UMSL community gathers to celebrate research excellence at annual Research and Innovation Reception

by | Apr 22, 2024

Faculty members Mary Edwin, Emily Brown, Anita Manion, Rachel Winograd, Vivek Singh and Michael Nichols were honored at Friday's event in the Millennium Student Center.
Faculty members Mary Edwin, Emily Brown, Anita Manion, Rachel Winograd and Vivek Singh hold their awards at the Research and Innovation Reception

Faculty members (from left) Mary Edwin, Emily Brown, Anita Manion, Rachel Winograd and Vivek Singh were honored at the annual Research and Innovation Reception Friday evening in the Millennium Student Center. Professor Michael Nichols was named the Innovator of the Year but was unable to attend the event while traveling back from a conference. (Photos by Derik Holtmann)

Chris Spilling was glad to sing the praises of faculty and staff members from across the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus last Friday evening as they gathered in the rotunda of the Millennium Student Center for the annual Research and Innovation Reception.

“It’s incredibly important that we celebrate our successes, and we’ve had a lot of success in research because of the hard work with the faculty and staff at UMSL,” said Spilling, the vice chancellor for research and economic and community development. “I don’t take any credit for that. You guys do all the hard work of writing all the proposals, but I get to stand up here and say how well we’ve done.”

In short, it’s been an unprecedented time of research success and productivity at the university. UMSL has increased its research expenditures and sponsored activity by 173% over the past six years. Spilling noted that in Fiscal Year 2023, UMSL set a record with $43 million in research expenditures and is already at $35 million with more than two months remaining in the current fiscal year. Researchers from across the university have been awarded a record $74 million in grants in FY24.

“Give yourselves a round of applause,” Spilling told the crowd gathered throughout the rotunda. “This is amazing.”

Criminology and Criminal Justice graduate student Pious Maedzenge discusses research titled "A Digital Ethnography of Gendered Rationalizations in Traditional Leaders' Court Decisions in Zimbabwe."

Criminology and Criminal Justice graduate student Pious Maedzenge discusses research titled “A Digital Ethnography of Gendered Rationalizations in Traditional Leaders’ Court Decisions in Zimbabwe.” Maedzenge and other students displayed their research with poster presentations at the annual Research and Innovation Reception on Friday evening in the Millennium Student Center.

Friday’s event, hosted by the Office of Research and Economic and Community Development, also served as an opportunity to honor six faculty members for their exceptional accomplishments.

Michael Nichols, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, was recognized as UMSL’s Innovator of the Year. Rachel Winograd, an associate professor with a dual appointment with the Missouri Institute of Mental Health and the Department of Psychological Sciences, was named the Senior Investigator of the Year. Anita Manion, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, was selected the Junior Investigator of the Year.

Associate Professor Emily Brown and Assistant Professor Mary Edwin, both faculty members in the Department of Education Sciences and Professional Programs, were honored as Co-Investigators of the Year for their collaboration on a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Vivek Singh, an assistant professor in the Department of Information Systems and Technology, also was inducted into the UMSL Chapter of the National Academy of Inventors. He joined 24 previous inductees, all of whom are inventors named on issued U.S. patents. Singh was named on a pair of patents – one for a new cloud computing security system and one covering technology designed to improve processes such as medical triage – completed during his time as a doctoral student at the University of South Florida. Since arriving at UMSL in 2019, Singh, one of two recipients of the 2024 Douglas E. Durand Award for Research Excellence from the College of Business Administration, has continued his efforts in innovation and is currently working on a new invention disclosure.

The Innovator of the Year is selected with consideration of a discovery or invention’s contributions or potential contributions to the public good, the economy, research funding to UMSL, regional entrepreneurship and the advancement of science and useful arts.

The investigators of the year are chosen based on criteria including but not limited to the amount of grant funding during the previous calendar year, increases in funding during the previous calendar year, the potential significance of the nominee’s research in their discipline and the novelty of their research.

Each awardee receives a $500 prize.

Read more about the projects that were honored through this year’s research and innovation awards:

Faculty Innovator of the Year: Michael Nichols

Nichols, who serves as the president of the American Society for Neurochemistry, came to UMSL in 2004 after earning his PhD from Purdue University and completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Over the past 20 years, he’s conducted research on protein assembly and aggregation that is widely recognized as a significant contributing factor to several neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and others. His work has received funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Association and has resulted in a potential targeted treatment for neurodegenerative illnesses with additional application in diagnostic tool development and research materials. The technology is patent pending and has enormous potential impact on society. Nichols has received interest from industry partners to further develop, validate and commercialize the invention, getting it to those who need it most.

