Pegasus Professors Honored at Founders' Day Celebration

Pegasus Professors Honored at Founders’ Day Celebration

Five UCF faculty members today were presented the 2015 Pegasus Professor Award, the highest academic honor at the university.

Pegasus Professors are chosen from senior members of the faculty who have been a professor at least five years and have achieved noteworthy research and/or creative activity of national and international impact.

They are presented with a $5,000 stipend and a $5,000 research grant.

This year’s recipients are: Mohamed Abdel-Aty of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. Humberto Lopez Cruz from the College of Arts and Humanities, Avelino Gonzalez from the College of Engineering and Computer Science, Kerstin Hamann from the College of Sciences, and Cynthia Young from the College of Sciences.

Mohamed Abdel-Aty is a professor of civil, environmental and construction engineering and the deputy director of the Center for Advanced Transportation Systems Simulation. He’s an expert in transportation safety.

He has multiple degrees including a Ph.D. from the University of California at Davis. He joined UCF in 1995 and his work has led him to hold multiple positions with prestigious publications and associations. He is editor-in-chief of the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention. Since last year, Abdel-Aty has also chaired the department. Under his tenure the department has reached the highest per faculty research expenditure and new funding among all groups in the college, while preserving the quality of the unit’s scholarly work and the good quality of education delivered to students.

“What is extraordinary about Dr. Aty is that despite his extensive administrative duties, during his first year of tenure as a chair, he continues to be a very active researcher (high quality scholarly work and extensive research funding) and a student mentor,” wrote Michael Georgiopoulos, dean of the college. “As a chair he has the ability to positively influence the professional lives of his faculty, and he has done so. As a chair he has the ability to positively influence the national recognition of his unit and he has done so. As a chair he has the ability to sustain the delivery of a good quality education for the students in his unit, and he has done so.”

Abdel-Aty also mentors many students. He has 10 Ph.D. students working on multiple projects.

Humberto Lopez Cruz is a Spanish professor and interim director of the department of modern languages and literature. He arrived at UCF in 1996 and has been earning awards for his teaching and research ever since.

Cruz is a specialist in Cuban-American and Panamanian literature. He added a new dimension to Spanish offerings at UCF by establishing numerous courses about Hispanics in the United States. He’s also been a mentor and enthusiastic recruiter of Hispanics at UCF.

His excellence is known globally. Many of his multiple books, articles and book chapters have appeared in Spain, Panama and other countries. He’s been recognized with several awards including the international Ilustre Vistante award for his work on Panamanian literature. The Online Schools of Florida also named him one of the 20 Best Hispanic College Professors in Florida in 2013.

Aside from his excellent work, service to students and internationally recognized poetry, he’s a team player, said Jose Fernandez, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.

“He is courteous, polite and humorous,” Fernandez said. “He possesses a magnetic personality and yet, on the other hand, he shuns the limelight and notoriety and is humble to a fault. I’m honored to nominate him.”

Avelino Gonzalez is a computer science professor and the director of the international engineering program at UCF. His expertise is in the area of artificial intelligence and he recently completed a project focused on avatars for the National Science Foundation and which is featured at the Orlando Science Center.

He has multiple degrees including a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. He is an IEEE fellow and other scientists have cited his work more than 2,500 times. Gonzalez is not shy about sharing his experience either. He has mentored 17 Ph.D. students and 10 Honors in the Major students. In 2010 his work with students earned him the Excellence in Graduate Teaching award.

Gonzalez also has worked as a consultant for a variety of groups including the Dutch National Research Agency in The Hague, NASA and the Electric Power Research Institute in Silicon Valley. Today he continues to consult for the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment in Norway.

He conducts research at UCF and with a multitude of international partners including the Universite de Pierre et Marie Curie and the Universite de Grenoble in France; the Technical University of Ilmenau, The Fraunhofer Institute and The German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence in Germany; Jonkoping University, Malardalen University and Dalarna University in Sweden; the Universidad de Cantabria in Spain; Tokyo Denki University in Japan; and the Univesidad de Costa Rica and Instituto Tecnologico de Costa Rica in Costa Rica.

“Dr. Gonzalez is an excellent mentor, an excellent researcher and has had a career of outstanding service,” said Gary T. Leavens, chair of the computer science division in the department of electrical engineering and computer science, who nominated him.

Kerstin Hamann is a professor of political science and a leading scholar of west European political economy and labor politics. Colleagues describe here as a tireless leader in promoting excellent teaching strategies to enhance student learning and is selfless about sharing her knowledge with leaders in her discipline.

Hamann has multiple degrees including a Ph.D. in political science from Washington University. She joined UCF in 1995 as an assistant professor and today is chair of the department. Her research and teaching has had an impact here and abroad. Her reputation and work has led to several appointments including being named an honorary faculty member at the Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia in Madrid, Spain, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Political Science Education and vice president of the American Political Science Association.

Hamann has written multiple scholarly articles, which have appeared in highly ranked peer-reviewed journals, and has multiple grants from agencies as diverse as Spain’s Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness to the Miami-Florida European Union Center.

“She is the archetype of the teacher-scholar – an excellent teacher, excellent in scholarship, and engaged in important service to her discipline,” wrote College of Sciences Dean Michael Johnson in his nomination letter. “She is the very model of a senior faculty member.”

Her work goes beyond the classroom and research. She’s worked hard to take political science to the online world.

“Dr. Hamann is a key player in UCF’s distributed learning initiative, developing effective pedagogies for the online environment. She is a national leader in online learning, having developed an important research program in technology-enhanced teaching and learning,” said Charles Dziuban, director for Research Initiatives for Teaching Effectiveness at UCF.

Cynthia Young, is a professor in mathematics, an associate dean for the College ofSciences and interim vice provost for international affairs and global strategies.  She is also a leader in enhancing UCF as a center for STEM studies.

She has multiple degrees including a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the University of Washington. She came to UCF in 1997 and as an assistant professor was selected by the Office of Naval Research for the Young Investigator Award to support her research in mathematical modeling of atmospheric effects on laser beams with interest in laser radar and laser communications systems. She has earned more than $147 million in research funding while at UCF. In addition to atmospheric propagation studies, Young leads several STEM education initiatives at UCF.

She helped create the EXCEL program at UCF, which has become a national model for recruiting and retaining students. The program began in 2006 and has since then increased the number of women in science and math majors by 3 percent and underrepresented groups by 6 percent. The program’s success has made it a national model with universities requesting workshops about setting it up.

“Dr. Young is a visionary and a leader and she has demonstrated these skills during her tenure at UCF, “ said Michael Georgiopoulos, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. He’s worked with Young for years on joint research projects, which is why he nominated her for the award. “Her contributions in STEM education and STEM student retention, in my opinion, are hard to match by any other faculty at UCF or across the nation.”

College of Sciences Dean Michael Johnson noted that not only is Young an excellent researcher and teacher, but that she cares for fellow faculty.

That’s why one of the first initiatives she completed as an associate dean was a mentoring program for new faculty, both tenure-track and non-tenure track. In 2013, faculty members in the program earned National Science Foundation Career and Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator awards.

“She thought carefully about obstacles that can trip up new faculty members, and how to navigate them; and as a result new faculty are progressing rapidly,” Johnson said. “Her heart-felt concern for the faculty is apparent, and has earned her their trust and gratitude.”