Odum School presents awards at virtual 2021 Spring Fling

Beth Gavrilles, bethgav@uga.edu
Zoom meeting screenshot from Ecology Spring Fling 2021.

The Odum School of Ecology recognized the achievements of students, faculty, postdoctoral associates and staff at the 2021 Spring Fling awards celebration on April 23 via Zoom. This year’s theme was “Odum Gone Viral.” Hosts Amy Rosemond, Professor of Ecology; Undergraduate Lab Coordinator Kait Farrell, PhD ’17, and John Kominoski, PhD ’08, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Florida International University, set the stage for a celebratory evening aboard the “S.S. Odum.”

Awards to Undergraduates

Elizabeth Johnson, a B.S. ecology student, received a Georgia Power Horseshoe Bend Student Research Award. This newly revived award supports research conducted at the Horseshoe Bend Experimental Site.

The Josh Laerm Memorial Outstanding Ecology Undergraduate Award was given to Liz Jurado, a B.S. ecology student. This award honoring a graduating senior was established in memory of a former professor of ecology and director of the Georgia Museum of Natural History.

Jillian Wilson, an A.B. ecology student, and Christopher Brandon, a student in the B.S. ecology program, received the Thelma Richardson and Frank Golley Undergraduate Support Award, given to encourage individual excellence in undergraduate studies.

In addition, B.S. ecology student Jared Bennett was recognized as a recipient of the UGA Presidential Award of Excellence, given to students representing the top 1% of undergraduates at UGA who excel in academics, service and leadership. Bennett will enter the M.S. ecology program this fall as part of UGA’s Double Dawgs program.

Awards to Graduate Students

Doctoral student Annakate Schatz received the Best Student Paper Award for “Host and parasite traits predict cross-species parasite acquisition by introduced mammals,” in press in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

In recognition of the extraordinary challenges in teaching due to the pandemic, three Distinguished Graduate Student Teaching Awards were given this year, recognizing doctoral students Nate Tomczyk and Carol Yang and M.S. CESD student Dessa Dunn for their outstanding efforts.

Doctoral student Doreen Chaussadas received a Georgia Power Horseshoe Bend Student Research Award.

Doctoral student Caitlin Conn received the Frank Golley Memorial Award, which recognizes demonstrated leadership qualities; it is given in memory of the former director of the Institute of Ecology.

In recognition of the special challenges in 2020, the Graduate Diversity Award in Ecology was given to two students this year, honoring the contributions to social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion of M.S. CESD student Laura Kojima and ICON and Ecology Ph.D. student Akanksha Sharma. This award was established by Prof. Emeritus Dave Coleman and Fran Coleman to support diversity in the graduate program.

Doctoral candidate Samantha Bock was awarded the Dr. Rebecca Reyburn Sharitz and Carl Byrne Hatfield Fellowship, which was created by their family to honor the memory of their parents. This fellowship supports doctoral candidates in ecology or plant biology at UGA, with preference given to those affiliated with the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.

Andrew Nagy, a student in the M.S. CESD program, received the Robert A. Sheldon Award, which was established in 1971 by a gift from Dr. Joanne S. Sharpe in memory of her late husband, who was an outstanding graduate student in the UGA department of zoology.

Doctoral students Supraja Rajagopal, Izzy Ragonese, and Megan Tomamichel and M.S. CESD student Kelly Ridenhour were this year’s recipients of Odum Small Grants for research-related expenses.

Students were also recognized for honors received from beyond the Odum School. Dessa Dunn, Nate Tomczyk and ICON and Ecology doctoral student Jeff Beauvais were named Outstanding Teaching Assistants by the UGA Center for Teaching and Learning. Doctoral candidate Caitlin Conn received a Dissertation Completion Award from the UGA Graduate School. Doctoral candidate Claire Teitelbaum received the Stoddard-Burleigh-Sutton Award from the UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. Doctoral student Kelsey Solomon was inducted into the Blue Key Honor Society. Laura Kojima and doctoral student Daniel Suh each received a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, and doctoral student Alex Primo received an honorable mention. M.S. CESD student Kyle Connelly and doctoral candidate Denzell Cross both received Endowment Fellowships from the Society for Freshwater Science, and Cross and incoming M.S. CESD student Fabiola Lopez Avila were named SFS Emerge Fellows. Connelly received a U.S. Presidential Management Fellowship from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Awards to Faculty, Staff, and Postdoctoral Associates

The Employee of the Year Award was given to three individuals this year. Leslie Sitz, Executive Assistant to the Dean, was recognized for helping the Odum School maintain smooth business operations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing COVID-19 preparedness, being on-site to support space and facilities needs and coordinate deliveries throughout the pandemic, and supporting many other aspects of Odum’s mission with confidence and efficiency. Brian Perkins, IT Director, and Tyler Ingram, IT Professional Principal, were honored for helping Odum School faculty, staff and students pivot to remote work and hybrid-online teaching, for addressing classroom needs for technology and social distancing, and for their positive demeanor, sense of humor, and exceptional work ethic.

