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2017 University Achievement Awards

Outstanding Professor

Dr. Bill Pedersen, Psychology

According to his students, what sets Dr. Bill Pedersen apart from other professors is his passion for teaching—both inside and outside the classroom—and that helped earn him this year’s Outstanding Professor Award.

Pedersen admits that he is most passionate about working with students outside the classroom. He also believes it is the one area in which he has had the most positive impact on his students. Since joining the university in 1999, he has mentored more than 160 graduate and undergraduate students in his research lab, 21 of whom have subsequently been admitted to doctoral programs. He also has served on 86 thesis committees, of which he has chaired 21.

His work with students has also been a part of his scholarly and creative activities. With a focus on factors that impact aggressive behavior and violence, Pedersen’s research efforts have yielded 36 peer-reviewed articles in top journals plus two book chapters. He also has three manuscripts under review or in a revise-and-resubmit status and four papers in progress. Additionally, he has made more than 70 presentations at regional, national or international conferences, and nearly all of the presentations had multiple student co-authors.

Despite all of his teaching and scholarship work, participating in service activities is extremely important to him, both as a person and as an academic, and he has sought out opportunities to serve his department, the College of Liberal Arts, the university and the CSU system.

This includes serving as the Assistant Chair of the Psychology Department and an Advisory Committee member; includes assignments on hiring committees, with the Reappointment, Tenure and Promotion process, the CSULB Academic Senate and reviewing for 17 academic journals; and work as a Faculty Data Fellow for Student Success for an initiative sponsored by the CSU Chancellor’s Office. It also includes engaging in other leadership roles such as chairing the CSULB Institutional Review Board and the Master of Arts in Research Committee.

Outstanding Staff Member

Wendy Lopez, Human Development

When asked for feedback on the Department of Human Development (HDEV), students said the number one asset in the department is Administrative Support Coordinator Wendy Lopez. That’s just one reason why she is this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Staff Award.

An alumna of CSULB, Lopez has worked in the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) since 1999 in numerous positions and for HDEV since 2007. Her combination of congeniality and efficiency, collaboration and cooperation, make her a strong asset for the department and the university.

HDEV has experienced tremendous growth in recent years, with the number of full-time faculty more than doubling and the number of declared majors increasing from 200 to more than 800. Despite the numbers, however, “There isn’t a student in the department that Wendy has not met with, advised, and/or counseled at some point during his or her time at CSULB,” according to HDEV Assistant Professor Emily Schryer.

Through it all, Lopez has remained her kind, efficient, gracious, upbeat self. In addition to assisting students and performing her regular duties, which include scheduling, budgeting, hiring, and event planning, Lopez has also served as a mentor to new CLA staff members.

“Beyond her work ethic and productivity, Wendy’s upbeat attitude is a principle force in maintaining a positive atmosphere in the department. Faculty members unilaterally appreciate her office management and ongoing support. For students she is often the public face of the department,” Department Chair Carl Fisher summed up. “Wendy’s enthusiasm for her job, and for doing it well, is unparalleled in my experience. I have never known a staff member so deeply woven into the fabric of an academic department.”

In addition to her dedication to work at CSULB, Lopez also finds time to volunteer in her community. Most notable is her work with the YMCA of Greater Long Beach, for which she has volunteered for many years with a focus on fundraising for an afterschool program.

Distinguished Faculty Teaching

Dr. Jennifer A. Ostergren, Speech-Language Pathology

As one graduate student wrote on her behalf, “Dr. Ostergren has an inspiring gift when she teaches as she engages her students and challenges them.” Still, one alumna described her as “extremely caring,” noting how “she truly wants her students to succeed.”

Obviously, Dr. Jennifer Ostergren has a gift that keeps on giving.

This year’s recipient of the Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award, Ostergren has been a faculty member at the campus since 2003, and during her tenure, she has helped prepare her students for success in a variety of ways, both inside and outside the classroom.

In 2009, she created a course in response to a change in state legislation, regarding licensure as a speech-language pathology assistant (SLPA). This specialized course paved the way for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology and 70 hours of clinical experience to become SLPAs. As a result, CSULB became the first university in California to offer this type of clinical education to bachelor’s level students. Additionally, according to a 2012 survey, 75-80% of students completing the course were successful in obtaining both licensure and employment as SLPAs.

