize government as part of two conservation groups. Dr. Ligon’s association with this field station is raising the profile of the department and of MSU in the international community.  Another benefit is that several MSU Biology students have conducted research in Belize.  


Melanie Carden Jessen, instructor of Geography, Geology and Planning, has taken on responsibilities on a number of science education and teacher preparation-related committees. She enthusiastically jumps at any opportunity to be involved and serve the department, college, university, and broader discipline. She has also taken on the role of faculty advisor for the Society of Science Educators and Ice Girls student organizations. In 2022, among many endeavors, Ms. Carden-Jessen continued to take on any opportunity to serve the department, college, university, community, and broader discipline. Undoubtedly, she has been consistently going above and beyond.


Kevin Evans, professor of geology, has served on two Public Affairs committees for MSU, which is a continuation of his sustained commitment to the MSU Public Affairs mission, and has continued to serve the department, the university, and the broader scientific discipline. Dr. Evans is Vice-Chair of the Missouri Geological Survey State Mapping Advisory Committee. His service also included several public presentations in person and on television. Dr. Evans is president of the Association of Missouri Geologists.



CNAS Faculty Excellence in Research Awards


Siming Liu – Computer Science.  Dr. Siming Liu has been a highly productive researcher over the past two years (2021-2022), with two journal publications and five refereed conference publications. Dr. Liu has involved his students in his research projects – four of his publications include MSU student co-authors and two master students have presented their research work on IEEE CoG 2021, 2022. His graduate student, Anthony Harris,received MSU Distinguished Thesis Award in 2022. Dr. Liu has actively pursued funding opportunities as both a PI and Co-PI to support his undergraduate and graduate students in research, having applied for nine external grants and two internal MSU grants in the last two years. Four of the externally funded grants from Nvidia, O’Reilly, and TranSync were to support establishing Security and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL) on AI and machine learning-related research. Additionally, he applied for an NSF MRI grant and he is a Co-PI on a successfully awarded NSF Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) grant ($600,000) in 2022, led by PI Dr. Razib Iqbal.


Kevin Mickus – GGP. Dr. Mickus’ research involves the interpretation of gravity, magnetic and electromagnetic data for crustal and upper mantle structure plus for resources (mining, geothermal), environmental and archaeological applications.  His studies have taken him around the world.  They include the Ouachita orogenic belt in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas; Precambrian boundaries in the Pacific NW; the east African Rift system in Ethiopia, Kenya and Botswana; the Atlas Mountains in Algeria and Tunisia; and volcanic fields in California, Antarctica and Arizona.  In 2022 alone Dr. Mickus authored or co-authored 12 peer reviewed journal articles and eight conference papers at the international or national level.  Previous publications were cited 331 times in peer reviewed journal articles in 2022.    He also received an internal research grant and made significant progress on his current externally funded projects.


Avery Russell – Biology.  Dr. Russell is an assistant professor who joined the faculty in Fall 2019 bringing expertise in the study of pollination biology, particularly focusing on bumblebees.   In this past year, Dr. Russell published 9 peer reviewed articles in international journals and authored 21 professional presentations. He is passionate about ensuring that his undergraduate and graduate students in his lab attend and present at national/international conferences. Students from his research lab have received 6 external competitive grants and research awards, co-authored 3 journal articles, and co-authored 14 conference presentations, indicating that his role as a mentor results in high-quality training for his students.   He is creative at seeking external funds to support his lab and was awarded funding for large and small grants from the MO Dept Conservation and an MSU Faculty Research Grant.  His professional activities, including as an Associate Editor, indicate that he is well-respected in the research community. 


