University Scholars Program

Faculty excellence is the cornerstone of any university of high quality. There is no more important task at the University of Illinois than attracting and retaining the very best teachers and scholars. The University Scholars Program recognizes outstanding members of the faculty and provides each with a funding allocation to enhance their scholarly activities.

University Scholars awards are not made for a specific project or proposal; rather, they represent recognition of the recipient’s excellence and the University’s commitment to foster outstanding people and their work. Therefore, the awards are made through nominations, not by application.

As of 2013, each award consists of an allocation of $15,000 per year for a period of three years. Recipients may use the funds at their discretion to enhance their scholarly work through travel, equipment, research assistants, scholarly materials or other uses that support their university-related teaching or research. University Scholars funds cannot be used toward the recipients’ base salary but can be used to support a summer salary of up to two-ninths of base salary.

Eligibility to the University Scholar Program is limited to members of the University of Illinois faculty, as defined in the University Statutes, i.e., members of the academic staff who are tenured or receiving credit toward tenure.

Each university will determine its selection criteria and process. Prior to the end of the academic year, they will submit the selection results to the President. Formal announcements of new University Scholars will generally be timed to coincide with the beginning of the academic year following selection.

University Scholars from 1985 to current year

2021 University Scholars

Eden Alsberg
Department of Bioengineering, Chicago
Professor Alsberg’s multidisciplinary background quickly positioned him to become a leading researcher, scholar, and educator in the evolving field of regenerative medicine – one of the most rapidly advancing and promising areas at the convergence of engineering and medicine.  His research and teaching focuses on engineering functional biologic replacements to repair damaged or diseased tissues in the head, neck, and thoracic regions of the body.  In addition to his strong track record of classroom instruction, he has mentored students engaged in research at all levels from high school summer students through the post-doctoral level.

Francina Dominguez
Department of the Atmospheric Sciences, Urbana-Champaign
Professor Dominguez is a world-renowned hydro-climatologist seeking to understand how water is cycled and recycled through the Earth system and how this may change due to human activities.  Her work impacts decisions relating to water resource management, agricultural production, and human risk due to flooding.  She recently developed the course “Statistical Methods in Atmospheric and Hydrologic Sciences,” an advanced, specialized statistics course on climate analysis.  Students have described it as one of the most useful and challenging courses they have taken.

Arden Handler
Department of Community Health Sciencs, Chicago
Professor Handler is one of the most distinguished and prolific researchers of maternal and child wellbeing in the United States.  Her career reflects her long-standing commitment to reducing disparities and improving the health of women, children, and families.  She examines ways the health care delivery system can mitigate factors that increase disparity risks in adverse pregnancy outcomes and reduce health inequities.  She is well known for her exceptional teaching and mentoring skills with students and junior faculty.  At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, she partnered with Black Girls Break Bread and other groups in the Masks for Moms initiative. 

Tania R. Ionin
Department of Linguistics, Urbana-Champaign
Professor Ionin is an internationally renowned linguist in the fields of second language acquisition and formal semantics.  Her recent research addresses challenges faced by a large and growing number of second language speakers and heritage speakers in K-12 institutional settings.  Her teaching and mentoring record is equally impressive. She teaches a diversity of courses at different levels, ranging from large enrollment Gen Ed courses and mixed undergraduate-graduate courses to courses catering to graduate students focused on being trained as ESL teachers and upper-level graduate courses for doctoral students in Linguistics.

Yong-Su Jin
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Urbana-Champaign
Professor Jin’s research is centered on metabolic engineering of microorganisms to produce biofuels and chemicals from renewable biomass. His research aims to identify, characterize, and engineer beneficial genetic perturbations eliciting rapid and efficient production of target products.  His groundbreaking research findings are highly valued by microbial fermentation industries and academic communities – production of synthetic biology-based foods as well as wine, beer, and other traditional fermented food.  Professor Jin’s teaching strategies include simplification and analogy to deliver and reinforce complex and difficult concepts in classroom instruction and research-related mentoring.