However, Ostergren’s curriculum development didn’t end there. She co-created and co-directed a special graduate program designed to offer evening and summer courses for individuals who work full time, giving non-traditional students a path to a degree. She also developed a required graduate course on traumatic brain injury (TBI) that allows master’s degree graduates better able to provide clinical services to individuals, including military personnel, with TBIs.

Since 2010, Ostergren has supervised 17 independent graduate student projects and chaired committees of eight master’s theses, two of which received the department’s Outstanding Thesis Award. She also has co-authored 10 articles with her students and alumni, and in 2014, she published a book to educate SLPAs on important topics related to their service in the discipline. Three of her former students authored chapters in the text.

Distinguished Faculty Advising

Dr. Amy Cabrera Rasmussen, Political Science

For Dr. Amy Cabrera Rasmussen, advising students is one of the most rewarding aspects of her work as a professor, something that allows her to give back. Perhaps it is her professional and personal approach that has made her so successful and earned her this year’s Distinguished Faculty Advising Award.

A CSULB alumna, Rasmussen vividly recalls university faculty and staff who helped guide her through the unfamiliar terrain she found herself in as a first-generation college student. “I consider it my honor,” she wrote in her nomination statement, “to return to this campus and have the opportunity to begin to repay this sizeable debt through my teaching, advising, mentoring and other campus activities.”

Since 2009, Rasmussen has been an undergraduate advisor in the Political Science Department, which has more than 600 majors, pre-majors and minors. Working collaboratively with her colleagues, she uses experiences as a student and educator as well as her problem-solving skills to proactively make improvements. She seeks to show students that she, her department and the university have a stake in their success as they earn their degrees, and beyond graduation.

Rasmussen took a lead role in enhancing student communication and outreach, revamping aspects of the department website and list-serv. She also improved and built up advising documents, including the major requirements worksheet and a series of one-page infographics, POSC Advising Shortcuts, which provide basic information and a straightforward set of action steps for students. In addition, she spearheaded the creation of a series of workshops to better respond to student advising needs.

Seeking to improve post-graduation guidance, Rasmussen created a department Career Resource Library, crafted stronger links to the Career Development Center, and built a series of online profiles of successful alumni, all aimed at helping students think more broadly about their future prospects.

Rasmussen has also sought out complementary roles to incorporate into her advising efforts, including serving as a Partners for Success mentor, working with the CSULB Graduate Studies Resource Center, and as a member of the College of Liberal Arts’ 2025 Graduation Initiative career readiness team.

Early Academic Career Excellence

Dr. Joshua A. Cotter, Kinesiology

Completing just his third academic year, Dr. Joshua Cotter hasn’t been at CSULB very long, but that hasn’t kept him from making his mark at the university. In fact, his early efforts and success at the campus have earned him this year’s Early Academic Career Excellence Award.

Perhaps the accomplishment Cotter is most proud of is the building of a new high-tech lab called the Physiology of EXercise and Sports Lab—or PEXS Lab for short.

The lab was created with a transitional research mindset where he visualized a lab space that would allow for the study of not only the positive effects of exercise on health and sport performance but for exploring the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms that determine those changes. Since he started the effort, Cotter has earned nearly $500,000 in grants and awards, funding the purchase of more than 200 individual equipment items and bringing cutting-edge technology that will significantly impact both student and faculty experiences.

Additionally, Cotter has sought out ways for creating unique educational and handson opportunities for students. Last summer, he took a trip to the Karolinska Medical Institute in Sweden to aid in the development of research collaborations and study abroad opportunities as part of the Professors Around the World Program. He also developed a relationship with the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League that led to the coordination and training of more than 30 students each year for the team’s annual physiological testing event.

To date, Cotter has been a member of eight master’s theses, five projects, and 31 comprehensive exam committees. He serves as the graduate coordinator for exercise science, is a member of the College Research Committee, was a leader for the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) Mentoring community, and has served on two search committees, one of which he chaired. 

