2016 University Faculty Awards

Nine Wichita State University faculty members will be honored during the 2016 Faculty Awards Friday, May 6 at 3 p.m. The honorees are recognized for setting the gold standard for teaching and research activities at WSU. 

2016 Honorees

Academy for Effective Teaching William Groutas
Excellence in Creative Activity Geoffrey Deibel
Excellence in Research Barbara Chaparro
Excellence in Teaching Huzefa Kagdi
Gayla Lohfink
Leadership in the Advancement of Teaching Award Visvakumar Aravinthan
Mike Ross
Young Faculty Scholar Animesh Chakravarthy
Greg Houseman

Academy for Effective Teaching

Established in 1996, these awards are given by WSU’s Academy for Effective Teaching, a group of outstanding emeriti faculty nominated for membership by current faculty and staff at WSU. Recipients of the AET Teaching Award are chosen through a multi-stage process. After collecting nominations from current students, the 8-person AET Steering Committee creates a short list of excellent teachers, each of whom is invited to submit a teaching portfolio. On the basis of the portfolios, the AET Steering Committee recommends winners to the vice president for Academic Affairs, who makes the final award. Awardees who are full-time faculty receive a $2,000 addition to their base salary beginning the following academic year; adjunct awardees receive a one-time $2,000 award.

William GroutasWilliam Groutas, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

William Groutas earned the Bachelor of Science with honors in chemistry and a diploma in education from the American University of Beirut in 1969 and a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Kentucky in 1973. He served a postdoctoral fellowship in bio-organic chemistry at Cornell University from 1973-75. He joined the WSU faculty in 1980, after spending five years at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

During his more than 35-year career at Wichita State University, William Groutas has consistently been an outstanding teacher and a prolific researcher in the field of organic medicinal chemistry.

Many of his students go on to careers in the pharmaceutical industry and academe, and the compounds he and his students research and develop in his third-floor organic and biochemistry lab in McKinley Hall contribute to helping find potential answers to treat devastating diseases that tend to scare the public.

His research into ways to combat viruses such as Zika, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Dengue and West Nile helps invigorate his teaching, Groutas said. He also finds it inspiring to work with the more than handful of graduate and undergraduate students in his lab, knowing that he may be helping develop up-and-coming researchers.

“I have to be excited about what I'm teaching,” he said.

And looking at comments offered by his students, it's evident that he is.

“I like how he explains how the material can be used in the lab and research or in our daily lives (through) medicine,” said one student in his fall 2015 Organic Chemistry class.

“He was enthusiastic about teaching, which made me more focused ant attentive,” said another.

“Phenomenal,” “passionate,” “incredible,” “super helpful.” Those are just a few more of the ways his students describe him.

Groutas, who also on occasion teaches biochemistry and general chemistry classes, is always on the lookout for students “who have that extra spark or energy,” he said. Those are the students he invites to join his research group, which always has a waiting list of students eager to learn how to develop compounds that can lead to medicinal break-throughs. Because of space and safety concerns, he has to limit the group to less than 10.

He likes the new perspectives and questions students bring to both his classes and the research group.

And while he finds it important to recruit those students who easily engage in class, he also looks for those students who show promise but tend to hang back because of a lack of confidence. He finds it particularly rewarding to help those students achieve success.

Groutas' accomplishments reflect his longstanding commitment to science education, the strengthening of the national infrastructure of science and his personal belief that research can be a premier teaching vehicle.

He has invited high school teachers and instructors from area two- and four-year colleges to be part of his research team, helping to create a ripple-effect of enthusiasm from his lab and classroom to the classrooms at those institutions.

During the course of his career, Groutas has regularly received grants from the National Institutes of Health and other funding agencies, and has garnered numerous awards, including WSU's Excellence in Teaching (1986) and Excellence in Research (1998) awards, a national Toyota Tapestry Award for Excellence in Science Education (2002 and 2003) and a 2013 Higuchi-University of Kansas Endowment Research Achievement Award in biomedical sciences.

Currently, a compound created by Groutas and his students is being used in a veterinary clinical trial to treat the generally fatal feline infectious peritonitis disease.

Excellence in Creative Activity

The Excellence in Creative Activity Award, established in 1999, is given to a faculty member who has established an exemplary record of creative activity that has brought recognition to the University. Creative activity can include work in musical compositions, visual arts, choreography, writing, and performance. Full-time faculty who have been at WSU for three years are eligible. The recipient is awarded $2,500.

