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Governor Kicks off New Year by Honoring Leaders in Science and Tech

December 15 2015 - 12:00 pm

News Release
For Immediate Release

Dec.15, 2015

Contact:
Michael O’Malley
GOED Business Marketing Director
801-538-8879, momalley@utah.gov

Justin Berry
USTAR Public Affairs Officer
801-538-8884, jberry@utah.gov

Governor Kicks off New Year by Honoring Leaders in Science and Tech
Ten individuals and one company will receive the Governor’s Medal for Excellence

SALT LAKE CITY, UT—Governor Gary R. Herbert, along with the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) agency and the Governor’s Office for Economic Development (GOED), announced today the 2015 winners of the Governor’s Medals for Excellence in Science and Technology. The medals will be awarded at a gala event at Rio Tinto Stadium on Jan. 13.

The Governor’s Medals for Excellence in Science and Technology are awarded to residents and companies who have provided distinguished service or made significant contributions to Utah’s advanced scientific and technological knowledge, education and industry.

“Access to science and technology resources statewide benefits not only the quality of STEM education for our students, but also the quality of life for Utahns,” Gov. Herbert said. “I am pleased to recognize these education and industry leaders, who have helped put Utah on the map in life science, engineering and information technology.”

Medals are awarded in the fields of academia, education and industry—plus two special recognitions. The 2015 recipients are:

Academia:

  • Dr. Noelle Cockett, executive vice president and provost, Utah State University. Dr. Cockett is a world leader in sheep genomics, a critical resource not only for the global agricultural economy, but also for human and veterinary medicine. She worked on the international team that sequenced the sheep genome, and she has developed and distributed resources used on a daily basis by sheep genomics researchers.
  • Dr. Joel Harris, professor of chemistry at the University of Utah. Dr. Harris is a pioneer behind many of today’s techniques for probing molecular structure at liquid and solid interfaces.

Education:

  • Dr. Michelle Baker, professor of biology at Utah State University. Dr. Baker leads iUtah, a collaborative project focused on understanding how to protect and use water resources to better meet the growing demands of urban, agricultural, industrial and recreational users.
  • Dr. Christine Hailey, dean of the Utah State University College of Engineering and a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Dr. Hailey is an advocate for graduate student programs and has been instrumental in increasing the participation of women in engineering at USU.
  • Dr. Rich Brown, dean of the University of Utah College of Engineering. Dr. Brown has increased and improved the resources, facilities and performance of the college, while also developing a STEM outreach program that engages K-12 students.
  • Paul Hill, Utah State University extension professor to Washington County. Mr. Hill has brought nationally-recognized STEM education programs to Washington County. Since 2011, more than 1,400 STEM projects have been completed by youth through the Washington County 4-H program.

Industry (individual):

  • Susan Opp, executive vice president of L-3 Communications Systems West. Over the course of her tenure with L-3, Ms. Opp created a strategic vision and implementation plan that doubled the company’s business and increased L-3’s workforce by more than 2,000 people in six years.
  • Rich Linder, president and CEO of CoNextions Medical. Mr. Linder is an active supporter of the medical device and biotech community in Utah. He cofounded BioUtah, an independent trade association serving Utah’s life science industry, and is the outgoing chair of the association’s board of directors.

Industry (company):

  • Nelson Laboratories, Inc., a leading provider of full, life-cycle microbiology testing services. A major employer in Utah’s life sciences industry, the family-owned company has made generous contributions in support of classroom instruction, resources and time to build and grow STEM education throughout Utah.

Special Recognition:

  • Dr. Sarah George, executive director of the Natural History Museum of Utah. In an innovative public-private partnership, Dr. George raised $103 million for the design and construction of the museum’s current home at Rio Tinto Center. Dr. George transformed community engagement with science, increasing museum visitors from 60,000 in 1992 to nearly 300,000 today. An additional 250,000 Utahns are served statewide through classroom-based initiatives, traveling exhibits and outreach programs.
  • Dr. Tom Parks, vice president for research and president of the University of Utah Research Foundation. Dr. Parks established the U of U’s interdepartmental graduate program in neuroscience, and he led the neurobiology and anatomy department to the No. 8 ranking for faculty scholarly productivity nationwide. Under Parks’ leadership, research at the University of Utah has flourished, growing from about $310 million in 2007 to $417 million in 2015. He also founded the Brain Institute, which has transformed brain imaging research in the state and includes members from U of U, BYU, USU and Weber State.

