Honors Convocation Awards- Spring 2021

We recognize and honor students and faculty for outstanding performance in the 2020-2021 academic year. The recipients of named awards and scholarships are featured below. Outstanding Student of the Year and Distinguished Student Scholar award recipients are listed on the following pages:

Faculty Excellence Awards

The Kerry Bruce Clark Award For Excellence In Teaching

Dr. Darby Proctor, School of Psychology
College of Psychology and Liberal Arts

Dr. Darby Proctor is an Assistant Professor in the School of Psychology. She implements innovative techniques in the classroom while maintaining excellent student ratings for quality of instruction. She has led the revitalization of the animal learning and behavior concentration. Dr. Proctor received the 2017 Association of Psychological Science Teaching Grant that enabled the development of the Roach Lab where cockroaches, responsive to both classical and operant conditioning, provide a simple animal model for demonstrating core concepts in a psychology lab. The Roach Lab is now integrated into courses at Florida Tech and Dr. Proctor developed web resources that assist colleagues at other universities in developing similar capabilities. She also established a relationship between Florida Tech and the Brevard Zoo, where she runs the Animal Cognitive Research Center. Through both the Roach Lab and the Animal Cognitive Research Center, Dr. Proctor provides undergraduate students with research and publishing opportunities. Her initiatives have been featured in Florida Tech and regional news as well as the Discovery Channel.

The Charles E. Helmstetter Award For Excellence In Research

Dr. Robert van Woesik, Ocean Engineering and Marine Sciences
College of Engineering and Science

Dr. Robert van Woesik is a Professor in Ocean Engineering and Marine Sciences. He is the Director of the Institute for Global Ecology and co-Director of the Ocean 2100 Pillar of Excellence at Florida Tech. In 2020, he was listed among the top 2% of scientists in the world (PLoS Biol 18(10): e3000918). Dr. van Woesik has a total of 195 publications with over 11,000 citations, including 29 peer-reviewed publications in the past five years, an h-index of 56, and i10-index of 131. He currently has over 1.2 million dollars in National Science Foundation funding. He has served as major advisor to 14 students who graduated with the Ph.D., 25 M.S. graduates, and currently supports one Ph.D. student and one postdoctoral scholar. Dr. van Woesik also serves on Florida Tech’s Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee and the Florida Tech Research Council.

The Andrew W. Revay Jr. Award For Excellence In Service

Dr. Rian Mehta, College of Aeronautics

Dr. Rian Mehta is an Assistant Professor in the College of Aeronautics (COA). He is an active Faculty Senator and COA representative on the university Undergraduate Curriculum Committee (UGCC), the Academic Affairs Committee (AAC), and the University Disciplinary Committee. In the College of Aeronautics, Dr. Mehta is responsible for undergraduate academics as Division Director. He is a mentor for faculty and an advisor to students. He leads the AABI Accreditation process and is the Chair of Internships. Dr. Mehta is active in service to the students of Florida Tech, serving as one of the chapter advisors to the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity and as a risk management advisor to Alpha Eta Rho Professional Aviation Fraternity. He is also Vice President of the Southern Division of Delta Tau Delta and a member of their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. He is on the advisory board to the Director of Student Involvement at Florida Tech. Dr. Mehta has served as a reviewer for numerous aviation and human factors journals, as well as for the Department of Defense’s SMART scholarship program, and he was recently invited to join the International Journal of Aviation Research as an Associate Editor.

The Gavel Award

Dr. Nasri Nesnas, Biomedical and Chemical Engineering and Sciences

College of Engineering and Science
Faculty Senate President

The Senate’s Gavel Award is presented to the Faculty Senate President in recognition of leadership over the past academic year. Dr. Nasri Nesnas is a Professor in Biomedical and Chemical Engineering and Sciences. Dr. Nesnas has a strong record of contributions to Florida Tech and was recognized with the 2016-2017 Kerry Bruce Clark Award for Excellence in Teaching and the 2018-2019 Charles E. Helmstetter Award for Excellence in Research. He has served as chair of the Florida Tech Research Council and is currently chair of the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee. As the 2020-2021 Faculty Senate President, Dr. Nesnas quickly responded to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure that the senate continued to be effective in representing and advocating for faculty while working closely with the university administration as a participant in institutional governance. Dr. Nesnas’s senate leadership is marked with numerous accomplishments that include updating the Faculty Handbook to make current the College and Library Promotion and Tenure Guidelines and Criteria, the revision of Couse Evaluations, and securing approval for a Covid-19 Tenure Clock Pause option. Dr. Nesnas led the Faculty Senate through a uniquely challenging year while maintaining focus on the betterment of Florida Tech and is the recipient of the Senate’s Gavel Award.

