An infectious disease expert instrumental to COVID-19 mitigation and a scholar who has helped tell the story of African Americans in America were named Researchers of the Year at Clemson University.
Lior Rennert, assistant professor of public health sciences, was named junior Researcher of the Year, and Rhondda Thomas, the Calhoun Lemon Professor of Literature, was named senior Researcher of the Year.
“University research is about generating and disseminating new knowledge to help improve society and the world. Dr. Rennert and Dr. Thomas are having profound impact through research,” said Tanju Karanfil, Clemson vice president for research. “I congratulate them on these awards and thank them for their efforts.”
The awards were presented at the annual Clemson University Research Symposium on May 4. The university also presented seven faculty members with University Research, Scholarship and Artistic Achievement Awards (URSAAA). URSAAA recognizes high-achieving faculty who have earned national and international recognition in their fields; authored a paper that has garnered more than 1,000 citations; or expended more than $1 million on research in a fiscal year.
URSAAA recipients for 2021 were Amy Apon, professor and C. Tycho Howle director of the School of Computing; Julia Brumaghim, professor of chemistry; Kai He, assistant professor of materials science and engineering; Anjali Joseph, Spartanburg Regional Health System endowed chair of Architecture and Health Design; Linda Li-Bleuel, professor of performing arts; Jacob Sorber, associate professor in the School of Computing; and Hai Xiao, Samuel Lewis Bell distinguished professor and Chair, Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Researcher of the Year
Rennert – a faculty member in the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences – is an internationally recognized infectious disease scholar. His primary research activities include the modeling, evaluation, and implementation of effective COVID-19 testing strategies and public health interventions. He has published his work in prestigious international journals and earned five 1st author manuscripts in high impact journals in the past year, including The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health and BMC Medical Research Methodology. Rennert is principal investigator on multiple externally funded grants, and his work has been covered by several media outlets. He also serves as a reviewer for six journals, including the British Medical Journal and Clinical Infectious Diseases.
“I am honored to receive this prestigious award, and am extremely grateful to my department, college, and the university for their consistent support that put me in position to succeed here at Clemson,” Rennert said.
Said Leslie Hossfeld, dean of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences: “Dr. Rennert is an extraordinary scholar, and this recognition is well deserved. As an infectious disease epidemiologist and biostatistician, he has been instrumental in pandemic planning for the University. His research has been recognized in premier journals in his field, and he continues to produce outstanding scholarship. He is such a remarkable researcher and colleague. What an incredible talent. I am so delighted for him, and for our college.”
A recipient of the prestigious Whiting Foundation fellowship, Thomas has garnered national and international recognition for her interdisciplinary, multifaceted Call My Name Project. The project documents and shares the stories of African Americans in the history of Clemson University and local communities from freedom in Africa through desegregation in South Carolina.
Her book published in November was recognized in the 2021 book award competition by the National Council on Public History. She is editing a collection of 10 essays on The Rhetorics of Campus History and is completing two projects with Cambridge University Press. Additionally, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, she is working to complete the Call My Name traveling museum exhibit, scheduled to begin touring in early 2022. Thomas is a faculty member in the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities.
“I’m so honored to receive this recognition of my research as a humanities professor,” Thomas said. “Thank you to the committee for selecting me from such an accomplished group of nominees. And I’m grateful to work at Clemson where I can pursue my research interests with support from my department, college, and the administration.”
Said Nicholas Vazsonyi, dean of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities: “The College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities is so proud of the work Dr. Thomas has been doing, and delighted that she is being recognized for it. Dr. Thomas’s “Call My Name” initiative and the projects surrounding it embody the concept of public facing humanities. They demonstrate palpably how the humanities can be transformative for both individuals and institutions,”
For Researcher of the Year, each college nominated a junior faculty member who received their terminal degree within the past 10 years and a senior faculty member. Winners were selected by an interdisciplinary faculty committee.
Junior faculty nominees were Rennert; Jorge Luis Garcia, assistant professor of economics, College of Business; Kapil Madathil, assistant professor of civil and industrial engineering, College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences; Ehsan Mousavi, assistant professor of construction science and management, College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities; Ramakrishna Podilla, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, College of Science; Hehe (Ha Ha) Wang, assistant professor of plant and environmental sciences, College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; and Brooke Whitworth, associate professor of teaching and learning, College of Education.
Senior faculty nominees were Thomas; C.C. Bates, associate professor of education and human development, College of Education; Feng Ding, associate professor of physics and astronomy, College of Science; Brian Powell, professor of environmental engineering and earth sciences, College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences; Robert Sinclair, professor of psychology, College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences; Sarah White, professor of plant and environmental sciences, College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; and Tom Zagenczyk, professor of management, College of Business.
Additional information on nominees is posted online.
“Congratulations to all of our nominees,” Karanfil said. “Being recognized by your peers as the top researcher in your college is an incredible honor.”
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