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USM Honors Extraordinary Research Efforts with Innovation Awards

Tue, 04/30/2024 - 08:42am | By: Van Arnold

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has announced the 2024 Innovation Awards which recognize the creative research endeavors of students, faculty, and staff.

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

“The Innovation Awards are designed to commend outstanding research and creative scholarly endeavors by our faculty, staff, and graduate students. This recognition pays tribute to those nominated by their peers for their exceptional commitment to advancing knowledge within their fields. Southern Miss is honored to celebrate the invaluable contributions of each individual recognized,” said Dr. Kelly Lucas, USM Vice President for Research.

2024 Innovation Awardees:

Applied Research Award 

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.  

Dr. Megan Renna, Assistant Professor in the School of Psychology 

Dr. Renna is an Assistant Professor in the School of Psychology at USM and a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of Mississippi. Dr. Renna received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University and joined the USM faculty in August 2021 after completing a post-doctoral fellowship in cancer prevention and control at the Ohio State University’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research. Her research focuses broadly on the intersection between psychological and physical health. She is especially interested in how emotion regulation and negative emotionality disrupts normative biological functioning to enhance risk for and maintenance of chronic health issues with a specific interest in cancer and cardiovascular diseases. In addition to directing the Psychophysiology, Emotionality, and Treatment lab within the School of Psychology, Dr. Renna also teaches at the undergraduate and doctoral levels and provides clinical supervision to doctoral students within the Center for Behavioral Health. 

Academic Partnership Award 

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. Zachary LaBrot, Assistant Professor in the School of Psychology 

Dr. LaBrot is an Assistant Professor of School Psychology and a licensed psychologist in Mississippi. He received his doctorate in school psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi and went on to receive extensive training and experience in pediatric psychology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe-Meyer Institute. Dr. LaBrot’s research and professional interests center around the prevention of young children’s social-emotional and behavioral difficulties, preparing relevant stakeholders to serve young children, and supporting youth with neurodevelopmental disorders. In particular, Dr. LaBrot is passionate about serving preschool age children, their families, and their teachers. This passion has fueled Dr. LaBrot’s collaboration with the Pearl River Valley Opportunity Center’s Head Start and Early Head Start program, which was the focus of his Academic Partnership Award. Outside of his work, Dr. LaBrot’s truest passion is spending time with his wife, Shelbie, and his two wonderful daughters, Spencer and Savannah.   

Basic Research Award 

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. Heather Stur, Professor of History 

Dr. Heather Marie Stur is professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi and co-director of the Dale Center for the Study of War & Society. She is the author of four books, including 21 Days to Baghdad: General Buford Blount and the 3rd Infantry Division in the Iraq War (Osprey Publishing, 2023), Saigon at War: South Vietnam and the Global Sixties (Cambridge 2020), The U.S. Military and Civil Rights Since World War II (ABC-CLIO 2019), and Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era (Cambridge 2011). She is also co-editor of Integrating the U.S. Military: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation Since World War II (Johns Hopkins 2017). Dr. Stur’s op-eds and articles have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, National Interest, Orange County Register, Diplomatic History, War & Society, and other journals and newspapers. In 2013-14, Dr Stur was a Fulbright scholar in Vietnam, where she was a visiting professor on the Faculty of International Relations at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City. 

Dr. Xiaodong Zhang, Endowed Chair and Professor of Marine Science 

Dr. Zhang is Endowed Chair and Professor of Marine Science with the School of Ocean Science and Engineering. Prior to USM, he had been a faculty member at the University of North Dakota after obtaining the PhD degree in Oceanography from Dalhousie University, Canada. Dr. Zhang is passionate about observing and deciphering the change of light in color, direction, and polarization caused by various constituents suspended in the aquatic environment. His research enables people to utilize optical data, gathered both in situ and from remote sensing platforms, to conduct comprehensive regional and global investigations on water quality, marine resources and carbon cycle across extensive temporal and spatial scales. Through leading or contributing to nearly $50 million grants from NASA, NSF and other federal and state agencies, and publishing nearly 100 peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters, Dr. Zhang has established himself as a world leading expert in the field of ocean optics and ocean color. 

Creative Research Award 

The Creative Activities 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.   

Meg Brooker, Professor and Director of the School of Performing and Visual Arts 

Brooker specializes in the early modern dance techniques developed by Isadora Duncan and Florence Fleming Noyes and presents this work as Artistic Director of Duncan Dance South. Her creative research includes embodied, kinesthetic, and traditional archival methodologies and results in new choreography and performance, often in collaboration with visual artists and musicians, and published scholarship. National venues include Nashville’s Parthenon, Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, among others. For fifteen years (2005-2019), she traveled and performed extensively in Russia as a legacy Isadora Duncan dancer. Recent credits included featured interviews and dance performance for Season 2: Episode 5 of Io e Lei: Isadora Duncan for SkyArte (Italy). Awards and grants include Mississippi Presenters Network, Mississippi Artists Roster listing, Dancer Laureate for the City of Murfreesboro, TN, Dance Chair for the Hellenic Institute of Cultural Diplomacy, National Endowment for the Humanities grant for the Noyes School of Rhythm Archives, among others.   