The award ceremony will be held on Wednesday, January 13, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy. Event sponsors include Ballet West, STEM Action Center, the Economic Development Corporation of Utah (EDCUtah), USTAR and GOED. Jennifer Napier-Pearce, reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune, will emcee the event.

The Governor’s Medal award program was initiated in 1987 and nominations are reviewed by an advisory panel before formally presenting winners to the Governor.

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Editor’s Note: To request photos or to coordinate individual interviews with any of the Governor’s Medal recipients, please contact Michael O’Malley at 801-538-8879 or momalley@utah.gov. See attached page for recipient information.

About the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED)
Web: business.utah.gov

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) charter is based on Governor Gary Herbert’s commitment to economic development statewide. Utah’s economic development vision is that Utah will lead the nation as the best performing economy and be recognized as a premier global business destination. The mandate for this office is to provide rich business resources for the creation, growth and recruitment of companies to Utah and to increase tourism and film production in the state. GOED accomplishes this mission through the administration of programs that are based around targeted industries or “economic clusters” that demonstrate the best potential for development. GOED utilizes state resources and private sector contracts to fulfill its mission. For more information please contact: Michael Sullivan, 801-538-8811 or mgsullivan@utah.gov

About USTAR
Web: ustar.org

The Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) agency advances the Governor’s commitment to maintaining Utah’s position as the best performing economy in the nation and be recognized as a premier global business destination. USTAR is a long-term, state-funded investment designed to strengthen Utah’s knowledge economy and create a technology ecosystem that enables ideas to seed, grow and thrive. Funded in March 2006 by the State Legislature, USTAR’s diverse portfolio of investments will recruit and retain top researchers to the State’s research universities; support technology entrepreneurs through training, funding, incubator and accelerator programs and broker technology transfer by connecting capital, management and industry.  For additional information please contact Justin Berry at jberry@utah.gov.

About the Awardees 

Noelle CockettNoelle Cockett
Dr. Noelle Cockett, executive vice president and provost at Utah State University (USU), began her professional career as a research geneticist at the USDA Research Center in Nebraska and moved to USU as an assistant professor to study sheep. She is now internationally known for her work on sheep genetics and is the U.S. coordinator for sheep genomics and a member of the International Sheep Genomic Consortium. Cockett has discovered genetic causes for various traits, including a trait in sheep that makes their bones grow too much. She was part of the group that sequenced the sheep genome and is currently working on a project to sequence additional sheep. She also developed and distributed resources that others involved in sheep genomic research use on a daily basis.

Joel Harris, Science Medal RecipientJoel Harris
Dr. Joel Harris, professor of chemistry at the University of Utah, is one of the world’s foremost analytical chemists. Over a 40‐year career, he has developed novel spectroscopic methods that capitalize on the interactions of light with matter to reveal detailed information about molecular structure. These methods have had immense impact on the kinetics and energetics of excited‐state and reactive intermediates, optically‐induced heat transfer, and exacting measurements of interfacial molecular populations and kinetics. He is the pioneer behind many of today’s techniques for probing molecular structure at liquid and solid interfaces, most notably the study of interfacial reactions as single‐molecule events. He is peerless as a creative and innovative scholar, as an educator in the classroom and as a mentor to his research trainees. These efforts have produced over 230 peer‐reviewed publications and patents and more than 325 seminars at scientific conferences, universities, and industries, and he has been recognized by numerous awards and lectureships. He has served on the editorial boards of several top journals, including Analytical Chemistry, Langmuir, and Analytica Chimica Acta. He was the editor‐in‐chief of Applied Spectroscopy, the leading journal in spectroscopy, for more than a decade.

Michelle Baker, Science MedalsMichelle Baker
Dr. Michelle Baker, professor of biology at Utah State University, is an outstanding aquatic ecologist who studies biological, chemical and physical processes that affect water quality in streams and rivers. She has authored more than 50 peer reviewed publications and has a strong record of extramural funding from national and state funding agencies. She is currently the principle investigator for the National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Track-1 Award. The project, called iUTAH, is bringing $20 million to Utah to support a collaborative investigation of water resources in urban and arid regions. iUTAH supports interdisciplinary research and training directed at understanding how to protect and use water resources so that they can meet growing demands from urban, agricultural, industrial and recreational users. Baker’s leadership has been key to the success of this highly interdisciplinary project, which includes partners from educational institutions, government agencies, industry and non-profit organizations.

