MSUToday
Published: Jan. 28, 2015

2015 William J. Beal Outstanding Faculty Awards

Suren Bagratuni
College of Music  

Suren Bagratuni is an internationally known, award-winning cellist who has made an indelible mark on the world of cello performance. His scholarly and creative activity is represented best by his active national and international tour schedule, the recordings he has made, the commissions he has generated, the students he has guided to greatness and the many invitations he receives to perform at international music festivals and in prestigious halls.

A recitalist, collaborative musician and soloist, Bagratuni is regularly in demand as a performer in recital, as a collaborative artist and as a soloist; he has performed with leading musicians around the world and with premiere symphony and chamber orchestras, including the Moscow Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. He has been the featured performer at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Newport Music Festival. His discography includes more than twenty recordings, with a repertoire ranging from the Bach, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Beethoven to newly commissioned contemporary works.

Bagratuni's excellent national and international reputation extends to his teaching, to which he is devoted. Since he began teaching at MSU, the number of students in the cello studio has increased almost three-fold to its target enrollment of sixteen majors and a significant graduate class. Bagratuni’s students come from around the world, attracted to his teaching and the many extra educational opportunities he provides, from arranging contact with visiting international artists to encouraging their commission, performance and recording of new works.

Bagratuni’s contributions to MSU include serving as the artistic director of the Cello Plus Chamber Music Festival, a one-week festival in the Greater Lansing Area featuring faculty and internationally known musicians. This four-concert series features the best in traditional and contemporary works and brings the finest performances to local concert venues, expanding the reputation of both the college and university.

C. Robin Buell
Department of Plant Biology
College of Natural Science  

C. Robin Buell is an internationally recognized expert in plant genomics and bioinformatics, who has been involved in large, international collaborations that have employed genomic and bioinformatic approaches to analyzing crop plants. Her expertise has not only enabled numerous advances in the understanding of basic plant biology but also in applied plant science, particularly in breeding improved varieties. A central member of the consortium that generated the rice genome sequence, a crop that feeds 50 percent of the world’s population every day, she and her research team developed a public database for rice researchers that receives more than two million annual visits from scientists around the world. Buell was also instrumental in the recent sequencing of the potato genome, the world’s third most consumed crop. Her efforts have provided new tools and resources to accelerate breeding cycles and the development of new potato varieties with increased yield, quality, and enhanced disease resistance.

During her career, Buell has generated more than $44 million in federally funded grants. Since joining MSU in 2007, she has been instrumental in MSU’s receipt of several multimillion dollar grants, including the NIH funded Medicinal Plant Genomics project, the USDA-funded Solanaceae Coordinated Agricultural Project, the NSF-funded Maize Nutritional Genomics projects, the NSF-funded Potato Genomics project, the NSF-funded Rice Transposable Element Evolution project, a USDA Genome Engineering Risk Assessment project and a USDA Biofuels Feedstock Genomics project.

Buell has also published more than 60 papers in prestigious journals. For her research accomplishments, Buell is the recipient of numerous awards, including the USDA Honor Award, the MSU College of Natural Science Meritorious Faculty Award and the MSU College of Natural Science Distinguished Faculty Award. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Buell is an enthusiastic teacher and instills passion for genomics and the discoveries this technology can enable in biology in her lectures. She has developed a graduate course that is highly rated by students and, as a consequence, is over enrolled. She also provides critical training in genomics and bioinformatics to faculty, staff, and students at MSU through workshops that have enabled a large number of researchers to incorporate these emerging disciplines into their research programs. Buell has mentored many postdoctoral fellows, four who have received USDA or NSF postdoctoral fellowships under her direction. Buell has also mentored high school and undergraduate students in research projects, many of whom have gone on to attend prestigious universities.

Angela Calabrese Barton
Department of Teacher Education
College of Education

Angela Calabrese Barton has earned international recognition for her work that improves interest and achievement in the sciences and engineering for students from underrepresented backgrounds. Her work has made both theoretical and practical contributions to science education. Theoretically, Barton introduced such critical constructs as social justice, equity, identify and agency-constructs to science education that have the potential of transforming science education for all but especially groups historically marginalized in science settings. Practically, she has built equitable and empowering learning environments that help young people master the knowledge and practices of science and to recognize that they belong in science and engineering. She has engaged youth in consequential learning in science and engineering through social action in everyday life and has helped the rest of us understand how to engage youth in this way.

