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University of Iowa News Release


May 23, 2008

Five engineering faculty, staff receive excellence awards

Five University of Iowa faculty and staff recently received College of Engineering Excellence Awards for their individual contributions to research, teaching, service, Staff research, and staff excellence in 2007-08.

The five, honored by Dean P. Barry Butler at the College's annual faculty/staff recognition luncheon on May 13, are: Tonya L. Peeples, Faculty Excellence Award for Service; Michelle M. Scherer, Faculty Excellence Award for Research; David G. Wilder, Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching; Rajankumar Bhatt, Collegiate Staff Research Award; and Jane M. Dorman, Mary Sheedy Staff Excellence Award.

Peeples, associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, is a researcher in the field of organisms that thrive in extreme environments and has research interests that include extremophile biocatalysis and bioremediation.  Peeples was nominated for her work as director of the Ethnic Inclusion Effort for Iowa Engineering -- a program designed to improve ethnic inclusion among engineering graduates and provide a model for other institutions interested in eliminating the disparity in ethnicity in engineering. Through Peeples' efforts, the College of Engineering continues to remain a national leader in its inclusion effort at the doctorate level. It has one of the highest percentages of U.S. underrepresented minorities in Carnegie Research I doctoral engineering programs in the nation. She also is the recipient of the 2000-01 Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching.

Scherer, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and researcher in the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, is an expert in the field of environmental geochemistry. In 2005, she received a four-year, $1.4 million National Science Foundation grant to study the behavior of nanoscale iron oxides in the environment. Nanoscale iron oxides affect the cycling of key environmentally important elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus.

Wilder is associate professor of biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering, associate professor of occupational and environmental health in the College of Public Health, and researcher in the Heartland Center for Occupational Health and Safety. Wilder, also senior research scientist in the Jolt/Vibrations/Seating Laboratory of the Iowa Spine Research Center, is nationally known as an expert on the human body's response to vibration. The recipient of the 2006-07 Faculty Excellence Award for Service, he will serve as meeting chair and program chair for the 2010 American Conference on Human Vibration to be held at the UI. He also has devoted a significant portion of his time to helping inspire K-12 students in science, technology, engineering, and math and is a frequent speaker at public groups, such as Rotary Clubs and high school assemblies, around the state of Iowa. Well-known for his "Oreo cookies and marshmallows" demonstration of how the spine works, he has developed a highly relevant, yet unexpected, approach to classroom teaching. Other examples include: requiring students to design and build vehicles from vegetables and assigning them to build a functioning musical instrument, on which a tune can be played, for less than $5.

Bhatt, assistant research engineer at the UI's Virtual Soldier Research (VSR) project, received his doctorate in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 2007. An expert in the field of robotics, he previously worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and currently is working to improve the functions of Santos, VSR's digital human.

Dorman, director of admissions and outreach for the College of Engineering since 1997, is responsible for recruiting the college's academically talented engineering students. Her many and diverse activities include: reviewing files and making admissions decisions, meeting with prospective students and their parents, developing publications, hosting Explore Engineering@Iowa programs, and responding to inquiries. She also supervises a team of student ambassadors, oversees the Engineering Connection mentoring program, serves as liaison for the Men in Engineering learning community, and teaches a college transition class.

The Mary Sheedy Award -- named for a secretary who served 40 years in the College of Engineering Dean's Office ( -- is presented to a staff member who provides outstanding service to the College of Engineering, has a positive attitude that impacts and improves the work atmosphere within the college, leaves a lasting impression with the college and its constituents, and demonstrates a commitment to the college and its mission.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,