Christine HaileyChristine Hailey
Dr. Christine Hailey, dean of the Utah State University College of Engineering and a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, where she leads a Women in Engineering seminar and was the vice provost for women’s issues. Additionally, Hailey has added a new doctoral program in aerospace engineering and increased support for graduate student programs, resulting in increased enrollment in doctoral programs across the college. She has worked with deans of engineering and technology across Utah, as well as state legislators, for additional appropriated funding for new salary lines and laboratory upgrades. During her tenure at USU, Hailey has made a commitment to diversity. She has been instrumental in increasing the gender diversity within the engineering department, increasing the participation of women in engineering from 8 percent to 13 percent, and has increased involvement in the Women and Engineering Seminar from 10 students to more than 50. Her dedication to implementing diversity within the program has resulted in an increased membership in USU’s Society of Women Engineers from 10 to 65, and has given the seminar a regional presence.

Rich BrownRich Brown
As dean of the University of Utah College of Engineering since 2004, Dr. Rich Brown has carried out a vision of significantly raising quality and performance in the college and growing the number of graduates to help meet Utah’s workforce needs. He has been a passionate advocate for STEM education, developing an outreach program that organizes some 40,000 face-to-face interactions with K-12 students per year, and founding a high school engineering course that is being rolled out across the state. He has organized the engineering deans state-wide, and worked closely with industry and the Utah Technology Council to obtain Engineering Initiative funds to educate more engineers and computer scientists. With support from the Engineering Initiative, USTAR and private donations, Brown has increased the number of tenure-track faculty positions in the College of Engineering and substantially expanded and improved the physical facilities in the college. This has provided both the capacity to educate more students and the strategic growth for Utah research in the areas of nanotechnology, microsystems, neural interfaces, biomedical devices, computer imaging, computer animation and energy. During Brown’s 11-year tenure as dean, annual engineering research expenditures have grown from $30 million to about $80 million. The faculty’s peer-reviewed publications and invention disclosures have doubled to more than 800 per year and 100 per year, respectively. Average freshman ACT scores in the college have increased by 2.5 points to 27.3. And most importantly, the number of graduates from the college has more than doubled to 877 in 2015.

Paul HillPaul Hill
Paul Hill, Utah State University extension professor to Washington County, is the unequivocal trailblazer of STEM education in the region. He became Washington County’s 4-H county agent in 2011 and immediately launched several innovative programs that have rapidly spread to reach thousands of youth. Hill brought the FIRST® LEGO® League robotics program to southern Utah, expanding it to 53 teams with more than 500 youth participants and 224 adult volunteers. Next, he and his team of volunteers started Code Camp, a programming competition where students and professionals come together in teams to launch an app in 24 hours. Three years later, this event has cultivated a tech community by bringing together 597 participants in 156 teams that all produced mobile and web app projects. Hill has been organizing Maker Camps for several years now, with $50,000 in grant funding awarded from Cognizant, a Fortune 500 global tech company. Joining the Maker Movement has been instrumental in generating new interest in 4-H from people who did not even realize the organization still existed. In four years, 1,487 STEM projects have been completed in Hill’s 4-H program. Youth are changing their attitudes towards STEM because he has developed programs that make these subjects more appealing. Youth are writing code to video games and earning blue ribbons at the county fair as well as competing in Code Camp. They are building and programming autonomous robots to solve problems in FIRST® LEGO® League events. Hill has developed this program from the ground up; he is an expert in STEM education and has become nationally recognized.

Nelson Labs
Nelson Labs, a leading provider of full, life-cycle microbiology testing services, has received numerous awards over the years, including Best of State in Analytical Labs, Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Alfred P. Sloan Award for Exemplary Workplace and the Economic Legacy Award from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. These achievements recognize just a few of the contributions this family-owned company has made to Utah, its students, its community and its economy. Nelson Labs has a direct and indirect economic impact in Utah. They continue to grow and provide high paying jobs in the state. They have been active in STEM projects. They have contributed to classroom instruction, resources and time to build and grow educational programs. Nelson Labs is committed to numerous public efforts, including serving on advisory boards such as the STEM Action Center and the Southern Utah University Shakespeare Festival.  Nelson Labs provides continuous support to promoting and advancing women in professional efforts. Finally, they have been recognized as an exemplary workplace which speaks to their commitment to do social good.

