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USM Announces 2023 Innovation Award Winners

Mon, 05/08/2023 - 10:36am | By: Van Arnold

University of Southern Mississippi (USM) faculty, staff, and students earned special recognition during the annual 2023 Innovation Awards ceremony held Friday, May 5 on the Hattiesburg campus.

The Innovation Awards, a long-standing tradition at USM, recognizes extraordinary research contributions by faculty, staff, and graduate students. The recognition was held in conjunction with the Faculty Staff Awards program.

“The Innovation Awards, a time-honored tradition, aims to acknowledge exceptional research contributions made by our faculty, staff, and graduate students,” said Dr. Kelly Lucas, Vice President for Research at USM. “Through this recognition, we honor those who have been nominated by their peers for their remarkable efforts in advancing knowledge within their respective fields and for their support of research endeavors. Southern Miss takes great pride in celebrating the valuable contributions made by each of these individuals.”

2023 Innovation Awardees:


Applied Research AwardDr. Kelsey Bonfils, Assistant Professor in the School of Psychology 

The Applied Research Award honors a faculty member who has employed the results of basic research to solve specific scientific or social problems or to serve pragmatic purposes such as the practical implementation of research, or to suggest system or policy changes in his/her research area.  

Kelsey A. Bonfils, PhD is an Assistant Professor and licensed psychologist in the Clinical Psychology PhD Program at the University of Southern Mississippi. She received her degree from Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, and completed clinical internship at UCLA. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship with the Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center (MIRECC) of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.   

Dr. Bonfils joined USM following her postdoctoral fellowship in 2020. She is the Director of the Social Cognition & Recovery in Schizophrenia (SCORS) Lab and has expertise in the research and treatment of social cognitive deficits for people with schizophrenia-spectrum disorders and other psychopathology. Her work aims to contribute to our understanding of social outcomes for people with serious mental illnesses and apply findings to recovery-oriented intervention efforts.  


Academic Partnership AwardDr. Nora Charles, Associate Professor in the School of Psychology 

The Academic Partnership Award honors a faculty member who has pioneered or sustained innovative partnerships between The University of Southern Mississippi and other institutions or groups (including but not necessarily limited to businesses, state and federal agencies, professional associations, community groups or nonprofit organizations).  

Dr. Nora Charles is an Associate Professor of Psychology, the Director of the USM Clinical Psychology PhD program, and a licensed clinical child psychologist. She earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Texas A&M University and completed an NIH-funded postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Texas School of Medicine. Dr. Charles studies substance misuse, delinquency, and other problem behaviors displayed by adolescents, focusing on underserved yet high-needs populations such as justice-involved, racial/ethnic minoritized, and lower-income youth. She is passionate about expanding access to behavioral health services and partners with community agencies to study the development, prevention, and treatment of youth problem behaviors in real-world settings. Her work, currently funded by HRSA, SAMHSA, and Forrest County, supports eight GAs who provide free, high-quality behavioral health services for youth and families through field placements at Hattiesburg Clinic, Kids Hub Child Advocacy Center, Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center, and Forrest County Youth Court.  


Basic Research AwardDr. Zhe Qiang, Assistant Professor in the School of Polymer Science & Engineering 

The Basic Research Award honors a faculty member who has conducted systematic research to advance general knowledge, understand phenomena or build theories through her/his research and built the rubric of his/her research.  

Dr. Zhe Qiang is an Assistant Professor of Polymer Science and Engineering at the University of Southern Mississippi. His research interests focus on addressing key challenges in environmental sustainability through fundamental materials and manufacturing science. He is also very passionate about educating next generations, as well as potential technology commercialization. Since the start of his independent career, Dr. Qiang has received many prestigious recognitions, including Doctoral New Investigator award from American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Foundation, NSF EPSCoR Research Fellowship, College of Arts and Science Junior Faculty of the Year, ACS PMSE Early Investigator, and SAMPE Emerging Leadership Award. In 2022, he was listed by Forbes Magazine as a “30 under 30 in Science” honoree. 


Creative Research AwardDr. Candice Salyers, Assistant Professor in the School of Performing and Visual Arts 

The Creative Research Award honors a faculty member who has achieved a high degree of accomplishment in one or more areas of creative work at The University of Southern Mississippi. Discipline areas include, but are not necessarily limited to, creative writing, dance, theater, music, visual arts, film, radio, broadcast, or creative activities related to the sciences.  