Impact Accomplishment of the Year in Research, Scholarly and Creative Activity

Heather Barker, Design

When Heather Barker first developed the Research, Design & Deliver (RD&D) Collaborative Methodology, she couldn’t have imagined what it would lead to or where it might take her, and she is still finding out. The fact is her RD&D has had a broad impact in research, scholarship and practice, and it’s what has earned her this year’s Impact Accomplishment of the Year Award.

The methodology finds its foundation in the innovative processes of Design Thinking, behaviors in complex adaptive systems (as described in computer programming and social science) and the (experience-based) philosophy and science of phenomenology. Barker developed it, she explains, out of a need to bring rigor to the design process.

This work has drawn much attention. The methodology provides the foundation for a book under contract with the prestigious publisher Routledge and due to be completed in a few months. In addition to the book, Barker has published in scholarly journals and presented the work at conferences, including a collaborative Research + Business presentation at an international conference. She has also presented workshops in Italy and Japan to train other professors how to use the methodology to have a more inclusive teaching environment.

Just this past fall, Barker was selected to speak and present at the 2016 Long Beach Innovation Summit, at which she was recognized as the first recipient of the Academic Research Civic Innovation Award from the City of Long Beach. And, her work led to her serving as an international guest professor at China’s prestigious Shanghai, Tong ji University College of Design and Innovation.

Finally, Barker’s RD&D methodology has formed the basis for a User Experience (UX) Design Curriculum in the Department of Design. As a result, students are being trained in and applying this innovative method, which has led them to earning national and international awards. Additionally, a newly proposed degree will be forthcoming from the department at Barker’s initiation. These include a master’s degree, a master’s certificate and a minor. She has authored new courses that will serve these initiatives.

Outstanding Faculty Mentor for Student Engagement in Research, Scholarly and Creative Activity

Dr. Stephen Mezyk, Chemistry and Biochemistry

For Chemistry & Biochemistry Professor Stephen Mezyk, it has always been his philosophy as a mentor to foster complete success for every student, and his most recent efforts in assisting his students in achieving their goals have earned him the Outstanding Faculty Mentor for Student Engagement in Research, Scholarly and Creative Activity Award for 2017.

Over the past 18 months, Mezyk has mentored six master’s students, two senior thesis honors students and 19 undergraduate research students. During this time he and his students have: 15 published/accepted peer-reviewed manuscripts that included 16 student co-authors; 67 conference publications with 70 student co-authors; and external funding of $3 million with $37,500 in individual student scholarships and awards.

His department chair and colleague Chris Brazier reports that he has watched his “friend” mentor junior faculty, part-time lecturers, postdoctoral fellows, Ph.D. students from other institutions and CSULB undergraduate and graduate students.

“His exceptional successful approach is to provide all of his students a wide range of additional opportunities,” Brazier wrote in his nomination letter. “Having these opportunities allows his students to learn collaborative research project management skills, obtain, analyze and present research findings at conferences, obtain their own research funding, and publish their data in leading journals, all in an effort to ultimately find their desired employment or be admitted into their top graduate or professional school.”

One of his best student successes, Brittany Daws, the 2016 Outstanding Graduate for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and now a student in the Ph.D. biochemistry program at UC Berkeley, recalled meeting Mezyk for the first time.

“In our first talk, he immediately invited me to join his research group and advised me to switch my major to biochemistry, which he believed would better prepare me for my medical school goal at the time,” Daws wrote in support of Mezyk’s candidacy for the mentor award. “I also distinctly remember him telling me, ‘My job is to make sure that you achieve success, and if you trust me and work hard, you will achieve all of your goals.’ That was the beginning of his mentorship for me, which continues even to this day.”

Distinguished Faculty Scholarly and Creative Achievement

Dr. Prashanth Jaikumar, Physics and Astronomy

With 15 years of post-Ph.D. experience in theoretical astrophysics, Dr. Prashanth Jaikumar has produced central and highly-cited research results that have given new insights into the properties of neutron stars. His most recent efforts in this area have earned him the Distinguished Faculty Scholarly and Creative Achievement Award for 2017.

Since his appointment as an assistant professor at CSULB in 2009, Jaikumar has published 18 papers and conference proceedings in leading peer-reviewed journals in physics and astronomy and has garnered more than 500 citations for these publications.