Student Excellence Awards

Outstanding Junior Award

Jennifer Tolliver, College of Psychology and Liberal Arts

Jennifer Tolliver is a Psychology major and member of the Florida Tech Honors College. Jennifer is a transfer student with an associate degree from Valencia College where she graduated as a Seneff Honors College Scholar (Leadership Track), a Distinguished Graduate Finalist, and a Jack Kent Cooke (JKC) Undergraduate Transfer Scholar. At Valencia College, she earned the Ignite! Creative Thinking Distinction, Valencia Global Distinction, and the Career Action Distinction (CAD) for Psychology and received Seneff Honors College, Suzannah C. Heyward, and SAGE Study Abroad scholarships. At Florida Tech, Jennifer’s leadership roles include her position as secretary of the Keuper Palm Botanical Society and member of the Student Honors Council, Honors College Civic Engagement Committee, and Florida Collegiate Honors Council Executive Board. Jennifer leads the Honors College Reading Group and is launching a new civic engagement initiative Florida Tech Reads where students record audiobooks made available on YouTube for the benefit of various communities, with particular attention to the visually-impaired, English language learners, young readers, and those suffering from eye strain due to increased screen time resulting from the pandemic. Jennifer’s career goal of being on the front lines providing empathetic mental health care demonstrates her passion for and commitment to civic engagement.

Outstanding Senior Award

Kelly J. van Woesik, College of Engineering and Science

Kelly J. van Woesik is graduating with a B.S. in Biomathematics and is an inaugural graduate of the Honors College, achieving top-tier honors as an Apollo Scholar. Kelly excels in academics and is a leader in many student organizations. She has also actively participated in research at Florida Tech through projects in ecology, biology, mathematics, and machine learning. Her accomplishments include a first-place research award from the Florida Collegiate Honors Council, a 5-week internship at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratories Global Monitoring Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, and a publication in the scientific journal PeerJ. Kelly is a PADI open water, advanced, and rescue diver, an AAUS scientific diver, and a DAN diving first aid provider who has logged over 185 SCUBA dives. Kelly has contributed to the local community through extensive volunteer service and has also made a significant impact on Florida Tech as a student leader: she is a member of the Student Honors Council, a student vice president for the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, two-time treasurer and national-scholarship recipient of the Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society, member of the Tri-Beta Biological Society, and founder and president of the Florida Tech Swim Club.

The Kerry Bruce Clark Endowed Scholarship In Marine Biology

Christian Pagel, College of Engineering and Science

The day before classes began in spring semester 1999, Florida Tech lost a dedicated member of its faculty. Dr. Kerry Clark, Professor of Biological Sciences, was one of the first members in the biology department when it was formed 50 years ago. Dr. Clark was largely responsible for developing the marine biology program on this campus to the high status of quality and recognition that the program now enjoys among academic programs of its kind in the United States. His excellence in teaching was recognized in 1992 when Dr. Clark received the Teaching Excellence Award that now bears his name. His excellence in research was recognized by his election as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His excellence in service to our profession and the community is known to those here today who shared positions with him on innumerable committees during his 28 years on the faculty.

The financial contributions by students, alumni, colleagues, friends, and family in Dr. Clark’s memory allow the marine biology program to make the 23rd award of the Dr. Kerry Bruce Clark Endowed Scholarship in Marine Biology. The award is to be given to a junior or senior undergraduate student in the marine biology program: a merit scholarship to one who shows promise to achieve excellence in a career related to marine biology.

This year’s awardee is Christian Pagel, a junior who has maintained a high level of academic achievement during her three years. Her academic success includes an excellent performance in Dr. Richard Aronson’s Invertebrate Zoology class, which was Dr. Clark’s favorite class to teach. The selection committee was impressed also by her involvement in research in Dr. Aronson’s lab, participation in several organizations on campus, volunteering off campus (Brevard Zoo, Coral Restoration Foundation), and vision for her career. On the basis of these accomplishments and recommendations from her faculty, the faculty of the Department of Ocean Engineering and Marine Sciences is happy to award the Kerry Clark Scholarship to Christian.

The Dr. J. Clayton Baum Chemistry Award

Stine Sofie Hagbo Olsen, College of Engineering and Science

Dr. J. Clayton Baum was an outstanding mentor and colleague, who taught physical chemistry at Florida Tech for 37 years. In his honor, alumni and friends of the Chemistry Program have established a scholarship for an outstanding upper-level Chemistry major.

This year’s awardee is Stine Olsen, whose first name is pronounced STEE-na. A senior from Molde, Norway, she has maintained a grade-point average of 3.80 in the Chemistry major program and has made the Dean’s List every semester of college. She is involved in research in Dr. Christopher Chouinard’s lab on a UV-catalyzed reaction to help identify prohibited anabolic steroids and plans to start graduate school this fall.