Kyoungtae Kim – Biology. Dr. Kim consistently excels in research productivitywith 19 peer-reviewed publications and 22 conference presentations in the last two years.  Students are co-authors on all 19 of the lab’s publications, including 8 undergraduates and 13 grad students.   His publications, all in international journals, report his lab’s research in cell biology, specifically investigating the role of proteins in movements of substances within and between cells and also investigating nanotechnology at the cellular level. His lab’s presentations are a mixture of international, regional, and state, with many of the latter included because they are affordable for students to attend and make presentations.   His grant funding has included large and small external grants from ERDC, and he been a co-author on NSF-MRI grant proposals    He supervises many research students (about 15/yr) and serves on additional thesis committees (about 10/yr). 

CNAS Faculty Excellence in Teaching Awards


Damon Bassett, senior instructor of Geography, Geology & Planning, plays a critical role in the geology program’s success in the general education program. He has been chair of the curriculum and assessment committee for a GE course. His GLG 115 and GLG 171 sections are perennially popular courses. He also led three out-of-class-time field trips. Damon Bassett served on one thesis committee for a graduate student and directed two undergraduate projects to completion. He also received an FCTL grant to create virtual reality worldscapes for training geologists. Damon Bassett has been a Visiting Faculty for the University of Missouri Geology Field Course.


Jay McEntee, assistant professor of biology, teaches classes in ecological areas of study, including upper- division courses in Biogeography, statistics, and Ornithology as well as graduate-level classes in population genetics and molecular markers. He consistently has very good student evaluation scores in all his classes. He clearly has carefully considered how to most effectively use teaching methods in classes, ranging from class discussions, discussion of the primary literature and presentations to research, field trips, and technical skills.  Dr. McEntee’s research lab has grown steadily in the past few years, with substantial training of undergraduate (about 4-5/yr) and graduate (1-3/year) research students.  His research students are productive with several internal and external presentations each year and 2 external research-based scholarships.   He sponsors the MSU Bird Club, is active in departmental teaching-related service, and participates in public education activities.  Dr. McEntee is an asset to the biology department and CNAS with respect to classroom teaching, hands-on training, and mentoring and inspiring research students.


Tuhina Banerjee, assistant professor of chemistry & biochemistry, typically teaches Introductory to Biochemistry classes/labs, Biochemistry I and Advanced Topics in Biochemistry. For all these courses, student evaluations were very positive, with overall scores (4.76), clearly above the departmental (4.25) and college (4.24) averages. She focuses on creating a welcoming environment that encourages student questions. Additionally, Dr. Banerjee introduced inquiry-based teaching/labs, clinical-based questions, and other innovative teaching techniques, including interactive mentoring sessions. Dr. Banerjee also supervised 3 graduate students and mentored 6 undergraduate research students during 2022. Dr. Banerjee has taught a 700-level course for the first time in which she introduced students to cutting-edge concepts of protein folding/misfolding along with clinical correlations.  In other classes, Dr. Banerjee incorporated case studies to correlate lecture content and clinical applications. Additionally, she used the concept of flipped classrooms and combined them with collaborative student presentations. She also used fun activities like the “Rap Battles” which amplified the learning of core biochemistry concepts by being more interactive. 


La Toya Kissoon-Charles, assistant professor of biology, teaches a large general education course, BIO 101, and upper division classes in our ecology programs, including BIO 547 Water resources, BIO 562 Limnology, BIO 597 Wetland plants, and BIO 597 Ecotoxicology. She has consistently very good student evaluation scores in all her classes. She employs highly effective teaching methods in her courses and spends significant time in lab preparation and skills training, including regularly updated activities and field trips outside of class.   Dr. Kissoon-Charles trains about 9 undergraduates per year and 1-3 graduate research students every year.  Her students have given numerous internal and external research presentations, they are co-authors on journal articles, and have received internal (IDF, CNAS URS) and external grants and awards.  She regularly attends teaching/advising workshops (5), and she also serves in several mentoring capacities in professional societies.