Dr. Candice Salyers specializes in using the arts in humanitarian service, and she has ongoing collaborations with organizations in Myanmar, Palestinian Territories, and Afghanistan. Her performance work has been presented in the US, UK, Estonia, Spain, Morocco, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, and the Czech Republic and has been archived by the National Women’s History Museum and the US Department of the Interior. Dr. Salyers’s work has been honored with an Alma Bucovaz Award for Urban Service, Choreographic and Solo Performance Fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Mississippi Arts Commission, and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for feminist nonfiction writing. Her publications include contributions to Tanz, Bewegung, und Spiritualität, The Journal of Environmental Philosophy, and the Journal of Performance and Mindfulness. 


Research Advocate AwardCorrie Stringer, Director of Financial Reporting & Audit in the Office of Research Administration 

The Research Advocate Award honors an administrator or staff member who has made significant contributions to fostering research at The University of Southern Mississippi.  

Corrie Stringer is the Director of the Financial Reporting & Audit division of the Office of Research Administration. She received her B.S. in Business Administration with an emphasis in accounting as well as her Master of Professional Accountancy from the University of Southern Mississippi. Corrie began work at the university in 2001 and her entire 20 plus year professional career has been devoted to supporting and moving forward the research enterprise at USM. 


The Graduate Student Award recognizes a graduate student who has demonstrated exemplary scholarly or creative achievement, alongside documented outstanding research accomplishments.

Graduate Student Research AwardMark Robertson, Graduate Student in the School of Polymer Science & Engineering 

Mark Robertson is a Ph. D. candidate in the School of Polymer Science and Engineering at the University of Southern Mississippi. He received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Mississippi, and currently conducts research in the Qiang Research Group. Mark’s research focuses on understanding fundamental polymer physics to enable the development of technologies to promote environmental sustainability. Specifically, this research includes upcycling mask waste from the COVID-19 pandemic and other commodity polymers into highly functional, value-added carbon materials. These new materials support environmental sustainability through providing a new pathway of managing plastic waste that can also be applied in water remediation and the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. 

Graduate StudentLoren Stearman, Graduate Student in the School of Biological, Environmental and Earth Sciences 

Loren Stearman is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Biological, Environmental & Earth Scieces conducting research in  Dr. Jake Schaefer’s lab. Loren’s major research interests include understanding what makes ecosystems tick, and all things fish. At USM, Loren’s research has focused on understanding how landscape evolution affects aquatic habitats and ecological processes for fish populations and communities in rivers and streams. His work has involved an interdisciplinary approach using tools from both geomorphology and ecology, and has provided new insights into how our Gulf Coastal Plains streams are changing due to both natural and human-induced causes, and how ecological processes are changing in response. Loren’s research at USM has led to three funded grant proposals, two peer reviewed publications, six conference presentation awards, and numerous ongoing research projects. Loren has also been involved in teaching, including teaching both lecture and lab for Ichthyology and lab sections for human anatomy and a graduate level ecology course.   


Lifetime Research AwardDr. Robson F. Storey, Professor Emeritus in the School of Polymer Science and Engineering, Bennett Distinguished Professor

The Lifetime Achievement Award honors a senior faculty member whose scholarly or creative career has made an extraordinary and significant impact on their discipline, as perceived not only by our university's faculty community, but also by other members of that profession. 

Dr. Robson F. Storey is Professor Emeritus in the School of Polymer Science and Engineering at The University of Southern Mississippi, where he has held a faculty appointment since 1983.  He has served as Chairman of The Annual International Waterborne, High-Solids, and Powder Coatings Symposium since 1985.  He obtained B.S. degrees in Polymer Science and Mathematics from USM in 1978, and a Ph.D. in Polymer Science from the University of Akron in 1983.  He received Innovation Awards for Academic Partnership in 2017 and Basic Research in 2013 from the University Research Council.  He was named Bennett Distinguished Professor in 2013.  He received the Outstanding Alumni Award from the Department of Polymer Science, University of Akron, in 2006.  He has published 182 referred journal articles and is inventor on 41 U.S. Patents.  His research interests include cationic and ring-opening polymerizations, polyisobutylene-based polymers, surface coatings, biomedical/biodegradable polymers, block, graft, and star-branched polymers, and telechelic polymers.