Amy Rosemond and Kait Farrell were named Outstanding Faculty Instructors of the Year. Farrell was honored for exceptional creativity and care in coordinating the pivot of ecology’s instructional laboratory program to online and hybrid format this past year, and for outstanding curricular development and mentoring of graduate student teaching assistants in ecology. Rosemond was recognized for outstanding leadership and instruction in teaching aquatic ecosystem ecology, and for developing a new and innovative introductory level course in water resources at UGA. In addition, both received the UGA Outstanding Faculty Award.

Recognition from beyond the Odum School was announced as well. Pejman Rohani, Regents’ Professor and Georgia Athletic Association Professor in Ecology and Infectious Diseases, was named a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America. Adjunct faculty member Mary Freeman was elected a Fellow of the Society for Freshwater Science and also received the SFS Environmental Stewardship Award. Postdoctoral associates Toby Brett and Cecilia Sánchez, PhD ’19, were honored by the UGA Office of Research: Brett received the Postdoctoral Research Award and Sánchez the Robert C. Anderson Memorial Award.

Special Awards

The Ecology Graduate Student Organization gave its Keystone Staff Award (formerly the Purple Heart Award) to Building Services Workers Jennifer Yearby and Patrick Kelley. Doctoral student Julie Blaze, who presented the award, explained that a keystone species is defined as a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend, such that if it were removed the ecosystem would change drastically. “The Keystone Staff award recognizes one of Odum’s staff that has impacted our community in the same way,” she said. Yearby and Kelley were honored for going above and beyond during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep the school clean, sanitized, safe and enjoyable, and for being a reassuring and friendly presence even as their workload increased substantially.

Lecturer Alli Injaian, Undergraduate Coordinator Amanda Rugenski and Kait Farrell received the 2021 Dean’s Award, given to honor professional achievement and outstanding creativity and innovation in service, research or teaching. It was presented by Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Distinguished Research Professor John Drake. Farrell, Injaian and Rugenski were recognized for exceptional teaching of ecology in the face of “daunting, dangerous and, at times, depressing threats from COVID,” according to the proclamation read by Drake on behalf of Dean John L. Gittleman. “Your commitment and dedication to students were far beyond expectations, and the support to your colleagues during this difficult time is so admirable. We all thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

The final special award was given to doctoral student Dan Cryan, winner of the annual Spring Fling costume contest for his beatnik-inspired look.

Welcomes and Farewells

In addition to the presentation of awards, attendees welcomed colleagues who joined the Odum School during the past year, including faculty members Alex Strauss and Alli Injaian, staff members Kate Galbraith, John King, Laura Leachman, Jennifer Mathews, Suzanne O’Regan, Breanna Ondich, Paul Snyder, Emma Spiegel; and postdoctoral associates Kyle Dahlin, Jason Donaldson, Kaniz Fatema Nipa, Mekala Sundaram and Charles Van Rees.

Participants also paid tribute to three recent retirees. In remarks prepared by Prof. Cathy Pringle and Mary Freeman, Professor Emeritus Alan Covich, who served as director of the Institute of Ecology from 2003-2006, was honored for his enthusiasm and dedication to teaching and the field of aquatic and ecosystem ecology, his leadership of the Institute, and his mentorship to countless students at Odum and beyond. Despite his retirement, he continues making important contributions to research at the NSF-funded Luquillo Long-Term-Ecological Research Program in Puerto Rico and through his work on stream and decapod ecology in the Brazilian Pantanal.

Laurie Fowler, Senior Public Service Associate Emeritus, was recognized in a tribute written by River Basin Center Director of Science and Associate Professor Seth Wenger for her inspirational leadership, teaching, and service. In her roles as Director of Policy for the River Basin Center and Director for Public Service and External Affairs and Associate Dean for Administrative Affairs of the Odum School she was instrumental in raising the profile of both. She pioneered service learning at UGA with the creation of the Environmental Practicum course, described by many students as transformative, and her quiet kindness and compassion are appreciated by students and colleagues alike.

Covich and Prof. Emeritus Jim Porter made remarks honoring Odum Librarian Terry Camp for her herculean efforts to ensure that the legacies of Eugene Odum and Frank Golley were preserved in the UGA Special Collections Libraries, which included coordinating the transfer of hundreds of boxes of papers and other memorabilia. She also played a pivotal role in helping Prof. Emeritus Dave Coleman with his book Big Ecology, helped organize the archives of the Ecological Society of America at UGA and assisted faculty, staff and students with research for projects large and small. With her unassuming, compassionate nature and sense of humor, she has played an essential role in fostering a sense of community within the Odum School.