The Donald R. Mason Chemical Engineering Award

Jair Mittal Cowie-Williams, College of Engineering and Science

Dr. Donald R. Mason left an indelible mark on our school’s history as the founder and first Head of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. Jair Cowie-Williams is an outstanding Chemical Engineering senior who continues the long tradition of excellence of Donald Mason Award recipients. His exemplary academic performance in both his Chemical Engineering major and the Nanoscience-Nanotechnology minor has earned him a perfect grade point average, the highest in a class of many outstanding students. He accomplished that while serving very successfully in the past three years as a Chemistry Resource Center tutor and a Resident Assistant, and more recently as Community Director for Harris Village. He has also joined Dr. Pavithra Pathirathna’s research group in the Chemistry Program, working on electrochemistry techniques aiming at developing sensors for detecting ingested toxic metals in blood and urine samples. He plans to pursue Ph.D. research on renewable energy sources, with a focus on energy transfer and the transportation sector.

The John E. Miller Award

Laura M. Zamora, College of Engineering and Science

Dr. John E. Miller served as president of Florida Tech from 1986-1987. Dr. Miller was vice president for academic affairs from 1966 until 1975. Dr. Miller received a B.S. from Randolph Macon College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. Some of his outstanding accomplishments included receiving a senior science fellowship at Stanford University and the position of Distinguished Professor of Physics at Clemson University. Dr. Miller also served in the United States Army during World War II.

After his term as president of Florida Tech, Dr. Miller spent four years teaching for the physics and space sciences department before retiring from the university. Dr. Miller passed away on December 14, 1993.

This year’s awardee is Laura M. Zamora, who is originally from Harleysville, PA, and received her B.S. in Astronomy and Astrophysics at Florida Tech. After marrying her husband in 2013 and graduating in 2014, Laura taught Physics, Honors Physics, Science Research, Honors Astronomy, and Eurhythmics at Melbourne High School for four years, earned her professional teaching certificate, and gave birth to a son. Upon the prompting and encouragement of her husband and family, she returned to Florida Tech to pursue a Ph.D. in Space Science in 2019 and gave birth to her daughter just days after completing her first semester. Laura has been able to put her experience as a Brevard Public Schools teacher to use while teaching the introductory physics laboratory classes at Florida Tech and pioneering the Introductory Physics summer program for high school seniors and incoming freshmen. She is currently researching the multiplicity properties of massive stars in a young open cluster of M17 (also called the Omega Nebula or Swan Nebula) and specifically looking for low-mass companions to these most massive O-type stars under her advisor, Dr. Saida Caballero-Nieves.

The Potter Award

Abbigale Smith, College of Engineering and Science

After receiving degrees from Princeton, New York University and Yale, James G. Potter enjoyed a six-decade career as a physicist and a developer of physics departments.  He began the physics degree program at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology during the World War II years. Between 1945 and 1966, he was the head of the department of physics at Texas A & M University. At the age of 60, he joined the faculty of Florida Institute of Technology where he was professor and department head from 1967 to 1972. After stepping down as department head, Dr. Potter continued to make contributions until 1987 when he was named professor emeritus. Even after that, he was a regular presence in the department until about 1990.

After his death in 1993, the department initiated a yearly competition as the basis for this award. A competition seemed fitting given Dr. Potter’s feisty persona and his penchant for on-the-spot oral examinations when students would innocently inquire about testing out of Physics 1.

This year’s awardee is Abbigale Smith, a Junior in Aerospace Engineering from Tallahassee, Florida. She is a coxswain on the Women’s Rowing Team and has been involved with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society. In the Fall of 2020, Abbigale became a student ambassador for Florida Tech giving tours to prospective students. Her goal after finishing school with a graduate degree is to engineer the spacecraft necessary for the advancement of space exploration at a major rocket manufacturing company. Her inspiration for achieving these goals comes from her parents who have taught her hard work, determination, and academic excellence.

Faculty Senate Scholarship

The Faculty Senate awards scholarships to students across the colleges on an annual basis.

Paola Rolla, College of Psychology and Liberal Arts

This year’s awardee is Paola Rolla, a freshman Psychology major from Panama. Paola is grateful to have the opportunity to study in the United States, and she believes that her undergraduate studies at Florida Tech are a foundation for many future opportunities. She has volunteered for a nonprofit organization for children with leukemia where she plays with the children, provides support, and organizes fundraising events. Inspired by her mother who is a psychologist and has made a significant impact in many people’s lives, Paola plans to follow in her footsteps.

The Florida Tech Chapter Of The Honor Society Of Phi Kappa Phi’s Scholar Award

Natalie Holliday, College of Engineering and Science

Natalie Holliday is a graduate student in the College of Engineering and Science working on her M.S. in Ocean Engineering with an expected graduation of May 2021. She is starting a M.S. in Systems Engineering this summer. Her undergraduate degree was a B.S. in Ocean Engineering. Natalie has worked on research in a large on-going project with flagellation testing of composite finger skirts for surface effect ship applications. She has also performed other research in pressure testing of newly developed fiber optic cables at various ocean depths and research for the U.S. Navy.

Natalie has achieved many honors during her time at Florida Tech, such as the Dean’s List, Department of Defense SMART Scholarship, Office of Naval Research Internship Awardee, Panther Prep Leader for Florida Tech Orientation Teams, American Legion Auxiliary Volunteer Girls’ State Recipient, and the National Greek Honor Society.