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Beacons of Excellence

Recognizing excellence in providing transformational experiences to undergraduate students

Beacons of Excellence Award Ceremony

October 31, 2013

2013 Recipients

Beacons of Excellence 2013

Academic Associate Research Program, School of Medicine

Academic Associates Research Program

This enterprise from the Department of Pediatrics offers students an opportunity to understand and experience clinical research in a healthcare setting. Dr. Maija Holsti, MD & MPH, leads the Academic Associate Research Program Team. Through courses and clinical studies, students gain exposure to clinical research, interact with pediatric patients and their families, and develop relationships with Department of Pediatrics faculty. Some of the many skills gleaned are professionalism in the clinical setting, identifying a study design, applying to the Institutional Review Board, characteristics of Good Clinical Practice, ethics in research, computing basic statistics from research data, and submitting to scientific journals. One nominator summed it up this way: "The program is a perfect example of offering a transformational experience for students. Through the program, undergraduate students have the unique experience of conducting real-time research in the fast pace environment of the Primary Children's Hospital Emergency Department."See a video of Academic Associate Research Program.

Jill Baeder, Undergraduate Studies

Jill Baeder

As the Associate Director of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), Jill Baeder has spent the last 12 years engaging students through the art and science of research. She meets with them individually to assess their needs and interests, and recommends possible matches with research faculty. Once a match is finalized, she mentors them through the research process, provides grant monies and avenues for them to present their research, and then attends research conferences that highlight the products of this engaged learning experience. One nominators offered the following, "Jill is an amazing individual who deeply cares for and empathizes with the needs of each student she encounters. She is a Beacon of Excellence because she inspires and motivates students to broaden their horizons, expand their studies, and reach beyond the confines of the classroom while helping to provide them with the means to do so." In addition to meeting with students individually, Jill co-chairs undergraduate research conferences, serves as a point of contact for Research Posters on the Hill, and is chief editor of the Undergraduate Research Abstracts. See a video of Jill Baeder.

Students Promoting Eating disorder Awareness and Knowledge (SPEAK), College of Health


Students Promoting Eating disorder Awareness and Knowledge (SPEAK) is an influential campus group that strives against the troubling trend of eating disorders on university campuses nationwide. The diverse students who make up SPEAK help promote self-esteem, healthy body images, and healthy eating habits, but also the prevention and treatment of eating disorders. The program also allows undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to practice outreach to college classes and the community and prepare them for leadership roles. Since inception by Professor Justine Reel, this organization has focused on understanding eating disorders through education. One nominator wrote, "They are a voice of empowerment and promote healthy lifestyle and behaviors. This is important for college age students."See a video of SPEAK.

Dr. Elizabeth Tashjian, David Eccles School of Business

Elizabeth Tashjian

"I had a number of excellent and engaging professors during my time at Utah, but Professor Tashjian is in a class of her own in terms of her commitment to fostering engaging and transformational experiences for students." Dr. Elizabeth, Tashjian, affectionately referred to as " Liz", is a powerhouse for connecting students to her discipline of finance as well as the joy of learning at the University of Utah. The recipient of numerous campus and community awards, Liz has taken the time  to invest in the student experience. These activities include advising the Finance Club, teaching a course that facilitates the Student Investment Fund, and focusing students for future careers through the Week on Wall Street trip. A student nominator wrote, "she has changed the lives of countless students, including myself. Liz is a teacher, a mentor, and a friend. She challenged me and my peers to challenge ourselves -- both in and out of the classroom."See a video of Dr. Elizabeth Tashjian.

Theatre, Fine Arts, and Humanities in London Learning Abroad Program, College of Fine Arts

London Learning Abroad Program

Theatre, Fine Arts, and Humanities in London Learning Abroad Program, initiated in 2001, has offered hundreds of students the opportunity to explore a global perspective of the genre of Theater firsthand, with faculty who know the academic and cultural background as well as the locale of London. "Not only is this an excellent way to experience the artistic qualities of another culture; it is also an exploration of life itself." This representative student evaluation echoes those of hundreds who have participated in this transformative summer term. Sponsored by the Department of Theatre and the Learning Abroad Center, this program, crafted and individualized each year by Tim Slover and Jane England, uses living theatre as a window and London as a classroom to explore art, cultures, history and urban living in this most cosmopolitan of the world’s cities. "I found direction in my life and a passion for my art," said another student. And a third: "I am so thankful that the University of Utah values such programs which taught me what I had in myself and what the world had waiting."See a video of Theatre, Fine Arts, and Humanities in London Learning Abroad Program.

2012 Recipients

Matt Bradley, Honors College

Matt Bradley

Matt Bradley was a distinguished assistant professor in the University of Utah Honors College, where he led several programs on social justice and change. Bradley was an active member of his community and was recognized for his approachability and his encouraging nature to students of all levels. Bradley was a good listener and supported the dreams and ambitions of his students for a more just society. A student stated on his behalf, "Through activism, a positive example and an enormous heart, he inspired students to be all that they could be, to never let life get them down and to live with open hearts and minds." The award will be given posthumously, as Bradley passed away in March 2012. See a video about Matt Bradley.