Barton’s research and practice partnerships have led to such nationally recognized models for after-school programming and youth development as the Green Energy Technologies in the City Collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club of Lansing. Her work is also widely recognized for its scholarly contributions, with funding of more than $8 million from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the American Educational Research Association, and the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, among others. She has published six books, 19 book chapters, and more 70 peer-reviewed journal articles. She is the co-editor of the “Journal of Research in Science Teaching.”

Barton is a dedicated teacher whose focus has been improving the lives of young people and their teachers. She has been recognized for her particular sensitivity and skill in supporting international students for whom urban U.S. schools are especially unfamiliar. Her guidance has helped them conduct research and teach effectively in urban settings. Barton’s doctoral students hold tenure-track positions at universities around the world.

Joseph Francese
Romance and Classical Studies
College of Arts and Letters

Joseph Francese joined the faculty at MSU in 1990 upon completing his Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut. Francese quickly established a national and international reputation, achieving tenure in 1995 and the rank of full professor in 1999. His principal area of research is post-World War II literature and film, frequently focusing on the link between the accomplishments of intellectuals and society, a connection that makes his work unique among scholars. Francese is a leading authority on such major writers as Antonio Tabucchi and Vincenzo Consolo; his writings on Italo Calvino and Leonardo Sciascia have been described as “paradigm shifting.” He has also published on the important Renaissance authors Michelangelo and Machiavelli.

Francese has published six books and more than 40 peer-reviewed articles and chapters, the first in 1991 on Pier Pasolini, an important twentieth-century filmmaker, novelist, poet, and intellectual. Since 2003, he has served as senior editor of “Italian Culture,” the official publication of the American Association for Italian Studies. Since 2011, he has been the editor of a monograph series published by the University of Florence Press as well as a consultant to the press. He has also served on the board of "PMLA," a leading journal in English and world language literary studies.

Francese’s instructional work has been equally outstanding. He was awarded the Fintz Teaching Excellence Award in Arts and Humanities for superior teaching in the Integrative Arts and Humanities Program in 2006 and has served as a study-abroad director, contributing to the internationalization of MSU’s curriculum.

Francese's extensive university-level service has distinguished him as a Spartan. He chairs the University Committee for Academic Governance and is a member of the Athletic Council, the Honorary Degree Committee, and the President’s Advisory Committee for Disability Issues. His outreach work has also been noteworthy. He is the liaison to the Italian Consulate of Detroit and to various Michigan-based Italian American clubs, a consultant to WKAR-TV’s QuizBusters and an organizer of an after-school program in Italian language for a Lansing elementary school.

Rebecca Grumet
Department of Horticulture
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Since joining MSU’s faculty in 1987, Rebecca Grumet has established herself as an internationally respected plant scientist, recognized for her contributions to both fundamental plant genomics and applied germplasm improvement, including agricultural biotechnology. She has made important and lasting contributions to the understanding of the genetics, disease resistance, fruit development and flowering in the plant family Cucurbitaceae, which includes melons, squash, pumpkins and cucumbers/pickles. Among her many accomplishments, which are too extensive to list, was the demonstration of genetic transformation of cucurbits; her lab was the first to successfully transform, regenerate and produce stable transgenic progeny of melon. She also established genetically engineered virus resistance in cucurbits using a pathogen-derived resistance approach and elucidated naturally occurring resistance to potyviruses in cucumber.

Grumet’s teaching has been creative and excellent. She developed an innovative course entitled Biotechnology in Agriculture: Applications and Ethical Issues with the philosophy department to explore the ethical ramifications of modern agriculture. She has mentored 18 graduate students and served on more than 60 graduate committees, helping many students develop successful careers in universities, industry and government throughout the world. More than 30 undergraduates completed research projects in her laboratory, and many of these students went on to earn graduate degrees or gain employment in science and agriculture.

Grumet performs outstanding service to her profession and to MSU. Of particular note, she served as the director of Joint Recruiting in the Plant Sciences as part of MSU’s Plant Science Initiative. Under her leadership, more than 120 graduate students were recruited to MSU. She was also the PI or co-PI on four extramural graduate training grants, which provided fellowships for students from 1993 to 2009.