Senior Investigator of the Year: Rachel Winograd

Winograd earned both her master’s degree and PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Missouri–Columbia before coming to UMSL eight years ago. She leads both the Addiction Science, Practice, Implementation, Research and Education Lab and the MIMH Addiction Science Team with merged areas of research around expanding access to medical treatment and harm reduction strategies for opioid and other drug-use disorders. Over the past eight years, she has received nearly $60 million dollars of external funding, with more than $17 million awarded in the past year. Her research sponsors include the Missouri Department of Mental Health, the Public Health Institute, the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County, among others.

Junior Investigator of the Year: Anita Manion

Manion earned a PhD in public policy analysis from Saint Louis University. Her research interests include the impact of policy on equity in education and elections, such as the impact of four-day weeks on Missouri school districts, perceptions of voter fraud and election reform, factors influencing support for public funding of higher education and other policy matters.  After joining UMSL in 2015, she has received research funding from a variety of sources such as the United Way, the SUNY Research Foundation and MIT.

Co-Investigators of the Year: Emily Brown and Mary Edwin

Together, Brown and Edwin received a $3.1 million grant last year to address a shortage of school counselors, particularly in high-need districts. The grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, will help place 64 UMSL counseling interns in 13 high-need schools within the Riverview Gardens School District to help address the mental health needs of the district’s 5,000+ students over the next five years.

Below are lists of the past recipients of each award. (Note: Not every award is given out each year.)

Faculty Inventor/Innovator of the Year Award

  1. 2024: Michael Nichols, professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  2. 2023: Vijay Anand, associate professor, Department of Information Systems and Technology
  3. 2022: Felia Davenport, associate professor, Department of Communication and Media; and Uma Segal, Curators’ Distinguished Professor, School of Social Work
  4. 2021: Jianli Pan, associate professor, Department of Computer Science
  5. 2020: Carl Bassi, Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor, College of Optometry
  6. 2018: George Gokel, professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  7. 2017: Zhi Xu, associate professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  8. 2015: Haitao Li, associate professor, College of Business Administration
  9. 2014: Janet Braddock-Wilking, associate professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  10. 2013: Xuemin “Sam” Wang, E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Plant Science, Department of Biology

Senior Faculty Investigator of the Year Award Winners

  • 2024: Rachel Winograd, associate professor, Missouri Institute of Mental Health and Department of Psychological Sciences
  • 2023: Xuemin “Sam” Wang, E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor in Plant Sciences, Department of Biology
  • 2022: Jerry Dunn, clinical professor and executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis
  • 2021: Jerome Morris, E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Urban Education, Department of Educator Preparation and Leadership
  • 2020: Brendolyn Bailey-Burch, senior research associate, Missouri Institute of Mental Health
  • 2019: Beth Huebner, professor, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • 2018: David Tate, associate research professor, MIMH
  • 2017: Alexei Demchenko, Curators’ Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • 2015: Sharon Johnson, professor, Social Work
  • 2014: Robert Paul, professor, Department of Psychology
  • 2013: Matthew Hile, research associate professor, MIMH

Junior Faculty Investigator of the Year Award Winners

  • 2024: Anita Manion, assistant professor, Department of Political Science
  • 2023: Ryan Carpenter, assistant professor, Department of Psychological Sciences
  • 2022: Lon Chubiz, associate professor, Department of Biology
  • 2021: Michael Gearhart, assistant professor, School of Social Work
  • 2020: Sharlee Climer, assistant professor, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
  • 2019: Billy Dunaway, assistant professor, Department of Philosophy
  • 2018: Jianli Pan, assistant professor, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
  • 2017: James Shuls, assistant professor, Department of Educator Preparation and Leadership
  • 2014: Mindy Steiniger, assistant professor, Department of Biology
  • 2013: April Regester, assistant professor, College of Education

Co-Investigators of the Year Award Winners

  • 2024: Emily Brown, associate professor, Department of Education Sciences and Professional Programs; and Mary Edwin, assistant professor, Department of Education Sciences and Professional Programs
  • 2023: Natalie Bolton, associate professor, Department of Educator Preparation and Leadership; Phyllis Balcerzak, associate teaching professor, Department of Educator Preparation and Leadership; Chanua Ross, director of project and program operations, professional learning and innovation, Department of Professional Learning and Innovation
  • 2022: Aimee Dunlap, associate professor, Department of Biology; and Nathan Muchhala, associate professor, Department of Biology
  • 2021: Nancy Singer, associate dean and associate professor, College of Education; Katherine O’Daniels, assistant teaching professor, Department of Educator Preparation and Leadership; and Shea Kerkhoff, assistant professor, Department of Educator Preparation and Leadership
  • 2020: Keith Stine, professor and chair, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; and Alexei Demchenko, Curators’ Distinguished Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • 2019 (new award in 2019): Melinda Bier, senior research scientist, Center for Character and Citizenship Education; and Marvin Berkowitz, Sanford N. McDonnell Endowed Professor for Character Education, Department of Education Preparation and Leadership
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Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik

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