Reach for the Stars Award Honors 5 Early Career Researchers

Reach for the Stars Award Honors 5 Early Career Researchers

Recipients of the Reach for the Stars award, clockwise from top left, are professors Sejal Mehta Barden, Mercedeh Khajavikhan, Shadab Siddiqi, Kate Mansfield and Mingjie Lin.

Five of the University of Central Florida’s brightest early career professors will be honored Wednesday for their varied research activities, ranging from cutting-edge research of integrated circuit architecture to internationally recognized study of sea turtle migration.

The professors will be given Reach for the Stars awards as part of the celebration of Founders’ Day. President John C. Hitt selects the winners based on faculty members’ past four years of work. Recipients must be an assistant or associate professor and have attained significant research work during their early career. Many winners have already received National Science Foundation CAREER Awards recognizing their potential.

The Reach for the Stars winners get a $10,000 annual research grant for three years, which can be renewed based on their promising work. This is the third year UCF has given Reach for the Stars Awards at Founders’ Day.

Those interested are invited to attend the Founders’ Day Honors Convocation from 3-5 p.m. on April 5. A reception will follow. For more information or to watch it live, visit here.

The 2017 winners are:

Sejal Mehta Barden, an assistant professor in the Counselor Education Program in the College of Education & Human Performance’s Department of Child, Family and Community Sciences, who came to UCF in 2011. Barden is the principal investigator for Project Harmony, a research project to gauge the effectiveness of relationship counseling among a predominantly low-income, Hispanic population. The project is federally funded in the amount of $9.6 million over five years, or $1.9 million per year. The grant will provide funding for UCF’s Marriage and Family Research Institute serving low-income couples; Barden is the institute’s executive director. During the past five years, she has published 31 peer-reviewed scholarly articles and delivered more than 40 national/international peer-reviewed presentations. Barden accepted invitations to co-author three book chapters, and serves on the American Counseling Association’s research committee and international committee. At the same time, she maintains a busy teaching schedule, teaching three graduate- and doctoral-level courses each fall and spring.

Mercedeh Khajavikhan, an assistant professor in CREOL, the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers, one of the research centers in the College of Optics & Photonics, who came to UCF in 2012. Her research has been published in 22 peer-reviewed journals and more than 40 conference papers, and she has delivered 20 invited talks. Khajavikhan has received more than $1.5 million in research grants as principal investigator. She has received a National Science Foundation CAREER award and the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator award, both of which are prestigious and competitive. Khajavikhan teaches at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, and helped build the college’s new bachelor’s degree in photonic science and engineering. She supervises five doctoral students and welcomes several undergrads in her lab. While a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, San Diego, Khajavikhan led the effort to set the record for the smallest room-temperature and continuous-wave laser, for the first time demonstrating “thresholdless” lasing. The work was published in Nature and opened up new opportunities for ultrafast light sources. At UCF, she has examined the quantum nature of nanolaser emissions. She is currently working on demonstrating ultra-small and efficient electrically pumped nanolasers.

Mingjie Lin, who came to UCF in 2011, is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering within the College of Engineering and Computer Science. Lin’s research focuses on the fundamental study on integrated circuit architecture and the understanding of large-scale, error-resilient system design. Lin intends to leverage the computer power of emerging device technologies to improve the performance of new applications, particularly in the areas of artificial intelligence, computer vision and robotics. He received a 2016 National Science Foundation CAREER award, and has been awarded six other grants totaling $1.1 million. He has published more than 20 journal and more than 40 conference papers in the area of integrated circuits and computing. Of those, 11 journal papers and 18 conference papers were published since coming to UCF. In the classroom, Lin has redesigned two courses offered by his department. He received UCF’s Teaching Incentive Program award in 2016. Lin also has partnered with the Orlando Science Center and Carillon Elementary School to stimulate interest in STEM education in computing, including exhibits and lectures.

Kate Mansfield, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology within the College of Sciences, who came to UCF in 2013. Mansfield’s research, teaching and scientific advisory service focuses on sea turtle biology, ecology and conservation. She is also a vocal advocate for STEM fields, conservation and women in science, and speaks at numerous public and scientific events. Her deployment of GPS tags on juvenile sea turtles drew international attention and shed light on nestlings’ first year at sea, a time that previously had been a mystery to biologists. She has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow UCF to establish a permanent sea turtle research station on the on the beaches of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in southern Brevard County. Mansfield played a leading role in collaborative efforts to understand

impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on marine turtles. Mansfield is well published in top peer-reviewed journals – 11 peer-reviewed papers, a book chapter and an invited review – and is a sought-after speaker, having given four keynote talks and 26 invited talks.

Shadab Siddiqi, an associate professor in the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences in the College of Medicine. Siddiqi came to UCF in 2009 and was promoted to associate professor in 2015. Siddiqi’s research focuses on identifying novel therapeutic targets for controlling LDL-cholesterol levels in the blood that cause cardiovascular disease. His work has been continuously funded by the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health; his NIH funding totals more than $2.5 million. Last year, Siddiqi discovered that an acid found in red meat and butter activates a liver protein that causes high LDL levels. The finding was the cover story in The Journal of Biological Chemistry and was covered by more than 30 national and international media outlets. He has published more than 24 scholarly papers and authored 27 presentations/posters. In 2014, he was awarded both a UCF Research Incentive Award and an Outstanding Faculty Member award. He developed and teaches a popular graduate-level course on obesity. In addition to research and teaching, Siddiqi mentors undergraduate and graduate students, and trains postdoctoral fellows in his lab.