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6 senior OSU faculty members awarded $20K grant for substantial research

As if being one of the six faculty members to win the 2012 Distinguished Scholar Award wasn’t shocking enough, President E. Gordon Gee made a surprise visit to the winners.

The award recognizes senior professors who have completed substantial research. Established in 1978, Office of Research supports the award. Departments nominate the recipients, and a committee of senior faculty, including past recipients, choose the winners. This year’s Distinguished Scholars will be able to use the $3,000 honorarium and $20,000 research grant throughout the next three years toward their research in American politics, the inequalities in the American society, atomic physics and molecular genetics.

Only six professors are recognized by this award annually, and Gee said he is proud of his colleagues.

“Everything we do and accomplish at Ohio State depends on the talented people who work here,” Gee said. “These distinguished scholars are the cream of the crop, nominated by their peers and exploring some of the most vexing and pressing challenges of the day. Exceptional in their fields, they bring distinction to themselves and to Ohio State.”

During a faculty meeting that seemed to be ordinary, each professor was interrupted with a surprise visit Gee who was accompanied by family members, students and other university administrators of the awardees.

“I view myself as very nosy,” said Anita Hopper, professor of molecular genetics. “I like to know what’s going on and I’m not easily surprised. When I saw President Gee walk in the meeting with some of my graduate students, I knew something was up, but I wasn’t expecting an award. It was absolutely shocking and very humbling. I normally find out about things, but I guess I’m not as good as I thought.”

Hopper has made breakthroughs within her career, and her discoveries with the tracking of tRNA’s, a living cell or virus molecule that transports amino acids to ribosomes undergoing protein synthesis, in yeast will require that textbooks be rewritten. She loves her graduate students at OSU because they have a passion to learn and are easy to motivate. There is never a time when she isn’t being a scientist, she said.

“I love plants and I have three dogs and I have a pond with koi fish. Science invades my life, but I love it. I live and breathe it,” Hopper said. “It’s more than a job, it’s a lifestyle.”

Gee’s visit also surprised Louis DiMauro, professor of physics, said the commitment to education is what attracted him to OSU. The New York native has established a research group that focuses on the interaction between atoms and intense laser pulses on an atomic timescale. Researching and teaching is something he takes pride in.

“The people of Ohio really value education,” DiMauro said. “I put a number of my graduate students at Stanford and Harvard. You are training the next generation.”

Buckeye of about 16 years, Vince Roscigno, professor of sociology, focuses his research on the inequalities of groups in the American culture and across the globe. Recently, Roscigno has been working with scholars in Israel comparing the inequalities in religion. He said the research he has come across has been interesting and intriguing. As a result of the time and devotion he puts into his research he has published two books, 55 articles and five book chapters.

“Make sure you find and love what you do. And then work you ass off,” Roscigno said.

The phenomenal reputation of OSU is what brought Janet Box-Steffensmeier, professor in government and politics, to Ohio from the University of Texas. Steffensmeier started off wanting to be a math teacher as she became the first person in her family to go to college. After earning her Ph.D. in 1993, she made OSU her home because she said she felt confident this is where she could get a good start. So far, she has used her research grant to help send one of her undergraduate students to a congressional convention and hired students for the summer to help with her research in mass politics and legislators. Being presented with the Distinguished Scholar Award is still a shock for her, she said.

“I was absolutely floored that my face had started turning red,” Steffensmeier said. “To be recognized by your own institution really meant the world, and it’s the best honor because I love OSU so much.”

Michael Grever, a professor at the College of Medicine, and Jin-Fa Lee, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, were also awarded.

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