Ganesh Gopalakrishnan, College of Engineering

Ganesh Gopalakrishnan

Ganesh Gopalakrishnan is a professor in the School of Computing, principal investigator for the Formal Analysis for Concurrency Group, and director of the Center for Parallel Computing, which he was instrumental in founding in 2009. "Professor Gopalakrishnan sets a perfect precedent for both teaching and research as a member of the School of Computing," writes one of Ganesh Gopalakrishnan’s students. "His cheerful attitude and good humor are contagious; he is rarely seen without a smile,". Gopalakrishnan personifies what it means to be a professor at the U. He teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses, introducing students to the latest cutting-edge research in science and engineering. Students find his classes energizing and rewarding. Gopalakrishnan’s approach to student mentoring is modeled after the advice of the late Randy Pausch, a noted computer science professor and author of "The Last Lecture"—that of backing students until they have a chance to realize their true potential. See a video about Ganesh Gopalakrishnan.

Mark Nielsen & Human Anatomy Lab, College of Science

Mark Nielsen

The Human Anatomy Lab, under the direction of Mark Nielsen, professor of anatomy, provides undergraduate students interested in health-related professions the unique opportunity to work with and study the structure of the human body and how it works. Through a rigorous, innovative curriculum and hands-on experience, students study anatomy in depth. Each year under the mentorship Nielsen, 60 top students from the course are selected as teaching assistants where they broaden their anatomy background and develop excellent teaching skills. Many of these student teaching assistants have gone on to teach anatomy in their medical school classes around the country. "[I] am sincerely indebted to [Nielsen] and his anatomy program for helping to shape my life and future," said a first year medical student. Nielsen is a beloved professor, having previously been awarded a University Distinguished Teaching Award. See a video about Mark Nielsen.

Hester Henderson - UFIT, College of Health

Hester Henderson

Housed in the U’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science, UFIT is a program that teaches special needs children and their families how to be physically fit. Hundreds of U students volunteer to work one-on-one with community participants to build self-esteem, improve motor skills, and work on team and social concepts through activities and sports. One parent described UFIT as "a wonderful program that serves not only Utah children with disabilities, but their whole families, as well as creating wonderful opportunities for university students to learn about the challenges they face." Founded by Hester Henderson, special/adapted physical education mentor, the UFIT program provides support for many families each year and serves the community, provides excellent educational opportunities for students and supports health and fitness. See a video about Hester Henderson.

Native American Research Internship, School of Medicine

NARI - Native American Research Internship

A unique program in the Intermountain West, the Native American Research Internship Program (NARI) offers paid research internships to Native American undergraduate students pursuing careers in the biomedical and health sciences professions. Students from across the U.S. come to the U to work in laboratory or clinical research settings with research faculty. They are mentored by indigenous U faculty, staff, and community members; attend a Native American health conference; engage with the local Native American community; and learn the "ins and outs" of applying to graduate or medical school. An intern in the program commented, "More important than enlarging an American Medical College Application Service application, more important than money, even more important than the networking this program has provided, is the great job it has done in fostering our self-identity as future physicians….The fires ignited here can bring light to our tribes for generations." Now in its third year, NARI continues to support the future health professionals of Indian Country. See a video about NARI.

U of U Fraternity & Sorority Community, Dean of Students Office

 U of U Fraternity & Sorority

The purpose of Greek-lettered organizations is to promote the values of scholarship, leadership, service and philanthropy. This group of women and men at the University of Utah strive for excellence in each of these categories and take an active role to promote the mission of the University on and off campus. Not only are the University of Utah Greeks involved, but they are hardworking and dedicated. The students in the fraternity and sorority system work daily to prove themselves as some of the best and the brightest at the University of Utah. The Greek system includes members of the PanHellenic Council , the Interfraternity Council, Multicultural Greek Council and the National Pan-Hellenic Council. See a video about the Fraternity & Sorority Community.

The University of Utah fosters a transformational experience for all students. We value and recognize a respect for knowledge that empowers students to become actively engaged members of various communities.We accomplish this through recognizing people, programs and projects committed to excellence.

Selection Committee

  • Maureen Mathison – Associate Professor in Communication and Director of the Writing Program
  • Dale Larsen – Assistant Librarian, Marriott Library
  • Shari Lindsey – Coordinator, College of Health
  • Ganesh Gopalakrishnan - Professor of Computer Science, Director, Center for Parallel Computing at Utah
  • Hester Henderson - Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science
  • Richard White - Program Coordinator, Native American Research Internship, Pediatric Research Excellence Partnership, Pediatric Research Education, Department of Pediatrics
  • Mark Nielsen - Professor (Lecturer) Department of Biology
  • Teresa Pond - Chapter President of the Beta Gamma chapter of Delta Gamma Fraternity for Women, and current Director of Development for the Union Programming Council
  • Tammy Mabey – Data Analyst for the Academic Advising Center
  • Patrick Tripeny – Architecture & Planning – Faculty in the College of Architecture and Planning, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies, and Director of Center for Teaching & Learning Excellence (Co-chair of committee)
  • Sharon Aiken-Wisniewski – Asst. Vice President for Academic Affairs/Undergraduate Studies and Associate Dean for Academic Advising Center (Co-chair of committee - 2011-13)
  • Kari Ellingson - Associate Vice President for Student Development, Student Affairs and Adjunct Associate Professor, Educational Leadership & Policy (Co-chair of committee - 2014-16)
Last Updated: 3/29/17