A top researcher in prosthetics, an expert in environmental health and public health challenges, a prominent neuroscientist and a distinguished leader in the field of chronic diseases in vulnerable populations have been selected as the 2023 cohort of Presidential Scholars. The associate professors will receive this designation for three years.
The Presidential Scholar award supports the work of exceptionally promising mid-career faculty in academic units across campus by providing $10,000 in funding each year for three years to the award winners. The funds — made possible by support from a private donor — may be used to support scholarly, teaching and outreach activities. Up to four new Presidential Scholar Awards are made each year.
The 2023 winners are Nancy Allen, associate professor in the College of Nursing; Sophie Caron, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences in the College of Science; Tommaso Lenzi, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the John and Marcia Price College of Engineering; and Neng Wan, associate professor in the Department of Geography in the College of Social and Behavioral Science.
“These educators represent the cutting-edge work on this campus that can impact our world for the better,” said Mitzi Montoya, senior vice president for academic affairs. “I’m grateful for their contributions and pleased to recognize their research.”
Nancy Allen has excelled as a nurse scientist in the College of Nursing, leading multifaceted research and scholarship to improve healthcare in diverse and vulnerable populations. With Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) funding, she engaged and collaborated with the Hispanic community to identify barriers that prevented them from using popular diabetes technology. Among other key research projects, she also developed an innovative and nationally prominent program of research in older adults with diabetes through NIH National Institute of Diabetes Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) funding. She has received many recognitions and awards and was inducted as a fellow in the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists in 2022.
Sophie Caron is an internationally prominent neuroscientist who uses cutting-edge techniques to tackle fundamental questions about perception. In order to understand how brains are built to learn, she uses the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster mushroom body as a model system. She built an interdisciplinary research program by drawing on computational models, species-comparative studies and various anatomical, functional and behavioral techniques to elucidate the structural, functional and evolutionary pressures that shape the fruit fly’s learning function. For her work, Caron has received an NSF CAREER award and two NIH R01 awards, totaling $4.5 million. In addition to her research, Caron designed and regularly teaches the popular cellular neurobiology class (BIOL 3240) which regularly attracts nearly 100 enrollments per semester. Her work has been described as “stunning” and “breathtaking” by colleagues at outside institutions.
As a designer of the Utah Bionic Leg, which was selected as one of the Best Inventions of 2023 by Time Magazine, Tommaso Lenzi is among the top researchers in the country in the area of prosthetics. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and industry and private donors. Funding from the grants and awards he has received for projects on which he is either principal or co-principal investigator has supported nearly 25 postdocs, PhD and master’s students, who have subsequently won numerous awards in their own right. Student comments about his classes are highly complimentary, and peers commend his mentorship and class instruction. In 2022, Lenzi received the Assistant Professor of the Year award from Mechanical Engineering and in 2023, he received the Outstanding Researcher of the Year Award.
Neng Wan is a leading geographer who develops geospatial methods to solve environmental health and public health problems. His work has created novel, innovative methods to model population access to healthcare, population mobility, and environmental exposure. His methods, which have led to multiple large National Institutes of Health grants, have been widely applied in public health works such as surgery care, cancer prevention, aging, and anesthesia care. His pioneering work on smartphone-based mobility assessment allows researchers to better understand individuals’ mobility patterns and environmental exposures, especially relating to investigating health inequity problems for racial/ethnic minorities and low-income populations. He is a recipient of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) (R37) Award.