UMaine names 2017 Presidential Award winners

A forensics researcher on the front lines of the drug abuse crisis in Maine and nationwide, the founder of UMaine’s nationally recognized Writing Center and an international expert on El Niño will receive the University of Maine’s top annual faculty awards.

Research Professor Marcella Sorg will receive the 2017 Presidential Public Service Achievement Award; Professor of English Harvey Kail will receive the 2017 Presidential Outstanding Teaching Award; and Professor of Anthropology and Quaternary and Climate Studies Daniel Sandweiss will receive the 2017 Presidential Research and Creative Achievement Award.

The three awards will be presented at the President’s Faculty Recognition Luncheon May 13.

“The outstanding contributions and achievements of Marci, Harvey and Dan speak to the mission and leadership of Maine’s public research university,” says UMaine President Susan J. Hunter. “All three award winners have contributed to the UMaine student experience in and out of the classroom and made a difference in Maine through the caliber of their teaching, research and engagement.”

Marcella Sorg
Marcella Sorg

Sorg’s career in forensic epidemiology and public policy, and forensic anthropology and taphonomy (the study of postmortem changes in human remains) spans four decades. She is a research professor with joint appointments in UMaine’s Department of Anthropology, the Climate Change Institute and the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, specializing in health policy, particularly as it concerns public health, public safety, and the investigation of death and injury.

Beginning in 2001, Sorg and then Maine Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Margaret Greenwald began compiling data on the relationship between substance abuse and drug-related deaths in the state, tracking epidemiological trends of prescription and illicit drug use. Sorg’s expertise on the escalating abuse of prescription drugs in rural states has led her to be tapped to testify before Maine legislative and U.S. Senate committees.

The pioneering epidemiological research of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center’s Rural Drug and Alcohol Research Program led by Sorg critically informed regional and national efforts to control the opioid epidemic involving heroin and prescription pain medications.

Sorg now serves as a sentinel community epidemiologist representing Maine on the National Drug Early Warning System of the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Since 1977, Sorg has been a consulting forensic anthropologist in the Maine Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, assisting in the recovery, analysis and identification of historic and modern human remains. She also collaborates with medical examiner offices in New Hampshire, Delaware and Rhode Island.

Her forensic anthropology expertise has been tapped for the repatriation of Native American remains, documentation of the earliest French settlers in North America and an attempt to shed light on a political assassination in Grenada.

As an associate member of the Maine State Police Evidence Response Team since it was established in 1998, Sorg has worked with detectives to develop and teach evidence collection standards for processing outdoor death scenes.

On the National Institute of Standards and Technology Scientific Area Committee on Crime Scenes and Death Investigation, Sorg helped develop national forensic standards. And for two years, she was a distinguished scientist and consultant for the Department of Defense Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, helping to ensure the accuracy of identifications of fallen American service members.

Sorg’s seminal work in forensic taphonomy continues to help set the standard for postmortem investigations. Her contributions to forensic anthropology were recognized in 2010 with the highest award for achievement in physical anthropology from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Sorg joined the UMaine community in 1978 and holds a Ph.D. from Ohio State University.

Harvey Kail
Harvey Kail

Kail has been an educator, scholar and interdisciplinary leader throughout his 38-year career at UMaine. He joined the university community in 1978 as assistant professor of English and director of the Writing Center and established the peer tutor and collaborative learning models that have become the successful hallmarks of the Writing Center at UMaine and nationally.

Each academic year, the Writing Center has up to 25 trained undergraduate and graduate peer writing tutors from diverse academic disciplines who assist hundreds of UMaine students with their writing projects. Kail served as director of the Writing Center for 35 years.

The goal of the Writing Center, Kail once said, is to “improve student writing at UMaine one student at a time.” Those lessons in writing and collaboration have proven to be as important for the peer tutors as they are for those who seek writing guidance and support.

Kail is internationally recognized for his writing center research and his Writing Across the Curriculum expertise. In 2004, he received the Maxwell Leadership Award from the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing. As a pioneer in undergraduate research, Kail co-founded the award-winning Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project, which tracks the professional careers of alumni and measures the skills they attribute to their experiences as peer tutors.

In addition to his leadership and mentorship in collaborative learning, Kail has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in writing, composition theory, American and maritime literature, storytelling and poetry. Students cite his tireless devotion to their academic success and career aspirations, and how he helped them develop creative problem-solving and critical thinking skills that resonate throughout their lives.

Current and former students note the difference Kail made through his mentoring, inspiration, passion for teaching and ability to engage students. Kail received the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Outstanding Faculty Award in 2008.

Daniel Sandweiss
Daniel Sandweiss

Sandweiss is an archaeologist with an interdisciplinary focus on the intersection of humans, climate and environment, predominantly in Peru. Much of his pioneering research focuses on early colonization of South America and the origins of El Niño, the Pacific Ocean phenomenon that can affect weather around the globe.

Milestones in Sandweiss’ work include the discovery of what was until recently the oldest fishing site in the Americas at Quebrada Jaguay in Peru and the excavation of Túcume in Peru — the largest pyramid center in South America.

Using archaeological remains as records of past climates, Sandweiss also discovered that El Niño events had varied frequencies during the Holocene (the last 11,400 years). He also shed light on the role of earthquakes and El Niño floods in Peruvian beach-ridge formation, and the effects of the Spanish Conquest on the preservation of these ridges.

In 1993, Sandweiss became the first U.S. archaeologist to conduct fieldwork in Cuba following the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Funding for his research has come from the National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society, NASA, the Heinz Charitable Trust and others.

Sandweiss has an extensive publication record that includes book chapters, co-authored books and highly cited journal articles. He has authored or co-authored 10 papers in Science, four in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and one in Nature.

His contributions to archaeology and science have garnered numerous awards. Among them, the Rip Rapp Archaeological Geology Award from the Geological Society of America in 2016, and the 2015 Research and Creative Achievement Award from UMaine’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

In 2014, Sandweiss became the first College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty member to be elected an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellow, an honor awarded to those who “advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.”

Sandweiss has been a member of the UMaine community for 24 years. He holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745