Thomas Sharkey
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
College of Natural Science

Thomas Sharkey is internationally recognized for substantially increasing the world’s understanding of photosynthesis, the most fundamental of biological processes. His work has shown that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere regulates the ability of plants to synthesize and degrade starch, a ubiquitous source of food for plants and animals. His lab then generated genetically modified plants with more than 50 percent leaf dry weight as starch. These plants provide a valuable new source for biofuels and food. Sharkey is the acknowledged leader for the study of the synthesis and release of isoprene by plants. Recent research showed that the release of isoprene helped protect plants from the heat generated by bright sunlight. This collective work has generated 20,000 citations. For this outstanding body of work, Sharkey is a fellow of the American Society of Plant Biologists and, in 2011, was made a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a very prestigious award.

In addition to research on photosynthesis, Sharkey has made important contributions to the understanding of isoprene biosynthesis, applying his knowledge of plant isoprene synthase to the engineering of bacterial strains with the intent of producing isoprene feedstocks for industrial and fuel purposes.

Sharkey is a series co-editor for “Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration: Including Bioenergy and Related Processes” and the senior editor for “Plant Cell and Environment,” an important peer-reviewed journal in basic plant sciences.

Sharkey brings a similar intensity and excellence to teaching. He reorganized and modernized the teaching of biology in the large, demanding undergraduate biochemistry courses, ensuring that undergraduate instruction was the best it could be. He is a demanding but supportive mentor to graduate students and postdocs in his laboratory, all of whom have gone on to employment at major universities, including Carnegie-Mellon, Cal Poly, and the Universities of Maryland, Guelph and Toronto.

Given his scientific productivity, Sharkey’s level of service is remarkable. He has served as chairperson of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology for the past six years effectively managing the budget and staff during tough financial times. He organized two successful (international) Gordon Research Conferences, serves as a senior editor on several plant journals, and was on the advisory board of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology for 12 years.

Anita Skeen
Residential College in the Arts and Humanities

Anita Skeen is a poet, and as a poet brings imagination and empathy to everything she does for her students, colleagues, and community partners. Her six books of poetry and scores of individually published poems and essays have garnered national and international awards. “Never the Whole Story,” published in 2011, immediately moved to the poetry bestsellers list. Her co-authored, “The Unauthorized Audubon,” published by Michigan State University Press in 2014 with visual artist Laura DeLind, has led to several museum and gallery exhibitions and high critical praise. This extraordinary conversation between a graphic artist and a poet is unmatched in the literary world in the way it carries the reader and viewer aloft.

Poetry is the lifeblood of Skeen’s professional career. She has been a fellow at prestigious centers for the arts and a judge for many of the prizes and awards her peers value highly.

As the arts coordinator for MSU’s Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, Skeen has galvanized students, faculty and community members around a host of special events and activities. She has become an integral part of the East Lansing and MSU One Book, One Community Program in which her writing workshops always fill. She has built the Center for Poetry in RCAH into a highly regarded venue for such young and established poets and writers such as George Ellenbogen, Thomas Lynch, Richard Rodriguez, Naomi Shihab Nye, Margaret Atwood and the recent U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey.

At the same time that Skeen builds bridges through her poetry, she teaches her students to love their learning. She takes them to New Mexico, West Virginia, Ireland and to downtown Lansing to work with poets and other artists in situ, connecting them to others and inspiring their best.

Scott Swinton
Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources 

Scott Swinton is an agricultural and resource economist whose research on linkages between agricultural production and environmental management has been pioneering for several important topics, including the economics of weed control and integrated pest management, spatial information technologies for precision agriculture, ecological services from agriculture, and bioenergy. His 78 articles in these areas have appeared in top disciplinary and general science journals to cultivate a strong international reputation. Swinton’s current research explores how to manage agricultural ecosystems for enhanced ecosystem services, using bioeconomic modeling of optimal behavior to analyze trade-offs between production of marketable products and ecosystem services.

Strong interdisciplinary collaborations with biologist, engineers, and other social scientists are a hallmark of Swinton’s research. He is a PI in two major multidisciplinary projects that explore sustainable agriculture: the long-term Ecological Research in Row Crop Ecosystems at the Kellogg Biological Station and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.

Swinton’s service to his profession has been extensive. He has twice been named to expert panels at the National Academies of Science, has been elected to the board of directors of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, and has been elected as U.S. representative to the International Association of Agricultural Economists. An Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow recipient, he is past co-editor of “Review of Agricultural Economics” and past associate editor of the “American Journal of Agricultural Economics,” “Frontiers in Ecology and Environment” and “Journal of Production Agriculture.”