Susan OppSusan Opp
Susan Opp, executive vice president at L-3 Communications, is an electrical engineer who has risen through the ranks at L-3 over the last twenty years. During the course of her tenure with L-3, Opp has created a strategic vision and implementation plan, which doubled business and increased L-3’s workforce by more than 2,000 people in six years. Opp has contributed to the State of Utah in numerous ways both personally and professionally. Opp completed the leadership of a three year, $130 million SAP/TeamCenter Information Technology Migration, achieved organic revenue growth from $600 million to $1 billion and turned around an L-3 division from 3 percent return on sales to 11 percent return on sales. L-3 is a significant player in the Utah’s aerospace and defense industry.

Rich LinderRich Linder
Rich Linder, CEO of CoNextions Medical and outgoing chair of the BioUtah board of directors, began his career in the medical device industry in 1991 with Merit Medical Systems. In 1996, Linder co-founded Rubicon Medical, Inc., and served as its president and CEO, eventually taking Rubicon public. In 2005, Boston Scientific acquired Rubicon Medical, and Mr. Linder worked for Boston Scientific until leaving in 2006 to become president and CEO of Coherex Medical. Linder is a co-founder and outgoing chair of the board of BioUtah, an independent trade association serving Utah’s life science industry. He is a former member of the USTAR governing authority.

Sarah George, Science Medal recipientSarah George
Dr. Sarah George, executive director of the Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU), has transformed community engagement in science over the past two decades. When George moved to Utah in 1992 as director of the NHMU, the museum served 60,000 people annually from its modest home on President’s Circle. In her first decade, she (i) expanded the Museum’s STEM education programs to reach 40,000 children in their classrooms statewide, (ii) converted education program pedagogy from descriptive to interactive, (iii) established research programs at the museum by hiring faculty in archaeology, paleontology and botany, and (iv) developed interactive, arts- and science-based programming in the museum’s exhibition galleries. In the second decade of her tenure, she raised $103 million through a novel public-private partnership of federal, state, county and private contributors to design and construct the award-winning, LEED-gold-certified Rio Tinto Center. Almost 300,000 visitors annually come to this new nuseum facility from around the world. An additional 250,000 Utahns are served statewide through classroom-based STEM education programs, traveling exhibits and outreach programs.  Two new programs include (i) the UPAC-funded, STEM-based Research Quests, using museum collections, 3-D technologies, and computer gaming to teach critical thinking skills to middle-school children, and (ii) the U’s Sustaining Biodiversity Transformative Excellence faculty cluster with the departments of Biology, Anthropology, Educational Psychology, Geography, Geology, and the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute. This cluster leverages the research potential of museum collections and audiences to improve communication of scientific concepts to the public.

Tom ParksTom Parks
Dr. Tom Parks, vice president for research and president of the University of Utah Research Foundation, is a leader both in his personal research and in leading others to research success. His well-cited research provides key understandings of how the auditory system develops in the brain. This research was supported continuously by the NIH from 1979 to 2005, and its quality was recognized with a Claude Pepper Award in 1993 from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. While still an assistant professor, Parks established an interdepartmental graduate program in neuroscience, which he directed from 1985 to 1993. He was the George & Lorna Winder Professor of Neuroscience, and chaired the department of Neurobiology & Anatomy from 1992-2007, leading it to become widely recognized for the quality of its research, teaching and service.  During this time, the number of faculty increased by 75 percent, while the external funding quadrupled, the department’s scholarly output tripled and the number of trainees (graduate students and postdoctoral fellows) more than tripled. The department was ranked No. 8 nationally among its peer departments in faculty scholarly productivity in the 2006 Academic Analytics survey.

Parks founded and directed the Brain Institute from 2003-2008, which transformed brain imaging research in the state. More than 125 faculty members at the U of U (from 32 departments in eight schools and colleges) joined the institute, along with about a dozen faculty members from BYU, USU and Weber State. Parks is the Director of the National Academy of Inventors, Director of the Oak Ridge Associated Universities, and Director, Vice President and Treasurer of the NeuroCure Foundation, Inc. Under Parks’ leadership, research at the University of Utah has flourished, growing from about $310 million in 2007 to $417 million in 2015. The responsibilities of the VPR office expanded to include both technology commercialization and the USTAR program, which have supported innovative researchers creating innovative companies throughout the state. The office has significantly expanded support for faculty in every aspect of conceiving, writing, submitting and administering grants. He helped facilitate the new Rio Mesa field station near Moab and expanded opportunities for undergraduate research on campus.