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USM’s Office of the Vice President for Research recognizes its 2020 Innovation Awards recipients

Fri, 06/26/2020 - 11:27am | By: Kendra Ablaza

The University of Southern Mississippi’s Office of the Vice President for Research is proud to recognize its 2020 awardees consisting of faculty and graduate student researchers for accomplishments in creative and scholarly research, teaching, advising and mentoring and service during the past year. Please join us in congratulating our 2020 award recipients:


Dr. Julie CwiklaAcademic Partnership

Dr. Julie Cwikla

Interim Director, Center for Science and Mathematics Education

Director of Creativity & Innovation in STEM

College of Arts & Sciences

Dr. Julie Cwikla, Interim Director of USM’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education and Director of Creativity & Innovation in STEM, is recognized for her work building bridges from USM to partners across the state and region over the past two decades. Dr. Cwikla’s research is driven by the study of human learning and development in a variety of STEM and STEAM learning environments. Her research and outreach efforts serve K-12 children, families, teachers, and communities; exploring topics ranging from protecting coastal wetlands to coding and app development to mathematics phobia.

Equity and inclusion are central to her mission, serving those who are underrepresented in STEM fields with a focus on women and people of color. She led a multi-university partnership Gulf Coast ADVANCE supporting women professors in STEM fields. Dr. Cwikla also coordinates annual Hackathons focused on African American high school girls and brought back USM alum Sheena Allen for a speaking tour around the state (Oxford, Meridian, Terry, and Ocean Springs) to encourage young women to enter tech fields. She has also designed significant programming with JROTC cadets in both Mobile, AL and Jackson, MS helping better prepare cadets for the STEM workforce whether military or civilian. “A new program in development will support intergenerational projects to help educate and protect our Mississippi waterways and combat climate change,” Dr. Cwikla said.

Dr. Cwikla has partnered with countless public and private schools, community and junior colleges, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, YMCA, Pascagoula River Audubon Center, Exploreum Science Center in Mobile, Walter Anderson Museum of Art, the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center for Arts and Education, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Stennis Space Center - Infinity Center, Homer Learning in NYC, 2CMississippi of Jackson, STEM Works in Mobile, and others. She also serves as coordinator of iD8 – Ideate, Innovate, Iterate, and as a board member for organizations in both Mississippi and Alabama. Her research and outreach have benefited thousands of children, families, and teachers in vulnerable communities across the region.

Dr. Julie Cwikla also received the 2019 Ada Lovelace Award for STEM Educator of the Year, a southeast regional award spanning Florida to Texas.


Dr. Anna WanApplied Research Award

Dr. Anna Wan

Professor of Mathematics

Director of Eagle Maker Hub

School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences

Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Eagle Maker Hub director Dr. Anna Wan is recognized for creating several innovative protective face coverings. She most recently worked in close coordination with doctors at Hattiesburg Clinic and Forrest General to design, prototype, assemble and produce equipment for the state of Mississippi.

Dr. Wan started that work in March to address the nationwide critical shortage of personal protective equipment for medical personnel when they reached dire levels serving the exponential growth of COVID-19 cases. Her prototyping team, which includes Mississippi Polymer Institute, USM staff and students and community members, offered an innovative solution in an urgent manner that takes into consideration medical professionals’ needs, manufacturing speed and availability amid shortages across the supply chain. The team coined the name “The Hub Mask.” Its mask molds were created using 3-D printing, plaster and silicone. For speed, Wan and her team utilized a thermal molding process known as thermoforming. Dr. Wan and MPI are currently seeking funding in order to quickly scale up and produce more masks.

Dr. Wan has created, produced and delivered several other coverings, including new designs for face shields, “snorkel” masks used as a closed-circuit alternative to CPAP masks, upper respiratory isolation units that minimize exposure for first responders, filter adaptors for Forrest General Hospital and intubation chambers to further protect health care professionals.


Dr. Leila HamdanBasic Research

Dr. Leila Hamdan

Associate Professor

Interim Associate Director

School of Ocean Science & Engineering

College of Arts & Sciences

The research of Dr. Leila Hamdan, Associate Professor and interim Associate Director of USM’s School of Ocean Science & Engineering, focuses on the distribution of microorganisms in marine habitats across space and time—and how places made or modified by humans shape life in the ocean. Her work generates new hypotheses related to microbial ecology, natural history, evolution and discovery.

Dr. Hamdan works with USM students, staff and educators to explore microbiomes on the seabed. Her studies have included investigating the microbial ecology of shipwrecks and the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the seafloor. Her team’s studies often focus on historically significant sites using cross-disciplinary, tested and advanced approaches.

