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Presidential Societal Impact Scholars named

University of Utah President Taylor Randall has named five faculty members as 2024-25 Presidential Societal Impact Scholars for exemplary public engagement, from helping Utahns understand the danger posed by a shrinking Great Salt Lake to advocating for the rights and rehabilitation of incarcerated women and engaging college and high school students in projects that beautify public spaces with mural art.

The awardees are Kevin Perry, professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences; V. Kim Martinez, professor, Department of Art & Art History; Emily Salisbury, director of the Utah Criminal Justice Center and associate professor, College of Social Work; Baodong Liu, professor, Department of Political Science and the Division of Ethnic Studies; and Amberly Johnson, director of the Utah Poison Control Center and assistant professor (clinical), College of Pharmacy.

“What is obvious in this award process is that we have many exceptional faculty who are having a broad impact,” said President Taylor Randall. “As a university, we aspire to improve the communities we serve by sharing our research and expertise in a variety of ways. Our award recipients have engaged in public activities that showcase their scholarship, influence their fields of study and contribute to the betterment of individuals and communities.”

Each scholar will receive a one-time cash award of $10,000 and support from University Marketing & Communications to promote their research, scholarship and initiatives.

This year, 43 people were nominated for the award. To be considered, the faculty member’s area of focus must address a major societal issue, such as physical health and well-being, mental illness, poverty, the housing crisis, an environmental problem, etc. The work should have the potential to inform public debate and positively impact individuals, institutions and communities.

Law professor Randy Dryer created the award through a gift to the U.

“In recognizing faculty who have made an impact beyond campus, whether that is by sharing their work with policymakers, media or the public, we highlight the value the University of Utah brings to our state and even beyond Utah,” Dryer said. “These scholars are excellent examples of how public engagement benefits not just their careers, but our campus and our communities.”

The award was first presented in 2022 and the initial group of scholars were Kenneth Golden, Paisley Rekdal, Michelle Litchman, RonNell Andersen Jones and Susie Porter. They will serve through May 2024 and then continue as members of the permanent scholars’ network.

Below are the 2024-25 Presidential Societal Impact Scholars.

Kevin Perry, Department of Atmospheric Sciences

Photo credit: Evan Bush, NBC News Dust researcher Kevin Perry poses with his fat bike and a PI-SWERL machine, which can measure wind erosion and dust emission.

Kevin Perry has studied the impacts of mineral dust for more than two decades, a research focus that took on major importance with the shrinking of the Great Salt Lake. Perry, riding a fat-tire bicycle, surveyed the 800-square mile exposed lakebed and found dust from the lake contains high concentrations of toxic metals. To date, Perry has shared his research in three documentary films and more than 115 print, radio and TV interviews, including Popular Science, Discover Magazine, Outside Magazine, Newsweek, CNN, Le Monde and The Guardian. He has presented his findings to numerous policy-making organizations, such as the Utah Air Quality Board, Utah Clean Air Caucus, and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. Perry has presented to many health care groups, including the Utah Public Health Association and the Central Utah Healthcare Coalition. He also serves as a member of the Great Salt Lake Strike Team and the Dust Alliance for North America. Perry also has participated in educational outreach activities, focused mostly on high school students.

V. Kim Martinez, Department of Art & Art History

Over the past decade, Martinez has worked with more than 250 U students and 1,500 community members on 36 community-based murals, including a series for the Murray School District.

V. Kim Martinez has transformed both public spaces and individual lives as a renowned muralist and painter. Martinez is co-developing the YAP (Youth Arts Program), which, along with Urban Arts class, is giving U art majors and high school students alike the opportunity to create murals that beautify public spaces throughout the Salt Lake Valley. For the young artists, these opportunities expose them to community service and give them an early college experience, while art majors at the U gain artistic and teaching skills through mentoring youth. Over the past decade, Martinez has worked with more than 250 U students and 1,500 community members on 36 community-based murals, including a series for the Murray School District. She has exhibited her art in numerous galleries, from Ephraim, Utah, to Los Angeles to Odesa, Ukraine, and Sarajevo, Bosnia. Martinez also has presented more than four dozen workshops and public lectures on topics such as community-engaged learning, leadership and community murals.

Amberly Johnson, College of Pharmacy; Utah Poison Control Center

Amberly Johnson is the director of the Utah Poison Control Center and a widely recognized expert on toxicology.

Amberly Johnson became director of the Utah Poison Control Center in late 2019—just a few months before COVID-19 spread worldwide. The pandemic led to an additional assignment: director of the Utah Coronavirus Hotline, a partnership with the Utah Department of Health that provided science-based, expert advice on the safety and effectiveness for various approaches to prevent and treat the virus. As a widely recognized expert on toxicological issues, Johnson has given over 30 presentations, sharing her knowledge with groups that include Utah health departments, emergency responders and local and national associations. The Utah Poison Control Center manages over 40,000 poison cases annually and provides information about health threats posed by a wide range of substances, from harmful algal blooms to Tide Pods and glow sticks. Johnson serves as a member of the Fatality Review Team of America’s Poison Centers as well as on four state review and advisory committees that monitor substance abuse and related deaths.

Baodong Liu, Department of Political Science & Division of Ethnic Studies

Baodong Liu has provided key expert witness testimony in numerous federal voting rights cases.

Baodong Liu is a nationally recognized expert on race, voting rights and U.S. elections. He provided key expert witness testimony in court hearings on the state of Alabama’s redistricting map, testimony that made its way into a subsequent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that found the map unconstitutional. Liu also provided his expert opinions and/or performed empirical analyses for other federal voting rights cases as well as a landmark Utah case, Navajo Nation, et al, vs. San Juan County, et al. He has given numerous presentations to community and non-profit advocacy groups and helped train several groups on quantitative analysis of racially polarized voting. Liu has provided research services to such entities as the U.S. Department of Justice, the National Science Foundation and the Southern Poverty Law Center. He has been quoted in media locally and nationally on elections and voter behavior and is the founder of, a free website that allows users to search and analyze political data from all U.S. states.

Emily Salisbury College of Social Work; Utah Criminal Justice Center

Photo credit: UNLV. Emily Salisbury is the co-creator and research director of the Women’s Risk Needs Assessment (WRNA), which has been adopted internationally.

Emily Salisbury’s research focuses on the rehabilitation, decarceration and social reintegration of women in the criminal justice system, impacting the lives of more than 50,000 women. She is the co-creator and research director of the Women’s Risk Needs Assessment (WRNA), the only peer-reviewed, validated risk and strengths instrument in the public domain. WRNA is used to measure women’s specific criminogenic needs as well as their strengths, aiding development of comprehensive case plans to keep women from cycling in and out of the criminal justice system. The WRNA is used by more than 100 international and U.S. jurisdictions, positioning the Utah Criminal Justice Center as the global research, training and technical assistance provider for the tool. The United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime endorsed the WRNA as a recommended instrument to adhere to the U.N.’s “Bangkok Rules” for the humane treatment of incarcerated women. Salisbury served as an expert witness for civil rights commissions in the U.S. and Canada. She actively provides technical assistance to the U.S. Department of Justice and has participated in numerous media interviews; her TEDx talk on women’s prisons has over 15,000 views.