Geoffrey DiebelGeoffrey Deibel, assistant professor of saxophone and jazz studies, School of Music, College of Fine Arts

Geoffrey Deibel received the Bachelor of Arts in history and the Bachelor of Music in saxophone performance in 2002 and the Master of Music in saxophone performance in 2004 from Northwestern University. He earned the Doctorate of Musical Arts in saxophone performance from Michigan State University in 2010. He joined the School of Music faculty in 2012.

On a recent morning, Geoffrey Deibel took a break from his first run at rehearsing a piece he'll perform in Cyprus — a gig that will mean he'll miss picking up his Excellence in Creative Teaching award at Wichita State— to talk about building up the university's saxophone studio program; touring, rehearsing and recording with a highly successful sax quartet over the past decade, and recently sharing a stage in New York City with 100 sheep.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Deibel, about being asked to be part of a large cast of musicians, dancers, singers and yes, sheep, who had been assembled to do a weeklong run of a grandiose staging of Louis Andriessen's eclectic opera production “De Materie.” It was performed in the block-long Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory and received a favorable review in the New York Times.

He also couldn't pass up the invitation to join the Athens Sax Quartet, one of the finest chamber music ensembles based in Greece, for its May concert in Cyprus.

Part of the reason invitations keep coming is because Deibel has built a reputation as a creative musician and clinician on the cutting edge of of chamber music and a top saxophonist of our generation, said Jonathan Nichol, assistant professor of saxophone at The University of Oklahoma. Nichol has known Deibel for more than 10 years and performs with him in the h2 Quartet, a critically acclaimed chamber ensemble created by Deibel, Nichol and two other saxophonists who had met as undergraduate students.

The quartet has served as a major vehicle for Deibel's creative activities, with extensive national and international tours and four published CDs. In 2007, the quartet won the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition, considered the nation's preeminent and most prestigious chamber music competition.

It was during one of h2's international tours in 2012 that Deibel interviewed for his position on the WSU faculty, retreating to the basement of a hotel in Belgrade to get internet service for the interview.

With a performance-heavy schedule, one might think Deibel doesn't have time left for much else, but remarkably he does. Most of his creative energy in the past three years, Deibel said, has been spent expanding and building a quality sax studio program at WSU.

His efforts are paying off. The program has tripled to 12 majors under his direction, and will increase to 18 by this fall. By touring and being a guest lecturer and clinician at other universities and high schools, Deibel helps build the program's reputation. He also conducts the WSU's Jazz Arts Ensemble, which according to Joseph Lulloff, a distinguished professor at Michigan State University, “swings hard.”

This summer, Deibel's will do final edits to h2's fifth CD and once again teach for two weeks at Cortona Sessions for New Music in Italy. The annual program has become a destination for emerging composers and performers to collaborate, learn, grow and create, according to the program's website. The h2 Quartet is a resident ensemble at the program, where it has presented 15 performances and premiered 22 new compositions for saxophone.

Excellence in Research

The Excellence in Research Award, established in 1997, recognizes a faculty member who has established an exemplary record of research that has advanced the University’s research mission. Full-time faculty who have been at WSU for three years are eligible. The recipient is awarded $2,500. 

Barbara ChapparoBarbara Chaparro, associate professor, Department of Psychology, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Barbara Chaparro earned the Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and business administration from the University of Richmond in Virginia in 1985 and a doctorate in experimental psychology/human factors and industrial engineering from Texas Tech University in 1990. She joined the WSU faculty in 1998 after spending several years in the tech industry. She will be promoted to full professor, effective July 1.

Texting on a smartphone, avoiding ads when looking online for information, making a video game purchase based on the packaging, using a mobile app, wearing a fitness tracker — behind those actions there's a particular science.

It's called human-computer interaction, and it falls within the scope of human factors in psychology. Barbara Chaparro has become one of the best researchers in that field. Through the Software Usability Research Lab she founded at Wichita State in 1998, she's helping produce other researchers interested in the same thing.

SURL has become an internationally recognized lab that provides user interface design, design evaluation and research services. It's also become an invaluable training ground of hands-on applied research for WSU's graduate students in psychology.

SURL operates much like a consulting firm but with a heavy research component. Its client list reads like a who's who among Fortune 100 companies — Coca-Cola, Dell, Microsoft, Textron, Motorola. Other businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations also use SURL's services.

