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UMaine’s Annual Top Faculty Awards Presented

Three engineers and a biochemist are the recipients of the top annual faculty awards at the University of Maine, which will be presented May 4 as part of the Academic Recognition Convocation.

Professor of Chemical Engineering Joseph Genco is the 2012 Distinguished Maine Professor, an award presented by the University of Maine Alumni Association to recognize outstanding achievement in UMaine’s tripartite mission of teaching, research and public service.

Professor of Biochemistry Mary Rumpho is this year’s Presidential Outstanding Teaching Award recipient. The 2012 Presidential Research and Creative Achievement Award recipient is Professor of Chemical Engineering Hemant Pendse. Karen Horton, associate professor of mechanical engineering technology, is the recipient of the Presidential Public Service Achievement Award.

Excerpts from their award citations follow:

Joseph Genco, 2012 Distinguished Maine Professor Award

Joe Genco is one of the University of Maine’s truly outstanding professors. As the heart and soul of the university’s internationally recognized pulp and paper program for nearly four decades, he has inspired hundreds of students. High school students considering the university’s chemical engineering or pulp and paper program quickly learn from current students and alumni that he is an exceptional professor. His students hold him in high regard, and long after they have embarked on their own careers, they rely on his mentoring support.

As a new faculty member, Genco worked with colleagues to re-establish the Ph.D. program in chemical engineering. Shortly after, he received a National Science Foundation CAUSE grant, which he used to completely revise, strengthen and update the pulp and paper curriculum. He teaches many of the undergraduate core chemical engineering courses, and all of the core pulp and paper technology courses. He also advises all of the fifth-year pulp and paper certificate students. He employs the latest
technology to teach fundamental principles of chemistry and engineering. Beyond his vast knowledge and experience in his field, he truly mentors his students, makes himself accessible to them and serves as a role model for many.

Students consistently praise his compassion and dedication, and the depth of his knowledge. They appreciate his enthusiasm for the subject matter and conversational teaching style, and the respect he shows for students of all levels. They admire his ability to explain complex equations and concepts, as well as his accessibility and efforts to ensure that they succeed.

Genco’s research and public service have provided far-reaching benefits to the people in Maine, where the papermaking industry plays a vital role. He established the pilot plant that became the Pulp and Paper Process Development Center, and served as its director for a decade. Under his leadership, business at the Process Development Center increased exponentially. He worked to include refining equipment at the center, and now the University of Maine has the best refining laboratory in the
country, and routinely performs studies for industrial companies.

His expertise on high-pressure oxygen delignification and ozone bleaching have led to advances in the industry, and his research has significantly improved the cost and environmental position of paper mills throughout the world. He has contributed to better wood fiber utilization, and become the author or co-author of several patents. His research on process modification and how it relates to effluent reduction at pulp and paper mills has helped the industry. He has advocated and advised on better practices to recover, reuse and recycle energy, materials and water in the production of pulp and paper, which, in turn, have improved the economic health and environmental sustainability of the industry. More recently, he has been involved in new advances in biorefinery processes that provide new energy and chemical sources. Genco has published widely in industry publications, provided expert witness in legal proceedings, and presented at conferences. His stellar reputation as an expert brings great prestige to the University of Maine.

Mary Rumpho, 2012 Presidential Outstanding Teaching Award

Students and colleagues alike recognize Mary Rumpho as an outstanding teacher and mentor, and effective communicator and organizer. Her great strengths include her knowledge and enthusiasm of the subject matter, her service to the students, and her flexibility and commitment to continual development as a teacher. Rumpho has influenced and shaped the lives of many students, both in the laboratory and the classroom. She is a demanding professor who expects the best from her students and they, in turn, strive to meet her expectations. And she teaches an array of biochemistry classes, from introductory courses for nonmajors to upper-level undergraduate and graduate classes. The size of these classes ranges from 200 students to an intimate graduate seminar with five students.

Many of Rumpho’s students have commented on her ability to transform complex principles of biochemistry and make them comprehensible. Rumpho easily develops an excellent rapport with her students and because they find her so approachable, they are more willing to ask questions. Rumpho teaches with a remarkable command of the subject matter and honest enthusiasm for the topic. Across the board, students comment on Rumpho’s energy and passion for teaching. One student writes that, “I have taken three module courses with Rumpho and I have found her enthusiasm to be contagious. Not only do I feel more excited and knowledgeable about the material covered in these modules, there is an obvious increase in enthusiasm throughout the classroom.”

