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The Valley Library is seen with fall leaves on the ground and students walking across campus.

Science receives seven awards at University Day for research, teaching excellence, mentorship and diversity advocacy

By Hannah Ashton

College of Science faculty, staff and graduate students received awards for innovative teaching, diversity advocacy, mentorship and more at University Day, Oregon State University’s prestigious annual awards.

“Each winner exemplifies the College’s devotion to our mission of advancing outstanding science research and education, while creating an inclusive, equitable learning community," said Interim Dean Vrushali Bokil, who received the Outstanding Diversity Advocate Award. "I am honored to be recognized alongside our phenomenal faculty, staff and graduate students."

Congratulations to the award winners for their dedication, talent and exemplary achievements.

Marita Barth, Chemistry professor in front of black backdrop

Chemistry Instructor Marita Barth won the OSU Faculty Excellence in Online Teaching Award.

Teaching excellence

Chemistry Instructor Marita Barth won the OSU Faculty Excellence in Online Teaching Award. Barth played a foundational role in the growth and development of the College’s Ecampus program. In 2019, she received the Ecampus Excellence in Online Teaching and Student Engagement Award.

Online general chemistry courses have presented a challenge due to the large class size, high number of credits and combined lecture and lab content. Ecampus students also tend to have a broader background than those on campus, and many have been out of school for some time.

Because of Barth’s lead, the Ecampus courses boost a high rate of student success and students rate the courses positively. Other colleagues have adopted her innovative teaching tools, including interactive video modules and opportunities for students to reflect on their personal learning styles.

“She is tireless in her pursuit of the best delivery of her courses; she is deeply knowledgeable about the subject and the instruction of the subject, and she genuinely cares for the success of her students,” a nominator wrote.

Lindsay Biga in front of shrubbery

Lindsay Biga, senior instructor in the Department of Integrative Biology, received the OSU Faculty Teaching Excellence Award.

Lindsay Biga, senior instructor in the Department of Integrative Biology, received the OSU Faculty Teaching Excellence Award. This award recognizes faculty who have demonstrated unusually significant and meritorious achievement in teaching and scholarship which enhances effective instruction.

Biga teaches Introduction to Human Anatomy and Physiology, a three-course series with a large enrollment and students from multiple colleges. She designed the laboratory and lectures to complement each other.

Nominators highlighted her use of evidence-based instructional practices, excellent mentorship of her five to ten graduate teaching assistants, devotion to an inclusive and equitable classroom and creation of an open-access textbook.

“Throughout our experiences in her courses over the last several years, we know Biga is one of Oregon State University’s most excellent faculty members,” two former students said. “Biga goes above and beyond to provide the highest quality learning experiences, ensures opportunities for innovative learning and makes time to get to know students’ interests and goals."

Chris Beaudry in front of black backdrop

Professor Christopher Beaudry received the OSU Impact Award for Outstanding Scholarship.

Innovations in science

Professor Christopher Beaudry, who patented a groundbreaking method for making a powerful leukemia drug, received the OSU Impact Award for Outstanding Scholarship.

Before his breakthrough, the FDA-approved drug homoharringtonine (HHT) was only commercially obtained by extracting the Asian plum yew tree. This method was tedious, expensive and vulnerable to delays in agriculture production.

HHT is used to treat chronic myeloid leukemia, a disease often overlooked in research due to its rarity. The Beaudry synthesis of HHT is so efficient Beaudry estimates his lab could supply the entire U.S. market, about 10 to 20 grams per year, for a total supply cost of under $2,000. A pharmaceutical estimate for the same amount reaches more than $100 million.

“The chemical insight and creativity demonstrated by Prof. Beaudry is truly at the highest level,” one nominator wrote.

Beaudry’s colleagues said his discovery will be “studied as part of the curricula in chemistry departments worldwide, and it will inspire students of chemistry for years to come.”

Vrushali Bokil in front of shrubbery

Interim Dean Vrushali Bokil received the OSU Outstanding Diversity Advocate Award.

Furthering diversity, equity and inclusion

Interim Dean Vrushali Bokil received the OSU Outstanding Diversity Advocate Award.

Part of the Oregon State faculty since 2006, Bokil has an extensive track record of advancing diversity, equity and inclusion within the College and across the university.

She has served as chair of the Mathematics Diversity Committee and a member of the President's Commission on the Status of Women. Bokil also received the College’s inaugural Inclusive Excellence Award for her teaching version of the ADVANCE program to graduate students and faculty in mathematics.