Doug Gouzie, professor of Geology, Dr. effectively managed a teaching workload of five different courses, served on two graduate student thesis committees, directed an undergraduate research project, and led numerous field trips (outside of regular class time). Dr. Gouzie also earned an outstanding achievement award from the Midwest Federation of American Gem & Mineral Societies that resulted in $4000 scholarships to two GGP graduate students. Furthermore, Dr. Gouzie employed DFW mitigation strategies in GLG 110 and GLG 350. In GLG 110 he used a new format with 4 mid-terms plus a final exam. He also provided enhanced bonus opportunities and open-book online quizzes. As a result, DFWs in his GLG 110 section decreased from approximately 15% to 10%. Dr. Gouzie worked on curriculum and assessment committee for GLG 110 and GLG 358 as member and as chair respectively.

CNAS Student-Nominated Awards for Excellence - Faculty & Staff

In the words of the students, these faculty truly understand the power of knowledge and they are always willing to help.  They provide a learning environment and support where every student has the potential to succeed.  The winners of student nominated award for faculty excellence are:


Jay McEntee – The nominating students said, “As our research mentor in the Bird Lab, he has provided us with more support than we could have hoped for as undergraduates. His passion for his work is easily noticed and contagious. He has a personality that simply makes you feel heard and supported, he is truly an amazing leader.” “Dr. McEntee has a particular knack for uplifting his students both intellectually and emotionally, and I have his exceptional mentorship to thank for much of my growth as a biologist and a researcher". “Dr. Jay has an enthusiasm for teaching that cannot be matched! He loves every topic we learn in class and brings real world research to discuss in class”. “His infectious enthusiasm for science is also apparent in his research lab and classrooms”.


Melanie Carden-Jessen – The nominating student said that Melanie, “has a remarkable drive and passion for advising students. Even from the first day we met -- to now, Melanie consistently delivers a spark that vividly ignites my never-ending pursuit of knowledge. I am truly grateful for Melanie’s investment in me and will continue to appreciate her time and encouragement throughout my academic journey


Paul Durham – The nominating student said, “I would like to nominate Dr. Paul Durham for his inimitable and feverish pedagogical technique. His application of the Socratic method keeps students engaged minute by minute. This nomination comes not only for his wealth of knowledge in his subjects, but his unyielding care and compassion for his students and his commitment to teaching. He is truly exceptional!”


Ajay Katangur – The nominating student said, “Dr. Katangur is one of the most outstanding mentors I have ever had in my life. Despite his very busy schedule, he always makes time for his students. With his guidance, I was able to publish an IEEE research paper in my first semester, and in total, we have already published three papers under his exceptional guidance and have the opportunity of presenting our paper at CSCWD 2023 in Brazil. His guidance has been invaluable, and I am confident that I will reach my goals and become a successful person in life with his support”.

CNAS Inclusive Engagement Award

The newest CNAS Award is the CNAS Diversity Award. Just a quick reminder that this award may fit into teaching, research or service as defined in the policy. It is to recognize outstanding committee work towards diversity, outstanding service and outreach towards equity, diversity and inclusion, recruitment for diversity, promoting an inclusive learning environment, official or unofficial mentoring and advisement of diverse student groups to increase academic success, creating an inclusive environment for teaching and research and/or development or implementation of innovative research or creative work to improve the CNAS and MSU climate.


Angela Plank is the 2023 winner of the CNAS Diversity Award.  She is a senior instructor whose duties include serving as Biology’s advising and recruitment coordinator and teaching microbiology labs.  She has an initial advising appointment with every new Biology major) where helps with re-evaluation of transfer credit, choice of majors, and registration decisions. She also conducts many pre-transfer advising appointments and represents the department at many CNAS/MSU recruitment events.  These one-on-one meetings are opportunities to ensure that students feel valued and included from their first day at MSU, and Angela strives to make the most of these opportunities.  Angela has attended numerous training sessions related to Inclusive Excellence.  Attending diversity related workshops is encouraged for Biology faculty, but not required. When asked why she attends so many, Angela said “Learning more about diversity and inclusion just makes you more aware of how others feel so that you can modify your classes and advising so that all feel welcome and can be successful.”