Everything imaginable that revolves around experiences with technology — from font size and readability issues on a screen to out-of-the-box experiences involving the packaging of products — becomes fodder for research articles, master's theses and dissertations.

A year after founding the lab, Chaparro started editing and publishing a free newsletter called Usability News that publishes findings and articles by SURL. The newsletter now has more than 50,000 subscribers worldwide and is part of a website, usabilitynews.org, that highlights the research and services of SURL.

With experience gleaned from the lab, Chaparro's research students are getting jobs in perhaps the most competitive industry around today, with employers such as Google, Dell, Honeywell, Microsoft and elsewhere.

“Such opportunities are rare in (human factors) graduate programs and the opportunities Barb provides through SURL make the Wichita State HF program unique at a national level,”said WSU colleague Evan McHughes Palmer, who has worked with Chaparro since 2007.

Chaparro has parlayed the research she does into 33 articles in the top human factors and human-computer interaction journals and 53 peer-reviewed proceedings papers. The latter is significant because proceedings in human factor are often the home of important research that will influence designers and developers, according to those in the psychology field.

Google Scholar shows her publications have been cited more than 1,000 times, with two publications in particular being cited more than 100 times each.

In addition to overseeing a very productive research lab that has brought in more than $2 million in research grants and contracts since 2009, Chaparro is a highly active member of the psychology department.

For the past five years, Chaparro has been the graduate coordinator of the human factors program, helping ensure the program retains its professional accreditation through the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. In the past 13 years, she's supervised 18 dissertations, indicating her high level of graduate mentorship. She also teaches classes in research methods, human factors methods and software psychology.

Excellence in Teaching

The University of Wichita Board of Regents, now known as the WSU Board of Trustees, established a corpus of $50,000 in 1964 to provide grants to recognize superior teaching through the Excellence in Teaching Award. The recipient is awarded $2,000. 

Huzefa KagdiHuzefa Kagdi, assistant professor, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, College of Education

Huzefa Kagdi earned a bachelor's degree in computer engineering from Birla Vishwakarma Mahavidyalaya in India in 1998 and the Master of Science and a doctorate in computer science from Kent State University in 2003 and 2008, respectively. He joined the WSU College of Engineering in 2011 after stints at Missouri Science and Technology University and Winston-Salem State University.

When it comes to developing software, there's often not just one way to solve a problem.

That's why Huzefa Kagdi uses a teaching model that allows students several opportunities to arrive at solutions in his classes on computer and mobile programming.

“I practice the model of learning by doing,” he said.

For example, when Kagdi talks about adding a feature to a mobile app, he won't just lecture about writing the code, he does it real-time in the class with input from the students. Then he often asks them to work on providing a solution in a group, and finally he asks them to do so individually. Along the way, he hopes the process has given them many perspectives and options to come to a well-thought out solution.

It's become an effective model, according to the comments students make in course-evaluation surveys. Professor Prakash Ramanan, a WSU colleague who's observed Kagdi's classes, has high praise for the model, too.

“His students were thoroughly engaged,” said Ramanan in his award nomination support letter. “It was clear that he was successful in knowledge transfer. … Students were keen to ask questions ….”

“His classes are more like an open forum where we as students can discuss our ideas freely,” said graduate student Preeti Francis.

It also means each class can be unpredictable, which Kagdi likes.

“Every class brings something new,” he said. “I like the mystery of what will the students bring and what can I learn from them.”

Since joining the computer science faculty, Kagdi has helped update existing classes and introduced five new classes, including Advanced Software Engineering, Software Maintenance and Evolution, and Mobile Programming. For the latter class in particular, he helped create an innovative learning space called the Software Design Studio in Wallace Hall. The studio is designed for small group interaction with a workstation with a display screen and central projector for better collaboration.

Kagdi is also a co-founder of a Linux user group at WSU, called WuLUG, which is open to any Linux user, not just those on campus. Linux is a popular open source computer operating system and is at the core of the software that runs Android smartphones, among other things.

In addition to being an effective teacher in the ever-expanding software field, Kagdi is also a noted researcher. He has more than 40 peer-reviewed papers in international journals and conferences, has secured external funding, has formed successful collaborations with other research institutions, and has more than 1,500 citations, according to Google Scholar. His work does well because he emphasizes quality rather than quantity when it comes to his research, Kagdi said.

