University of Nebraska names top teaching, research and engagement award winners

April 4, 2014

University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken has announced the 2014 winners of the university’s most prestigious awards for teaching, research and engagement.

The university-wide awards recognize faculty whose work has had a significant impact on students, the university and the state.

“Our faculty are the University of Nebraska’s greatest assets. We are incredibly fortunate to have faculty members on all four campuses who are dedicated to serving students and the people of Nebraska through high-quality teaching, important research and engagement with Nebraskans and their communities across the state,” Milliken said. “I’m delighted to have the opportunity to recognize some of the exemplary achievements of our faculty over the past year – and I want to thank all University of Nebraska faculty for their service and commitment to what they do. It’s primarily because of them that the university is in the strong position it’s in today.”

Awards will be presented during a luncheon this month. Winners are:


Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award (OTICA): recognizes individual faculty members who have demonstrated meritorious and sustained records of excellence and creativity in teaching.

Dawn Mollenkopf, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
A UNK faculty member since 2003, Mollenkopf is known for her creativity, passion for teaching, and dedication to her students. She regularly works nights and weekends in order to give students the personal attention they need. “She is simply the most dedicated, student-centered professor and teacher I have ever met and working in teacher education, I have met literally thousands of outstanding teachers,” wrote one nominator. Mollenkopf also is a prolific researcher who has helped bring in $4 to $5 million in grants to the university, most focused on the critical area of early childhood education. She is active in professional organizations, has served on NU committees for early childhood and distance education, and served as president of UNK’s faculty senate in 2012-13.

Judy Walker, Ph.D., Aaron Douglas Professor of Mathematics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Since coming to UNL in 1996, Walker has built a sustained record of excellence in teaching, not only in her own classroom but across the entire department. For example, she took the lead in reviewing a general education mathematics course that had been difficult for students and faculty alike. Students’ grades in the course have improved significantly since her review, a testament to her ability to explain mathematics and help students understand key concepts. Students know they will work hard in her classes, but also know she cares about their success and will do what she can to support them. Walker also helped to spearhead the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics, which attracts hundreds of students annually and has helped change the gender distribution in the profession.


Outstanding Research and Creative Activity (ORCA) Award: recognizes individual faculty members for outstanding research or creative activity of national or international significance.

Susan Sheridan, Ph.D., George Holmes University Professor and Willa Cather Emeritus Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at UNL and director of the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools.
Sheridan has produced dozens of research articles and scholarly books related to children’s positive adaptation, learning and development. Her body of work is distinct in its clear focus and mission: translating research to practice in order to make a difference in the lives of children and families at risk. Sheridan’s research is internationally recognized and many of her findings have been applied effectively in schools and community programs. Sheridan is the founding director of CYFS, which engages faculty from across NU and has become one of the most successful, innovative and impactful research enterprises across the university, leveraging $20 in federal research funds for every $1 invested by UNL. In all, interdisciplinary teams led by Sheridan have brought in more than $32 million in grants from federal agencies.

Donald Weeks, Ph.D., Maxcy Professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources in the Department of Biochemistry at UNL.
Weeks’ scientific contributions have earned him international stature and will have a significant impact on biological sciences, agriculture and the biofuels industry well into the future. At UNL, Weeks has served as the director of the Center for Biotechnology, growing the university’s molecular biology program at a time when it had been lagging in expertise. He also was founding director of the Nebraska EPSCoR program, which has attracted well over $100 million in research and infrastructure to Nebraska campuses. Weeks also served as chair of the Department of Biochemistry, providing leadership that grew the department into one of the university’s most prestigious. Weeks’ research recently resulted in the major breakthrough of engineering dicamba resistance in crop plants, offering farmers a powerful new weed control option.


Innovation, Development and Engagement Award (IDEA): recognizes faculty members who have extended their academic expertise beyond the boundaries of the university in ways that have enriched the broader community.

Shane Farritor, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UNL.
Farritor leads UNL’s Robotics and Mechatronics Lab, a research and education program focused on the innovative application of robotics technology. Working with Dr. Dmitry Oleynikov, professor of surgery at UNMC, Farritor helped create miniature surgical robots that can be inserted through a tiny incision and perform minimally invasive surgery that significantly reduce the patient’s pain and recovery time. Their collaboration resulted in a new spinoff company, Virtual Incision Corp. Farritor also leads a team of UNL engineers that devised a method of measuring railroad track integrity to identify weak spots that might compromise railway safety. To date, more than 250,000 miles of railroad track have been tested. Not only have these innovations attracted significant research funding and national attention, they also have far-reaching applications and tangible public benefits.

Dmitry Oleynikov, M.D., Joseph and Richard Still Endowed Professor of Surgery in the Department of Surgery, director of the Center for Minimally Invasive Surgery, and director of the Center for Advanced Surgical Technology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Oleynikov, who is widely published and has led multiple externally funded research projects, is one of UNMC’s most internationally recognized scientists. In collaboration with UNL’s Shane Farritor, Oleynikov has led a team that combines the experience of surgical practice with the exceptional problem-solving skills of the engineering profession. The results have been a radical departure from existing surgical technology: the surgical robotic device they have developed is miniature, mobile, remotely controlled and fits entirely inside the abdominal cavity. The partnership between Oleynikov and Farritor has resulted in multiple patents and technology commercialization and is widely recognized as a model for cross-campus collaboration. Oleynikov’s lab is open to engineers and is actively used to promote the medical-engineering relationship to other faculty, donors and funding agencies.

Media Contact:
Melissa Lee
Director of Communications,
University of Nebraska