Swinton is an enthusiastic teacher and mentor, particularly of graduate students. To help advance his students’ careers, he has published 31 articles and seven book chapters with graduate students and held annual departmental seminars to coach graduate students on presenting and publishing their research for professional audiences. Ten of his students have won his department’s Best PhD Dissertation or Best MS. Thesis awards, with three going on to win Honorable Mention for Outstanding Thesis/Dissertation from the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association. Four of his students have won research completion fellowships from the National Academy of Science and the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.

Lalita Udpa
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
College of Engineering  

Lalita Udpa is an international expert in the field of nondestructive evaluation and testing and is recognized as a leading authority on the development of inverse problems for low frequency electromagnetic sensing methodologies, having been actively involved in research in the development and use of computational methods for electromagnetic NDE. She has successfully blended complex theoretical concepts with practical approaches to provide innovative solutions to the complex problem of nondestructive modeling, evaluation, and testing of materials. Researchers regularly cite her publications and many of her writings are considered standard reference material in electromagnetic NDE.

Udpa’s publication record includes 137 refereed articles, 239 refereed papers and 14 books or book chapters. She has been the PI/Co-PI on grants and contracts from the Electric Power Research Institute, NSF, NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Air Force, Boeing and others, totaling more than $8.4 million. For her work with the FAA, she received the FAA “Better Way Award.”

Udpa has made important contributions to the education of students in the areas of electromagnetic NDE, electromagnetics, pattern recognition, wavelets, neural networks, and digital image processing. She has taught courses ranging from introductory electrical engineering analysis and signal processing to wavelets and neural networks. She has developed a graduate course in digital image processing and contributed to revising the electrical engineering analysis course to emphasize probability and statistics. She has successfully mentored 24 Ph.D. students, 12 of whom are active in universities, and served as the advisor for 40 M.S. students.

Udpa’s has actively served her profession and the university. She has been on the international program committee of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-International Society for Optics and Photonics Technology) since 2002 and organized and co-chaired the ENDE 2004, the Elll EIT 2006 and the ISEM 2007, all of which were held in East Lansing. Additionally, Udpa has served on a number of committees at MSU at the department, college, and university levels, including the ECE Graduate Admissions and the ECE Advisory Committees.

Edward Walker
Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, College of Natural Science
Department of Entomology, AgBioResearch


Edward Walker is internationally known in the field of insect vector-borne diseases, particularly pathogens transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks. He has conducted field research in the U.S., Honduras, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Kenya and Malawi. His basic research emphasizes insect/microbe interactions and microbial mediation of decomposition of organic matter in the aquatic habitats of larval mosquitoes, leading to the production of the adult stages. In this vein, Walker’s research involves molecular analyses of microbial communities in these mosquito larval habitats, stable isotope assessments to determine larval food sources, biotechnological applications to engineer bacteria expressing toxins inimical to larval mosquitoes and mosquito-bacterial commensal associations. In the field of vector-borne diseases, Walker’s most significant research has been developing analytical and predictive models of endemic and epidemic behavior of these phenomena in space and time, analysis of resiliency of the malaria transmission system when placed under strong interventions, interactions of landscape with insect and tick populations, and relationships between agriculture, irrigation, and malaria risk in resource-poor tropical settings.

Walker’s research is internationally recognized. He has received 28 years of continuous funding from the NIH, resulting in a highly prestigious, 10-year MERIT award allowing ten years of continuous support for his research. He was recently recognized with the Founder’s Memorial Award of the Entomological Society of America and chaired that society’s Medical, Urban, and Veterinary Entomology section in 2012–2013. The University of Notre Dame honored Walker with the George B. Craig, Jr., Memorial Lecture in 2013. He has served on the American Committee on Medical Entomology of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene; was Co-Director of MSU’s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases; chaired MSU’s Institutional Biosafety Committee; and currently serves on a university-wide water research initiative. He is a Co-PI with Terrie Taylor on the NIH-funded International Center for Excellence in Research on Malaria grant in Malawi, a seven-year malaria research grant. He was also Co-PI on an NSF Ecology of Infectious Diseases award studying the ecoepidemiology of West Nile virus, spanning 10 years.

Walker excels at teaching as well as research. His primary teaching responsibility has been as coordinator and lecturer for the senior-level undergraduate course Microbial Ecology, in which students highly praise his teaching effectiveness. He also teaches in the medical entomology curriculum, offers graduate seminars and provides undergraduate research opportunities in his laboratory.