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CU-Boulder Professor and Student Receive University of Colorado Thomas Jefferson Award

CU System news release

DENVER—Two University of Colorado professors—one an acclaimed writer, teacher and mentor and the other a top medical school professor, researcher and the founder of the renowned Mini Med School—and two gifted undergraduate students are the winners of the 2009 Thomas Jefferson Award, one of the university's highest honors.

CU's Thomas Jefferson Award recognizes faculty, students or administrative employees who demonstrate excellence in the performance of regular responsibilities and outstanding service to the broader community. The university bestows the award each spring to advance the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, who was the nation's third president, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and an intellectual and influential statesman.

This year's honorees are Martin Bickman, PhD, a CU-Boulder English professor; J. John Cohen, MD, PhD, a UC Denver School of Medicine professor and Mini Med School founder; Upasana "Bela" Mohapatra, a CU-Boulder pre-med student; and Raymond Schultz, a recent UCCS graduate. Each of the honorees will receive an engraved plaque and a $2,000 cash honorarium, and the CU Board of Regents will recognize them at the board's March meeting.

"The winners of the Thomas Jefferson Award exemplify CU's commitment to serving Colorado," said Michael Poliakoff, vice president for academic affairs and research. "They show that outstanding academic achievement and deep engagement with the needs of the community can be seamlessly connected. They model the best principles of our university community."

Nomination criteria for the CU award that honors Jefferson's legacies include a broad interest in literature, arts, sciences and public affairs; a strong concern for the advancement of higher education; a deeply seated sense of individual civic responsibility; and a profound commitment to the welfare and rights of the individual.

Bickman, a President's Teaching Scholar and director of the CU-Boulder Service Learning Office, teaches 19th century American literature and pedagogy. He is the author of many articles, reviews, lectures and books, including "Minding American Education: Reclaiming the Tradition of Active Learning," which won the 2003 Outstanding Book Award from the American Education Research Association.

In a nomination letter, English department Chair and Associate Professor Katherine Eggert said Bickman exemplified the principles of the Thomas Jefferson Award "so completely it's almost as if the call for nominations were written with him in mind."

Among Bickman's many other accomplishments, he has earned a widespread reputation as a public servant and a catalyst for teaching excellence. He was Colorado's nominee for Carnegie U.S. Professor of the Year in 2001 and 2002. In his role as director of the Service Learning Center, he has been instrumental in working with students and faculty to implement writing and literacy teaching programs at K-12 schools along Colorado's Front Range. Among many other efforts, his students have designed merry-go-rounds and other playground equipment that generates electricity for schools, and have worked with writers and artists of all ethnic backgrounds to reach out to at-risk students in the Denver metropolitan region.

Cohen is a physician and a nationally recognized immunology researcher whom students and faculty at the School of Medicine count among the most creative and inspirational professors. He is also the founder of the university's Mini Med School. The renowned outreach program has attracted thousands of participants since its 1989 inception, and nearly 100 medical schools in the United States, Canada and Europe have emulated Cohen's brainchild. The Mini Med School aims to make science accessible, understandable and exciting to the general public, and has become so popular that hundreds line up each year to hear Cohen's Mini Med School lectures at the IMAX Theatre at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

"It is public medical education at its best," said Henry N. Claman, MD, a UC Denver Distinguished Professor of Medicine, who nominated Cohen for the Thomas Jefferson Award.

Cohen also spearheaded the creation of the Colorado chapter of Café Scientifique, an informal group that invites scientists, policymakers, students and others to join in conversations about cutting-edge science and research, and co-developed the Art in Science/Science in Art project, a collection of artwork by students, faculty and the public that is based on science.

Mohapatra, a senior pre-med student majoring in integrative physiology at CU-Boulder, is the daughter of immigrants from India, and has overcome many obstacles to succeed as a highly gifted student and community leader in Colorado. She is a community health student coordinator at the Wardenburg Student Health Center, where she promotes programs aimed at supporting the health and well-being of students. A Norlin Scholar, she has won many distinguished student awards and scholarships, and participates in many campus and community activities that reflect her deep commitment to advancing human understanding.

In a nomination letter, Wardenburg's Teresa C. Wroe said Mohapatra's childhood visits to her mother's homeland instilled a strong sense of serving others. "It was on one of these early trips to India where Bela first experienced a sense of powerlessness in the world. Being a child herself and seeing other children on the streets begging for money had a tremendous impact on her."

When she is not studying organic chemistry, cell physiology, human anatomy, physics, endocrinology and molecular, cellular and developmental biology, Mohapatra is working as an HIV tester at Wardenburg or training volunteers who can help students grappling with serious health-care issues such as body image, gender identity and stress. She also has worked as a research and learning assistant; has volunteered at the Boulder Valley Women's Health Clinic and at Camp Wapiyapi, a camp for children with cancer and their siblings; and participated in Hands on Gulf Coast, an alternative spring break program to assist with hurricane relief efforts in a community devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

For his part, Schultz is a highly gifted scholar who graduated summa cum laude from UCCS in December with bachelor's degrees in history, philosophy and biology, and a minor in chemistry. He is fluent in English and Spanish, and has a good spoken and/or written command of French, German, Latin and Attic Greek. In addition to his considerable undergraduate course load, Schultz worked in a biophysical chemistry research lab and a campus language lab, and volunteered at the outpatient surgery unit at Memorial Hospital Central in Colorado Springs.

"Mr. Shultz is the most exceptional student I have ever encountered," wrote assistant chemistry Professor Sonja Braun-Sand in her nomination letter.

Before graduation, Schultz submitted a research paper to the Journal of Physical Chemistry, which he co-authored with Braun-Sand. Among his other achievements, he is an accomplished painter and connoisseur of world literature. While conducting research in a biophysical chemistry lab, he mastered the Linux computer operating system—without ever having taken computer programming classes—to incorporate computational methodology into a research project. Schultz has worked as a volunteer translator at regional churches, and has conducted health-care research on HIV/AIDS registries and ways to improve Navajo health care. He plans to attend graduate school, but will first dedicate two years of service to the Peace Corps.

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