His most significant research contributions have been made in the areas of the “Nature of Matter at Extreme Densities,” “Gravitational Waves,” and the “Nucleosynthesis of Heavy Elements,” the latter topic of which he has made his most influential achievements. There, he helped develop a computer simulation to model the creation of heavy elements from light ones, addressing a central problem termed “nucleosynthesis” in physics. Along with his collaborators, Jaikumar leveraged large-scale computing resources and graphical user-interfaces to design a software module called “r-Java,” which has been picked up by research groups from around the world in a common effort to solve the challenges of nucleosynthesis.

His impressive efforts within the field have earned him a handful of grants. He recently obtained a very competitive National Science Foundation-Research at an Undergraduate Institution grant that supports fundamental research at the highest levels and provides support for undergraduate and graduate students to be trained in astrophysics. This comes on the heels of previous grants from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, NASA and the U.S. Army High-Performance Computing and Research Center, making up a continuous stream of federal and private funding in excess of $550,000 since 2010.

Additionally, Jaikumar has an impressive number of CSULB students who have finished their master’s degrees with a research thesis under his guidance. Out of nine students, five are now in Ph.D. programs in the United States and Japan.

Distinguished Faculty Scholarly and Creative Achievement

Dr. Thomas Alex Washington, Social Work

The HIV/AIDS research and public health communities have made major strides in reducing the wide-spread impact of HIV/AIDS in the United States. Still, there continues to be a ways to go to eradicate the virus and its accompanying disease.

Contributing to this effort, Dr. Thomas Alex Washington has been engaged in HIV prevention and intervention research for more than 18 years, and his work during that time has earned him a number of accolades, including CSULB’s 2017 Distinguished Faculty Scholarly and Creative Achievement Award.

One area of Washington’s HIV/AIDS research is marginalized populations such as young Black and Latino sexual-minority males, for whom the rates of new infections continues to be disproportionately high. His work with young Black men who have sex with men (BMSM), aged 18 to 30, is significant for addressing an existing health disparity. The number of new infections among young BMSM is nearly twice that of young white MSM and more than twice that of young Hispanic/Latino MSM.

Given the high risk and prevalence of HIV among young BMSM, Washington has aimed his research on developing prevention intervention that would motivate HIV testing and linkage to treatment. With the broad use of social media among this population, he has focused on developing and evaluating community-based HIV/AIDS web-based intervention projects and examining the use of social media to deliver HIV intervention.

Since joining the faculty at CSULB, Washington has actively presented refereed papers and published manuscripts in refereed journals, including two co-edited special issue journal volumes. Additionally, he has secured nearly $3 million in external funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service to conduct HIV research. Further, his research has involved collaborations with Drs. Laura D’Anna and Kevin Malotte, from the CSULB Center for Health Equity Research, and CSULB students.

Among the honors Washington has received, perhaps none is greater than the national Gerald A. Ludd Lifetime Achievement Award, which he received for his research and service to the fight against HIV in the Black community.

Outstanding Graduate Research Student

Sheena Cruz, Public Health

In her short time as a graduate student, Sheena Cruz has managed to serve in a multitude of research-related roles, all of which has led to numerous presentations, two publications and another submission for publishing. That’s in addition to her attending school full time, interning and working.

According to her mentor, Niloofar Bavarian, assistant professor of health sciences, all this activity is a testament to her “great work ethic.” It is that work ethic, and its results, that have earned Cruz this year’s Outstanding Graduate Research Student Award.

Currently an intern with the Center for Health Equity and Research working with the Building Healthy Communities project, Cruz is also a “graduate technician” on an Office of Research and Sponsored Programs-funded project that combines public health and information systems. She also is a graduate assistant for the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) Initiative and is responsible for assisting with mentoring students. Cruz also has volunteered time to participate as a member of the BUILD research team, which Bavarian leads.

Her work as a graduate assistant has been both impressive and fruitful. Working closely with Bavarian and a team of students, the study involved examining health behaviors among CSULB undergraduate students with a specific focus on the illicit use of prescription stimulants (IUPS). The research on prescription drug abuse is very relevant as it has now overtaken motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of injury death in the United States.

