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

2020 University Scholars

Rashid Ansari
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Chicago
Professor Ansari is an internationally recognized expert in signal processing, an electrical engineering subfield focusing on analyzing, modifying, and synthesizing signals such as sound, images, and biological measurements. His current work advances digital healthcare technologies to provide and improve personalized care, such as developing a tool to help nurses determine pain levels in their patients. He champions diversity and inclusion in his department and is widely recognized as an outstanding professor.  He has received multiple scholarly awards and honors, including being named a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. 

Fabricio E. Balcazar
Department of the Disability and Human Development, Chicago
Professor Balcazar is a national leader in the advocacy and empowerment of persons with disabilities.  His widely cited work focuses on developing and testing intervention models for rehabilitation and consumer empowerment, particularly among minorities with disabilities. His federally funded research projects have engaged and galvanized numerous minority persons with disabilities as project stakeholders and eventual co-leaders within their home communities. In addition, he has won several teaching and mentoring awards and currently serves as the Director of Faculty Mentoring in the College of Applied Health Sciences.

Meghan M. Burke
Department of Special Education, Urbana-Champaign
Professor Burke is a highly regarded scholar of special education whose cutting-edge work focuses on disability policies, access to services for families of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and family-school partnerships around disability support. To assist families in their individual and group advocacy efforts, she established the Volunteer Advocacy Project, one of a limited number of training programs that has been systematically tested and validated for efficacy. She is an outstanding teacher who creatively engages her students in problem solving. A recent course project involved having students develop a framework and a website that assesses and rates local restaurants for disability access and services.  

Ryan N. Dilger
Department of Animal Sciences, Urbana-Champaign
Professor Dilger’s cutting-edge research focuses on animal nutrition and animal agriculture using an interdisciplinary approach involving immunology and neuroscience.  His work has contributed to a variety of fields, from optimizing animal nutrition to understanding how nutrition requirements change when the immune system is activated. His lab has used a translational piglet model for studying the impact of nutrient intake and infection during the neonatal period on brain development and cognitive functioning. In addition to his research, he is a creative and talented teacher. He recently helped the department develop best practices for mentoring undergraduates through research experiences, and he also revamped the experiential learning course to better capture diverse experiences. 

Christopher C. Freeburg
Department of English, Urbana-Champaign
Professor Freeburg is well known for his groundbreaking and provocative scholarship regarding African American literature, Black culture, the American novel after 1850, and media aesthetics. He has published several highly regarded books, including Black Aesthetics and the Interior Life (University of Virginia Press, 2017). Freeburg won the Melville Society's 2012 Cohen Prize for his book, Melville and the Idea of Blackness (Cambridge University Press, 2012). His current book project, Black Culture as a Form of Life, examines the shared traumatic experiences and memories of enslaved Africans and their descendants. He is a dedicated teacher and mentor, working with many unrepresented undergraduates in the Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP), an intensive experience designed to encourage the pursuit of graduate study.

Peter C. Nelson
Department of Engineering, Chicago 
Dean Nelson is a prolific researcher whose work focuses on the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and how it can improve the lives of others. In 1991, he founded UIC’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, which specializes in computer-enhanced transportation systems, manufacturing, and bioinformatics. In 1994, he was responsible for pioneering the first web-based traffic congestion map. Since then, he has published more than 80 peer-reviewed papers and has been the principal investigator on over $40 million in research grants and contracts. His most recent work has implications for helping patients with bipolar disorders. In addition to his academic leadership as department head and now dean, Nelson has advised and mentored more than 50 students over the course of his career. 

Ned O'Gorman
Department of Communication, Urbana-Champaign
Professor O’Gorman’s is a highly influential rhetorical scholar whose work focuses on political theory, media studies, and the history of the Cold War. He is the author most recently of Politics for Everybody: Reading Hannah Arendt in Uncertain Times (University of Chicago Press, 2020). He is also author of the award-winning Lookout America! The Secret Hollywood Studio at the Heart of the Cold War (written with Kevin Hamilton, Dartmouth University Press, 2019) and the award-winning The Iconoclastic Imagination: Image, Catastrophe, and Economy in America from the Kennedy Assassination to September 11 (University of Chicago Press, 2016). He is currently editor of the Journal for the History of Rhetoric and is an accomplished teacher known for helping students develop critical reasoning skills.

Subhash C. Pandey
Department of Psychiatry, Chicago
Professor Pandey is a renowned neuroscientist who studies anxiety disorders, alcohol abuse, and alcohol addiction. He is credited with demonstrating that alcohol is an “epigenetic drug,” meaning that it can impact how genes are expressed. He established the Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics and currently serves as its director. To foster a pipeline of future researchers, Professor Pandey organized a group of senior researchers focused on mentoring trainees in alcohol research. In July 2020, his group was awarded a 5-year $2.4 million grant to train pre- and post-doctoral fellows in the field of addictive behaviors. In 2014, he was recognized with the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Association of Scientists of Indian Origin in America, and he also has won several teaching awards. 

Anna Curtenius Roosevelt
Department of Anthropology, Chicago
Professor Roosevelt’s field-changing scholarship focuses on human evolution, ancient civilization, and human-environment interaction in tropical Amazonia and Central Africa. She was the first to define the entire cultural sequence of Amazonia and she discovered the earliest pottery found to date in the Western Hemisphere, dating approximately 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Commission, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1988, she received a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant. She has supported numerous undergraduate and graduate researchers who have joined her cutting-edge fieldwork. 

Sudeep Sharma
Department of Management, Springfield
Professor Sharma’s influential research focuses on negotiation, personality and individual differences, and emotions in the workplace. Challenging some longstanding tenets in the field of organizational behavior, his work has demonstrated that individual differences such as cognitive ability, emotional intelligence, and creativity can in fact play a role in predicting negotiation outcomes. He also discovered a new dimension of emotional intelligence, called emotional attention regulation, which can be measured reliably across individuals. He recently was awarded a competitive fellowship from DAAD (the German Academic Exchange Service) to support a visiting professorship. Consistent with his passion for mentoring, he helped establish a student chapter of the Society for Advancement in Management at UIS. 

Sandy J. Wayne
Department of Managerial Studies, Chicago
Professor Wayne is a distinguished scholar whose research focuses on workplace relationships between employees and their managers, employee relationships with their organizations, and diversity and upward mobility in leadership positions. In her work, she has developed the theoretical construct of servant leadership, empirically validated a measure of this approach, and linked this form of leadership to individual and group outcomes in organizations. She is published widely and is an elected fellow of the Academy of Management and of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. She attracts graduate students from all over the country who want to work with her and she was instrumental in establishing the UIC Business Scholars Program, which has grown to nearly 200 students each year. 

Rachel Jane Whitaker
Department of Microbiology, Urbana-Champaign

Professor Whitaker’s groundbreaking research focuses on the dynamics of microbes and their viruses and how they evolve in clinical and natural environments. She is leading a revolution in the microbiology field by bringing in genomics, experimental evolution, and modeling, demonstrating that microbes are subject to ecological and environmental constraints. More recently, she has focused on applying her discoveries to healthcare, using genetic information in viruses to understand when they were present and what treatment should be used. In 2017, she received the Allen Distinguished Investigator Award, which recognizes investigators with bold ideas and comes with $7.5 million in funding. She is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, and an accomplished teacher and innovator of curriculum. 




updated September 2020