Rumpho also is very active in teaching service and outreach. Her research efforts focus on the uptake of algal chloroplasts by a sea slug, resulting in an animal capable of carrying out photosynthesis. She has adapted this system for educational purposes and has established collaborations with numerous schools to provide sea slugs to be used in education.

Rumpho’s teaching efforts also include student advising, which requires dedication, organization, clarity and, oftentimes, patience. She is an exceptionally caring person who unerringly makes an extra effort to help and to find resources for students. Whether it is a personal/family issue or an athlete struggling with juggling classes and maintaining grades, Rumpho is supportive, helpful and highly effective.

Hemant Pendse, 2012 Presidential Research and Creative Achievement Award

In three decades at the University of Maine, Hemant Pendse has consistently applied creativity and innovation in numerous research initiatives that have led to significant economic development opportunities for Maine and for industry. His energetic and effective leadership has been instrumental in these interdisciplinary research accomplishments.

Pendse is the founding director of the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute and chair of the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department. As one of the world’s leading scholars in the fields of colloid instrumentation and forest bioproducts, he exemplifies the University of Maine’s excellence.

His research and creative achievements rely on the boundary-spanning interdisciplinary teams he assembles. Colleagues enthusiastically cite Pendse’s pioneering work for its quality and profound insights. Equally important, he has been recognized for turning scientific discoveries into innovative economic opportunities.

Through his leadership, especially in the area of forest bioproducts research, Pendse has also inspired innovative research and creativity in other University of Maine faculty and in industry. His influence extends far beyond campus in ways that have a positive, lasting impact on the university, our state and the nation. He is a consummate visionary and, based on his creativity and leadership, a role model for young faculty and students.

Pendse’s research has put the University of Maine on the national map of leading research institutions in wood-based biofuels. He brings a sense of mission and personal drive to his research team, making the University of Maine a stronger institution.

Karen Horton, 2012 Presidential Public Service Achievement Award

Karen Horton has compiled an extraordinary record of service — locally, regionally and nationally. Her efforts grow out of her expertise as a faculty member and professional engineer, and demonstrate remarkable creativity, range and persistence.

In her service to the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Horton revitalized the UMaine chapter, served in regional and national positions, and received the national 2010 Outstanding Counselor Award. After enthusiastically getting involved with public policy and lobbying, SWE’s national board voted Horton the chair of its Government Relations and Public Policy Committee, a position that has taken her to Capitol Hill and the White House. As SWE Executive Director and CEO Betty Shanahan writes,
“Karen is a standout in driving member engagement as the foundation of growing and sustaining our advocacy efforts.”

Since coming to UMaine in 1997, Horton also convinced her dean to start a program to interest middle-school girls in engineering; created a teaching evaluation form used by the School of Engineering Technology that avoids gender biases; developed a service-learning applied-research project on the virtual preservation of ruins in the Virgin Islands; and created activities involving professionalism for students in mechanical engineering technology. Horton also organized and raised money for a girls-oriented camp focusing on computer aided design, and supported projects for the Girl’s Collaborative.

In October 2010, UMaine learned that it would receive a $3.3 million, five-year ADVANCE grant from the National Science Foundation to effect institutional transformation to advance, retain and recruit women faculty in the sciences and engineering.

Simply put, the extensive effort that led to this grant being written would not have even begun without Horton. She built a team, starting with Amy Fried, and then recruited Jody Jellison and Susan Gardner. Jellison notes she originally declined an invitation from Horton to get involved in the endeavor but added: “It is a testament to her determination that I cannot actually remember agreeing to participate in the drafting of a proposal for NSF-ADVANCE or in any other diversity initiative, and yet found myself somehow a part of her team.”

Consistently, Horton has worked as an individual and as a leader. As UMaine student and SWE Chapter President Emily West wrote in support of this nomination, Horton “encourages each of us to be leaders.”

And, as Dean Dana Humphrey said, “Professor Horton has had a greater impact on women in the profession of engineering than any current or former University of Maine faculty member. Her impact has been felt from Boardman Hall to the White House.”

Contact: Margaret Nagle, (207) 581-3745

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