Maria Krysan
Department of Sociology, Chicago 
Professor Krysan is one of the nation’s leading scholars of urban spatial inequality, racial segregation, racial attitudes, and survey methods.  Her investigations often connect to methodological questions about how to study this sensitive area.  She combines standard closed-ended survey analysis with mode of administration experiments, analyses of open-ended survey questions, focus groups, and in-depth interviews.  She has created courses that generate new data that the faculty and graduate students can use for publications.  Her work is cited frequently in the media, and she is regularly interviewed for stories in print, on the radio, and on television.

Svetlana Lazebnik
Department of Computer Science, Urbana-Champaign
Professor Lazebnik is a world leader in the field of computer vision, the main themes of which include scene understanding, joint modeling of images and text, large-scale photo collections, and machine learning techniques for visual recognition problems.  She won the prestigious test-of-time award with her pyramid match kernel research, a method to construct features for matching images that allows recognition and identification of images that are similar but not exactly the same.  She has produced very strong methods for describing images with short codes, which have shown to be a key component of building 3D models of very large-scale environments from photographs.

Sean A. McCandless
Department of Public Administration, Springfield
Professor McCandless has gained a national reputation in the discipline of public administration with particular emphases on social equity, policing, critical pedagogy, and studies on underrepresented populations.  His research resides at the intersections of law, public management, and politics.  In the classroom, he employs techniques such as the “flipped classroom” where lectures are provided online prior to class time, which is used for students to apply the material through case studies.  He also allows students to rewrite assignments to improve their understanding of the material.

Abolfazl Mohammadian
Department of Civil, Materials & Environmental Engineering, Chicago
Professor Mohammadian’s research focuses on the umbrella of transformative mobility services, fueled by advanced technology (e.g., self-driving cars), micro-mobility, sharing economy, and technology platforms in both personal and goods mobility.  He draws on statistical analysis of large-scale geo-referenced data, coupled with field experiments, behavior surveys, and qualitative data.  In recognition of his research contributions with direct policy implications, Governor Pritzker appointed Professor Mohammadian to the board of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning in November 2020. 

Supriya G. Prasanth
Department of Cell & Developmental Biology, Urbana-Champaign
Professor Prasanth is highly regarded in the field of DNA replication, cell cycle regulation, and chromatin regulation.  Her research has identified several novel regulators, providing unprecedented insights into the molecular coupling between DNA replication, heterochromatin formation, and cell proliferation.  DNA replication is an essential process in every replicating cell, missteps of which are leading causes of several human diseases, including cancer.  Her Cancer Biology course (MCB 400), which she created when she was an assistant professor, has been one of the most popular MCB elective courses with enrollment maxing out at 100 every time.

Heather M. Prendergast
Department of Emergency Medicine, Chicago
Professor Prendergast is a recognized physician-scientist leader in the field of Emergency Medicine.  As a health disparities researcher, her primary focus is on cardiovascular risk modification in patients with uncontrolled/undiagnosed hypertension in the emergency department setting.  Partnering with faculty of UIC’s Clinical Translation Science resulted in the development of an innovative mentorship program for the faculty.  Extramural grant funding of faculty research within the Emergency Medicine Department increased over five-fold within just a few years of implementing this mentorship program.

Reza Shahbazian-Yassar
Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, Chicago

Professor Shahbazian-Yassar directs a nationally recognized research program focused on real-time electron microscopy of nanoscale materials with applications toward energy and health sciences.  He has pioneered the design and development of electrochemistry cells for transmission electron microscopy that enable the visualization of chemical and electrochemical reactions in real time and at unprecedented resolutions.  He has held several leading roles in professional societies at the national and international levels, i.e., president of the Midwest Microscopy and Microanalysis Society and chair of The Materials, Minerals, and Metals Society Advanced Characterization, Testing, and Simulation Committee


updated October 2021