Dr. Hamdan is currently working on NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research-funded projects “Microbial Stowaways: Exploring shipwreck microbiomes in the deep Gulf of Mexico” and “The search for Norlindo – the first WWII casualty in the Gulf of Mexico,” which are discovery focused, and center on shipwrecks that have never been seen or studied. She also leads a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency study to develop microbiological sensors of built structures that lie unseen or unknown in the sea. Dr. Hamdan’s research is regularly covered by national and regional media outlets.


Dr. Adam ClayCreative Research

Dr. Adam Clay

Assistant Professor of English

School of Humanities

College of Arts & Sciences

Since joining USM’s faculty in 2017, Assistant Professor of English Dr. Adam Clay has received much recognition for his collections of poems. Dr. Clay is also consistently published in a wide range of literary journals and magazines, including Georgia Review, Tin House, jubilat, Poetry Northwest, The Laurel Review, Crazyhorse, Bennington Review, Harpur Palate, Grist and The Believer.

Dr. Clay’s latest collection of poems “To Make Room for the Sea” was published in March by Milkweed Editions, a prominent independent publisher of poetry. The collection focuses on fatherhood and domesticity through the context of climate change and life in the Anthropocene. The collection uses lyricism to explore the larger implications of climate change through a personal lens, Dr. Clay said. His previous collections Stranger (2016) and A Hotel Lobby at the Edge of the World (2012) were also published by Milkweed Editions. His first book of poems, The Wash in 2006, was published by Free Verse Editions as a selection from their Open Reading Period.

Dr. Clay is also completing a competitive fellowship: a $5,000 Literary Arts Grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission. The Mississippi Arts Commission, which funds fourteen artists, helped Clay finalize revisions on “To Make Room for the Sea.” The Millions featured his latest collection as one of its “Must-Reads” for March 2020. His poem “Only Child” was featured recently at the Academy of American Poetry’s Poem-a-Day Feature. He has also received two Pushcart Nominations: one from The Laurel Review for “Elegy for a Different Kind of Falling” and a second nomination from a Contributing Editor to the Pushcart Series. His poem “A Joke about How Old We’ve Become” was also featured on former poet laureate Tracy K. Smith’s podcast “The Slowdown” in February.


Dr. Jameela LaresLifetime Research

Dr. Jameela Lares

Professor of English

Charles W. Moorman Distinguished Professor of the Humanities, 2017-2019

School of Humanities

College of Arts & Sciences

Dr. Jameela Lares, professor of English, is recognized for her decades of experience in the scholarly fields of John Milton, 17th century English literature, the history of rhetoric and, most recently, children’s and young adult literature. Dr. Lares was also named the Charles W. Moorman Distinguished Professor of the Humanities for 2017-2019. She has published two books, along with numerous chapters or articles, reviews or review essays and encyclopedia entries.

Dr. Lares is currently working on her facing page Latin-English edition of John Milton’s Artis Logicae Plenior Institutio (1672) for Oxford University Press, a work involving collating, transcribing and translating 240 duodecimo pages, or about 35,000 words, of Latin. She has spoken in the United States, Italy, Scotland, England, Wales, Poland, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Canada, France and Japan at conferences such as the International Society for the History of Rhetoric, the International Milton Symposium, the International John Bunyan Society and the Children’s Literature Association. She was also invited to speak at Shoumen University in Bulgaria.

Dr. Lares has taught internationally as a visiting professor in an exchange at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom, ten summers of British Studies in London and two semesters in France. Dr. Lares has also served for four years as treasurer and membership chair of the Milton Society of America. She speaks and writes French fluently and reads extensively in Latin, German and Italian, which broadens her work and research.


Mohamed O. Elasri, Ph.D.Multidisciplinary Research

Mohamed O. Elasri, Ph.D.

T. W. Bennett Professor of Infectious Diseases and Director of Mississippi INBRE

Center for Molecular and Cellular Biosciences

College of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Mohamed O. Elasri, a T. W. Bennett Professor of Microbiology and Director of Mississippi INBRE, is recognized for being an active researcher in the area of infectious diseases. He joined USM in 2002.

Dr. Elasri has worked on several projects with the School of Polymer Science and Engineering to develop anti-microbial surfaces or compounds to address antibiotic resistance problems with infectious agents. Dr. Elasri is also leading a partnership with a nonprofit organization to address health disparities in African American and Native American communities in Mississippi, specifically focused on obesity and HIV as two preventable conditions that disparately impact minority populations. This partnership includes public health professionals, psychologists, nutrition scientists, technologists and community organizers, and has resulted in new programs in community-based research and training grounds for students in this field.

Dr. Elasri founded the Center for Molecular and Cellular Biosciences to bring together researchers from various disciplines such as Biological Sciences, Chemistry/Biochemistry, Polymer Sciences and Computing to tackle health-related problems. He also founded the first statewide biomedical research conference, the Mississippi IDeA Conference for Biomedical Research, which brings together research-intensive institutions and undergraduate students in Mississippi each year.