In 2021, Bokil was the chair and lead of the College of Science Diversity, Equity, Justice, and Inclusion Working Group. This group led the development of the College’s 2021-2024 Diversity Action Plan (DAP) “Embedding Equity, Access & Inclusion.” The DAP highlights five goals for the College including equitable hiring, forming an inclusive climate, and innovative access to learning and research experiences.

Outside of Oregon State, Bokil is a member of the Association for Women in Mathematics and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. She serves these organizations by working on employment and career opportunities for students and strategies for women to address harassment and inequities.

“I believe that no one at OSU in 2022 is more deserving of the Outstanding Diversity Advocate Award. Dr. Bokil is in the top one percent of all of the individuals I have ever interacted with,” one nominator said.

The Principles of Biology Instructional Team

The Principles of Biology Instructional Team. From left to right: Noah Silva de Leonardi, Carmen Harjoe, Nat Young, Lori Kayes, John Fowler, Jeff Anderson and Meta Landys. Not pictured: Sulochana Wasala and Jeff Chang.

A joint effort to impact student learning

The Principles of Biology Instructional Team received the Student Learning and Success Teamwork Award for interdisciplinary collaboration affecting student learning and success. The multidisciplinary team includes College of Science and College of Agricultural Sciences members. College of Science members include Carmen Harjoe, Lori Kayes, Meta Landys, Sulochana Wasala and graduate students Noah Silva de Leonardi and Nat Young.

Over the last 10 years, the group redesigned the Principles of Biology series, a three-course series taken by approximately 1000 students a term from over 57 majors.

Concerns over the series structure, design and sequencing were addressed, allowing the course to better align internally with upper division courses and externally with transfer institutions. The redesign also focused on changing the curriculum to support all students, including those with a limited biology background.

“Importantly, the Principles of Biology Instructional Team represents what can be accomplished in the spirit of collaboration and collegiality, and putting students first,” said one nominator.

Because of the team's dedication, transfer students can receive credit for one or more courses in the series instead of retaking all three. Students are also better prepared for upper division courses.

Valeri Sawiccy

Ph.D. candidate Valeri Sawiccy received the Herbert F. Frolander Graduate Teaching Assistant Award.

Graduate students creating positive change

Valeri Sawiccy received the Herbert F. Frolander Graduate Teaching Assistant Award.

A Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Integrative Biology, Sawiccy’s research addresses the cellular mechanisms that cause coral bleaching in a sea anemone model system that bleaches similarly to corals. Her work also explores the impact of volatile organic compounds in symbiosis, a new territory in the field.

Sawiccy’s instructors describe her as “driven,” “productive,” “compassionate,” and “equity minded.” Since 2020, she has earned seven grants, fellowships or awards; submitted two articles for publication; presented in two virtual international conferences; and participated in significant professional development or projects centered on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.

As a graduate teaching assistant for 19 academic terms, Sawiccy has gone above and beyond to create equitable experiences for diverse students. Examples include adapting the physical environment to make learning accessible for students with limited mobility, changing lab exercises to allow students from different cultural backgrounds to participate, and revising curriculum to incorporate anti-racist ideas and address health inequities that derive from systemic oppression.

“We in the Integrative Biology department are proud to have such an excellent student in our program, and we have no doubt that Val will continue to distinguish herself as an outstanding scholar and educator in the years to come,” one nominator wrote.

Jesse Laney

Ph.D. candidate Jesse Laney received the Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring by a Graduate Student Award.

Mentorship is a passion for Ph.D. candidate Jesse Laney who received the Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring by a Graduate Student Award.

Laney, who is in his fourth year in the Integrative Biology Department, has mentored a total of 16 students in a wide range of settings and a variety of topics.

His mentees expressed gratitude for Laney’s academic and personal mentorship, highlighting his willingness to provide additional support when needed.

“Jesse makes his mentees feel like no question is too small to ask and encourages curiosity and passion for learning,” one undergraduate student wrote. “I have gained confidence and important skills that allow me to build on the courses I take and prepare for further work in academia.”

A unique facet of his mentorship involves access for students to engage in fieldwork. Laney has brought nine undergraduate mentees into the extremely remote wildlands of Steens Mountain to assist with his research on small-mammal and songbird community change over time.

Undergraduate research is shown to be incredibly important for increasing the retention of students in STEM. Faculty members noted field research in particular has a history of bias, discrimination and harassment, making it unsafe for non-majority students. Laney acknowledged these issues and created pre-field season workshops that are now university-wide. He took this a step further and in 2019 co-founded the OSU FieldSafe Initiative to Confront and Eliminate Sexual Misconduct in Fieldwork and Remote Research.