Graduate Student Research Award 

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

Abdulsalam Adegoke, Graduate Student in the School of Biological, Environmental and Earth Sciences 

Adegoke is a graduate student completing their Ph.D. in the School of Biological, Environmental & Earth Sciences under the supervision of Dr. Shahid Karim. His doctoral research focuses on elucidating the immune biology of ticks and its implications for their ability to transmit bacterial pathogens. Employing a systems biology approach, Abdulsalam employs pharmacological inhibition, reverse genetics, and transcriptomic analysis to gain novel insights into the responses of various tick species to tick-borne pathogens. His doctoral work has yielded three first-authored publications in prestigious scientific journals and numerous scientific presentations. Throughout his doctoral studies, Abdulsalam has actively contributed to several collaborative research projects, resulting in seven additional peer-reviewed publications, including three as the first author. In 2024, Abdulsalam received the Dissertation Completion Grant, earned the Research Assistant of the Year award, and was inducted into the Graduate School Hall of Fame. He has also played a vital role in mentoring undergraduate researchers in the laboratory and have consistently taught laboratory courses in lower-level biology, as well as upper-level courses in anatomy, physiology, human parasitology, and medical entomology. 

Emily M. Goldsmith, Graduate Student in the School of Humanities 

Goldsmith (they/them) is an English/Creative Writing Ph.D. student at the University of Southern Mississippi, where they are a graduate instructor and the Composition Program Assistant. They were recently awarded the 2024 Teaching Assistant of the Year Award. Goldsmith’s research interests include Louisiana Creole Literature, Southern Gothic, Queer and Trans Theory, and Caribbean Studies. Goldsmith has presented their scholarship at various conferences, including the Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies Conference and The International Conference on Narrative. They have been invited to present their ongoing work on Louisiana Creole identity and culture at the Louisiana Creole Research Association and at The Federal University of Pará in Brazil. Goldsmith’s chapter regarding Louisiana Creole writers and Circum-Caribbean storytelling was accepted to an edited collection, forthcoming in 2025. They were awarded the 2023 Summer Derven Scholar position at the Historic New Orleans Collection, where they conducted oral history interviews about Kouri-Vini/Kréyòl language preservation. Their creative writing has been published in The Penn Review, and elsewhere. Their poetry chapbook, Alligator is a Fish, was named a 2023 contest finalist with both Two Sylvia’s Press and DIAGRAM.

Multidisciplinary Research Award 

The Multidisciplinary Awards honors a faculty member who is a pioneer in cross-disciplinary research collaboration to identify innovative solutions or intellectual accomplishments that extend beyond their field. Nominees should demonstrate high levels of external recognition.

Dr. Alen Hajnal, Professor of Psychology 

Dr. Hajnal is a professor of psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi. He obtained his PhD in experimental psychology in 2007 from the University of Connecticut. Dr. Hajnal investigates the interaction between body movements and perception through the concept of affordances. He has published more than 40 journal articles in internationally recognized peer reviewed journals. He co-edited a book of affordances that was published in 2024. He is the director of the Perception, Action, and Cognition Lab at the School of Psychology, and was the coordinator of the Brain and Behavior PhD program from 2018 until 2022. During his 2019 sabbatical he was a visiting scholar at the Budapest University of Technology in Hungary where he investigated visual perception in virtual reality. His current multidisciplinary research involves collaboration with Dr. Oliveira from the School of Kinesiology on fall risk prevention in the elderly using virtual reality technology. 

Research Advocate Award 

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

Dr. Jamye Foster, Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Education, College of Business & Economic Development, Professor of Marketing, School of Marketing      

Dr. Foster is a dedicated advocate for student research and collaborative academic endeavors, fostering a culture of innovation and curiosity within her college. As a faculty member, she championed the development of aspiring researchers, leading to numerous academic conference proceedings and quality journal publications with student researchers. As School Director, Dr. Foster cultivated interdisciplinary collaboration, established mentorship programs for junior faculty, and promoted inclusivity in research efforts, resulting in increased research activity. 

 As Associate Dean, she continues to foster a culture of collaborative research through the creation of the External Funding Task force, developing stronger connections with ORA, and facilitating more opportunities for faculty to share their research. She transformed the research impact report into a comprehensive publication recognizing the wider range of activities that raise our research profile. Her efforts increased peer-reviewed journal publications and external funding, elevating the visibility of faculty contributions and shaping the future of research and innovation in the college community.      

Lifetime Research Award 

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. Andrew Wiest, Distinguished Professor of History 

Dr. Wiest’s film work includes Nat Geo’s Brothers in War for which he received an Emmy nomination, and for his work on Vietnam in HD he received a New York Festivals Gold Medal. He has written and published 19 books.  Best known of his works include the bestselling The Boys of ’67.  He also published Vietnam’s Forgotten Army, which won the highest award in the field – the Society for Military History’s Distinguished Book Award. Wiest served visiting stints at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and at the United States Air Force Air War College.  He has won the Excellence in Teaching Award, the HEADWAE Award, and the Mississippi Humanities Council Teacher of the Year Award. Wiest founded the multi-million-dollar Dale Center for the Study of War and Society at Southern Miss, which is now internationally renowned and attracts students from across the country and internationally. And he is working to establish the Center for the Study of the National Guard here at Southern Miss.