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

Pete CodellaNews

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:


  • 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.


  • 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.