Most recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Elasri led a response team to develop testing for coronavirus in the region by working with microbiologists from the Center for Molecular and Cellular Biosciences. He is also working with clinicians and pathologists within Hattiesburg Clinic and Forrest General Hospital to implement testing for COVID-19 cases in area patients and health care workers.


Dr. Sabine HeinhorstResearch Advocate

Dr. Sabine Heinhorst

Associate Dean, Undergraduate Research and Outreach

T.W. Bennett Professor of Biochemistry

Honors College

Dr. Sabine Heinhorst, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Research and Outreach in the Honors College and a T.W. Bennett Professor of Biochemistry, is recognized for her impactful research advocacy contributions to diversity in STEM and to the integration of student research. In her previous role as a researcher, Dr. Heinhorst served as a mentor for the research efforts of numerous pre-college, undergraduate and graduate students; in her current role, she supports research and creative activity of undergraduate students of all majors at USM.

Dr. Heinhorst has participated in national conversations on ways to remedy discrepancies in diversity as a member of the Committee on the Status of Women in Plant Physiology of the American Society of Plant Physiologists and as part of the Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity. She has also promoted collaborations with colleagues from Vietnam and the former German Democratic Republic, hosting their graduate students and postdocs in her lab. She has advocated for increased efforts to diversify faculty and student bodies in STEM fields and has mentored junior female colleagues, underrepresented graduate and undergraduate students at USM and other universities by providing advice on the preparation of research grant proposals, tenure and promotion documents, career decisions and professional development opportunities.

Since becoming an associate dean in the Honors College, Dr. Heinhorst has co-developed and taught a section of courses preparing Honors Scholars for their thesis research, helping them identify a research advisor and plan their senior-year research activities. Dr. Heinhorst also serves as director of the Drapeau Center for Undergraduate Research, where she streamlined the application process for DCUR grant funding to encourage more undergraduate students to apply. Since 2012, she has helped plan and execute the Undergraduate Symposium on Research and Creative Activity, an annual university-wide conference.

For almost 30 years, Dr. Heinhorst maintained a vigorous research program at Southern Miss that has produced 64 peer-reviewed research articles and invited reviews and contributed to securing more than $18 million in external funding for USM.


Brian W. BauerGraduate Student

Brian W. Bauer

Clinical Psychology Graduate Student

School of Psychology

College of Education & Human Sciences

Clinical Psychology Graduate Student Brian W. Bauer is recognized for his work integrating Nobel Prize-winning theories like behavioral economics, prospect theory and related interventions into suicide theory and prevention initiatives to better understand why people die by suicide, and to find economical ways to help make some of the psychology field’s most difficult problems more manageable.

Bauer’s presentations and publications on nudges and cognitive biases have sparked numerous collaborations with well-established suicide labs, suicide prevention experts in the field and national campaign organizations. Bauer’s first-author manuscript on using nudges to aid suicide prevention efforts was published in Clinical Psychological Science, and was the basis for a federally-funded grant. His research found that nudges could increase skill dissemination and increase engagement with resources by strategically changing the presentation of information to target cognitive biases.

Bauer was awarded a Department of Defense-funded Dissertation Award and invited to be a plenary speaker at the American Association of Suicidology Annual Conference in 2019. Bauer also published a first-author manuscript in Perspectives of Psychological Science, examining why studying nudges and cognitive biases could be useful for suicide theory and prevention. He has published 20 peer-reviewed publications, given 19 professional talks at national conferences and earned over $9,000 in awards and small grants. He recently submitted a proposal to the National Institute of Health for the National Research Service Award.

Bauer also served as a Guest Editor at the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviors on a special issue aimed at making advanced quantitative methodologies more accessible to suicide researchers. He won the Student Citizen Scientist Award from AAS, and plans to continue conducting research that provides cost- and time-effective interventions that can be easily understood by professionals in different fields and implemented into an array of settings to help decrease the number of suicide deaths.


Jonathan RiccioGraduate Student

Jonathan Riccio

English Graduate Student

School of Humanities

College of Arts & Sciences


English Graduate Student Jonathan Riccio is recognized for his creative efforts as shown in the forthcoming publication of his full-length poetry collection, Agoreography, from 3: A Taos Press.

Riccio said his work, shaped by intense poetry, fiction, memoir, drama, and pedagogical study,

addresses trauma, phobia, and recovery. He describes his aesthetic as a synthesis of artistry, technique, and sonic risk in the service of ethos and imagination.

“Since the late 1950s, Confessional writing has nuanced the act of bringing the personal

to poetry,” Riccio said in a statement. “Surrealism—a movement that emerged in France after World War I—reenergizes poetry’s narrative and linguistic possibilities. Agoreography fuses these ideas; the poems’ anchorage is cerebral and emotional alike.”

Riccio also worked as an associate editor on Mississippi Review during his graduate career.