The work has included data collection, data entry, data analysis, grant proposal writing and manuscript writing, and it led to the development of three posters, a presentation and a published manuscript in the journal Addictive Behaviors that focuses on racial/ethnic and gender differences in IUPS characteristics. It also led to Cruz collaborating on eight other presentations and two more manuscripts—on substance use and mental health, and on IUPS etiology.

Cruz’s goal is to use her research experiences to apply to medical school and to one day become a well-rounded and devoted public health physician with a specialization in preventive medicine.

Outstanding Undergraduate Research Student

Lauren Dunne, Psychology

When Lauren Dunne was first introduced to research, she didn’t see it as a very powerful tool to help people. In fact, she thought counseling would be her calling and the best way to help others. Since being introduced to Psychology Professor Guido Urizar’s health psychology lab, however, Dunne has come to realize just how much power there is in conducting research, and her recent efforts in this area have earned her a 2017 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Student Award.

Over the past two years, Dunne has dedicated 15 hours a week gaining research experience in the areas of clinical and health psychology. Her work specifically focuses on identifying at-risk groups for chronic health problems to develop and test community-based interventions that are designed to promote health in medically underserved populations.

She has worked on several NIH-funded, community-based health interventions, including the “Active Mom’s Project,” which examined the effects of a physical activity intervention on improving the health of low-income mothers and children, and the “Stress Management and Relaxation Training for Moms (SMART Moms) Project,” which examined the effects of a pre-natal stress management program on reducing cortisol levels among low-income mothers and their infants.

As a result of her excellent work on these two projects, she was chosen to help run a new community health project, in collaboration with the City of Long Beach’s Black Infant Health (BIH) Program, called the “Destined for Greatness Project” (funded by the March of Dimes Foundation). She took the lead in developing a six-week, mindfulness-based kindness curriculum for the children of African-American mothers focused on teaching the children prosocial behavior while their mothers participated in a stress management program.

The response to the curriculum has been overwhelmingly positive with BIH wanting to adopt it for other state-funded programs. She earned first authorship on the facilitator manual, which is now being used by BIH. Additionally, she has presented preliminary results of the study to the BIH Advisory Board and the March of Dimes Foundation and has won two university research awards for her work.

Looking ahead, Dunne’s short-term goal is to apply to Ph.D. programs in family health. Her long-term goals are to create clinical research-based interventions that focus on the positive development of children and families. 

Outstanding Undergraduate Research Student

Jamie Gleason, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Since 2014, Jamie Gleason has worked as an undergraduate research student for Chemistry & Biochemistry Professor Stephen Mezyk, who says she has been an outstanding success. As he tells it, “She is truly one of the brightest students and best undergraduate researchers I’ve ever seen at this institution.”

With praise like that, it’s no wonder that Gleason was chosen as a 2017 recipient of an Outstanding Undergraduate Research Student Award.

A biochemistry major, Gleason has worked on multiple projects focused on the active, radical-based remediation of contaminated environmental water systems, in particular, the understanding of the chemistry of chloramine disinfectants in waters. Chloramines are being increasingly used by wastewater treatment plants to replace chlorine to minimize the formation of toxic, chlorinated by-products. However, chloramines can form carcinogenic chemicals under certain circumstances, and therefore their chemistry needs to be fully understood.

Gleason has been involved in all aspects of research from designing experiments, obtaining and analyzing experimental data, and writing conference presentations, journal articles and scholarship applications. Her efforts have resulted in her first submitted peer-reviewed manuscript to the Environmental Science and Pollution Research journal.

In addition to her peer-reviewed manuscript, Gleason has given nine oral and two poster presentations, including four oral presentations in two conferences this past March. Mezyk says he has never had, nor heard of, another undergraduate student giving multiple talks at a conference.

Gleason has also successfully written several scholarship applications in order to fund her research, winning a 2016 Research and Creative Activity Scholarship from Women and Philanthropy and a 2016 Assistance League of Long Beach Scholarship. She also is one of just eight CSULB scholars recently selected for the National Institutes of Health-funded MARC (Maximizing Access to Research Careers) U*STAR Training Program for 2016-18.

After she graduates from CSULB in spring 2018, Gleason believes her research success will allow her to matriculate into one of the best chemical biology Ph.D. programs in the country.