Faculty award winners

Six SASN Faculty Win Rutgers University Awards for Excellence in Research and Teaching

Rutgers University has recognized six SASN faculty members this year as part of its 2020–21 Annual Faculty Year End Awards. The awardees were selected by their colleagues for exceptional contributions to teaching, research and public service. 

Patricia O. Akhimie, Associate Professor in the Department of English, won the Warren I. Susman Award for Excellence in Teaching. Named in honor of the noted historian and Rutgers University professor, Warren I. Susman, this award is given annually to tenured faculty members in recognition of outstanding service in stimulating and guiding the intellectual development of students at Rutgers University.

Akhimie, who teaches Shakespeare, Renaissance drama and early-modern women’s travel writing. is the author of Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Difference: Race and Conduct in the Early Modern World (Routledge 2018).  She is co-editor of Travel and Travail: Early Modern Women, English Drama, and the Wider World (University of Nebraska Press 2019) and is currently at work on a new edition of Othello and a monograph about gender, race, and early modern travel. 

“When I first heard the news, I was delighted because I have the greatest respect for my students, and to be recognized for my contributions as a teacher is to be recognized for all I have learned from them,” said Akhimie. “I am deeply grateful to those who have worked to provide resources for instructional development that have allowed me to build and strengthen my pedagogy. I am thinking especially of the scholar-teachers of the P3 Collaboratory at Rutgers-Newark, IDT at Rutgers-Camden, CTAAR and TLT. I have loved learning from them about classroom best practices, educational technology, instructional design and online pedagogy.”

Jordan Casteel, an Associate Professor of painting in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media, received the Board of Trustees Research Fellowship for Scholarly Excellence Award, which recognizes the exceptional research accomplishments of newly promoted and tenured (as of July 1, 2021) faculty members.

Casteel, who is known for her bold, colorful, introspective and revealing figurative portraits of African Americans, many from her Harlem neighborhood, started catching the art world by storm as soon as they debuted at a Downtown New York show in 2014. Since then, her stock has steadily risen, with group and solo shows around the country and world, including the Denver Museum of Art, the New Museum in New York City, and Massimo De Carlo in London, as well as increasing media coverage, including her painting “Aurora” sharing the cover of Vogue’s September 2020 issue and “God Bless the Child” gracing the cover of Time magazine’s May 2021 Visions of Equity Issue. This September, Casteel was one of 25 people selected as prestigious 2021 MacArthur Fellow.

“Professor Jordan Casteel is a gifted and passionate teacher, mentor and student advocate who, in addition to her professional success, continues to work with students at a level that is both warm and transformative,” said ACM Chair Ned Drew. “Her students come away from her classes forever changed by her intense commitment to their education. Jordan represents the best of what a teacher and educator should be.”

Michal Szostak, Professor in the Department of Chemistry, was selected to receive the Presidential Outstanding Faculty Scholar Award, which honors newly promoted to full professor (as of July 1, 2021) members of the faculty whose breadth of academic portfolios reflect outstanding research, scholarship or creative work, as well as truly outstanding contributions to teaching along with extensive service to the Rutgers community and beyond.

Szostak specializes in synthetic organic chemistry. He and his research team focus on developing new catalysts and reactions using the power of transition metals, with particular interest in amide bonds, C-H activation and organometallic catalysis. In lay terms, this means that Szostak pursues fundamentally important new processes for chemical-bond formation, which is of particular significance to the development of new pharmaceuticals. A key step when making new drugs is the tailored modification of chemical building blocks, and the work of Szostak and his team provides more efficient and versatile approaches to accomplish that.

“Dr. Szostak has been phenomenally successful in his research at Rutgers. His scholarly productivity is off-scale, having published over 170 articles that are garnering thousands of citations each year,” said Professor Frieder Jaekle, Chair of the Chemistry department. “The relevance to the industrial sector, and ultimately society at large, is clearly apparent in that several of Dr. Szostak’s recent discoveries have been patented and licensed.”

Szostak is grateful for the honor.

“I am tremendously honored to be recognized by the university,” said Szostak. “The biggest thank you goes to my students, the chemistry department and the School of Arts and Sciences.”

Melissa Cooper, Associate Professor in the Department of History, and Yuan Gao, Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, have won the Board of Trustees Award for Excellence in Research, which honors tenured faculty members who have made distinguished research contributions to their discipline and/or society at large.

Cooper, who specializes in African American cultural and intellectual history, and the history of the African Diaspora, is the author of Making Gullah: A History of Sapelo Islanders, Race, and the American Imagination (University of North Carolina Press, 2017), an intellectual and cultural history that examines the emergence of "the Gullah" in scholarly and popular works during the 1920s and the 1930s, which garnered widespread media attention, including outlets such as The New Yorker and NPR.

In 2019 Cooper was one of 32 scholars and writers selected as an Andrew Carnegie Fellow, which enabled her to take a leave to work on her newest book examining the ideas that shaped interpretations of black suffering in South Carolina’s Low Country from the 1920s to 1970s.

"Receiving an accolade of this caliber from an institution led by gifted visionaries and comprised of first-rate scholars is truly an honor,” said Cooper. “I am grateful and humbled." 

Gao, who specializes in atmospheric chemistry, air-sea chemical exchange and air pollution, has made it her life’s work to understand global atmospheric composition and its impact on climate change, biogeochemical cycles and human health. Her research has spanned many regions, and current projects range from examining how urban air quality impacts human health around the New York metropolitan area to studying the atmospheric dust and iron deposition to the Arctic Ocean, Southern Ocean and Antarctica. Gao and her research group recently collected and are now analyzing observational data to address the Covid-19 impact on air quality in New Jersey.

"I sincerely thank colleagues for their nomination and support, and I am deeply honored to receive this recognition,” said Gao. “My sincere thanks also go to colleagues who collaborated with me and students who participated in my research; without them, I could not have gone this far."

Eva Giloi, Associate Professor in the Department of History, has won the Faculty Scholar-Teacher Award, which honors tenured faculty members who have made outstanding synergistic contributions in research and teaching. This award recognizes those who make visible the vital link between teaching and scholarship, by contributing to the scholarship of teaching and by bringing together scholarly and classroom activities.

Giloi, who specializes in 19th- and 20th-century European history and modern Germany, is the creator of Newark Rhythms, a three-year research, exhibition and music/visual arts performance cycle started in 2017, which examines and is based on RU-N’s legacy in the Newark community. The concept, which sprung from a 2016 exhibit titled, “Making a Place: Rutgers University–Newark as a Microcosm of 1960s America," a multi-sensory experience on the campus’ history and architecture, has spawned several publications along with a steady stream of illuminating programming that will continue into spring 2022 (due to delays stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic). The project, which was timed for the 50th anniversary of the campus construction and dedication in 1968, has told this all-important story by involving students, artists, community members and scholars, weaving the project into courses at RU-N and NJIT, where students have done archival research to inform the project’s events and shared experiences.

“I feel deeply honored to receive this award. It’s been such a rewarding experience running the Newark Rhythms project alongside my work in European history, and interacting with our wonderful students on those many levels,” said Giloi. “I look forward to continuing the work combining artistic engagement, historical research and commemoration, and offering our students an on-going platform for participating in our shared history.”   

Giloi added: “The Newark Rhythms project was made possible with the generous support of a Chancellor’s Seed Grant, as well as vital support from the Federated History Department, Express Newark, the Institute of Jazz Studies, the program in Global Urban Studies, the Dean’s office at SASN, the excellent curatorial work of Ian Cofre, and the many artists and activists who have participated in the project over the years. I am deeply grateful for all of their engaged involvement.”