An award he received in 2013 is testament to his quality research. He received a Most Influential Paper award from the IEEE International Conference on Program Comprehension for the lasting, 10-year impact of a paper he co-authored in 2003 has had on the field. The paper  formed a large part of his master's thesis.

Gayla LohfinkGayla Lohfink, assistant professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education

Gayla Lohfink received the Bachelor of Science in education from Kansas State University (1976), the Master of Science in special education (1982) and the Education Specialist degree in reading education (1982) from Fort Hays State University, and the doctorate in curriculum and instruction from K-State (2006). She joined the WSU faculty in 2010, after teaching positions at her two alma maters.

Children's books line the shelves that stretch at least 6 feet up on one of the high walls of Gayla Lohfink's airy, natural light-filled office in Corbin Education Center. On low shelves along another wall, more than a handful of reusable blue totes are filled to capacity with more books, ready for Lohfink, an expert on early literacy preparation for teachers, to haul to classes.

Elsewhere in her office, one can find several learning tools that she's often hand-created for her classes in which she teaches Wichita State students how to teach young children to read.

“Every single class period, she transforms her blank-slate college room into a colorful elementary classroom including an entire library of children's books, wall hangings of colorful student work that we had done previously, a plethora of creative tools that would shame many art teachers, two active projectors to aid her perky pace, rearranged desks to aid cooperative learning and often she would be wearing a costume that reflected the topic of the day,” said 2014 graduate Adam Crispin, who called her his favorite teacher at WSU.

Sometimes she even encourages her students to wear a costume. When she teaches the concept of chopping sounds to help students learn to read, she brings ninja headbands for her college students, whom she always affectionately calls “my kids,” to wear.

“I try to model everything to show the students this is what you need to do in your classrooms,” Lohfink said.

She also tries to find ways to help problem solve, like providing bibliographies of bullying books that students can use to help combat bullying or of multicultural books that can be mirrors or windows for their young readers, she said. As mirrors, multicultural books can help children by providing reflections of themselves and offering validation. As windows, books can show readers what life is like for others.

She has partnered with Rick Pappas from human performance studies, to find literacy resources to share with students to help get children moving and engaged.

As chair of WSU's elementary program, she is integrally involved in obtaining accreditation for the program at the state and national levels through the Kansas Department of Education and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, respectively.

Lohfink is also “an active reason why our Professional Development Schools (PDS) model of teacher preparation has flourished with our partnership with Wichita Public Schools,” said Kathryn Busch, interim department head of the curriculum and instruction department. As a supervisor for one of the partner schools, Lohfink works with mentoring teachers at the school and observes about a dozen WSU students in the classroom, approving their lesson plans and giving them detailed feedback.

Earlier this year, the National Association of Teacher Educators recognized WSU's PDS model with a Distinguished Program in Teacher Education Award.

In addition to supervising students at a participating PDS, Lohfink is an academic adviser to more than 30 elementary education students.

Leadership in the Advancement of Teaching Award

Wichita State University’s Board of Trustees established the Leadership in the Advancement of Teaching Award in 1982 to recognize exemplary effort and leadership in improvement and learning at WSU. The recipient is awarded $1,000. 

Visvakumar AravinthanVisvakumar Aravinthan, assistant professor, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, College of Engineering

Visvakumar (Ara) Aravinthan earned the Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in electrical engineering from the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka in 2002 and 2005, respectively, and the Master of Science and doctorate in electrical engineering from Wichita State in 2006 and 2010, respectively. After a year on the Clemson University faculty, he joined the faculty of WSU in 2011.

As a graduate student at Wichita State, Visvakumar (Ara) Aravinthan showed promise of being an effective teacher, winning the College of Engineering's Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award in 2010.

Since returning to his alma mater in 2011, he's had a wide-reaching impact on the curriculum, research and outreach of the electrical engineering program. He came back to WSU because it is one of only 13 U.S. universities in the industry-university consortium, Power Systems Engineering Research Center, which is looking at the next generation of energy systems, he said.

He has been a leader in developing a multidisciplinary class on smart grids, creating new classes to enhance WSU's power program and mentored young faculty, along with working with elementary through high school students to pique young students' interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), according to his nomination letter from John Watkins, professor and department chair.

A few years ago, Aravinthan helped develop a multidisciplinary class taught by five faculty from WSU and another Kansas university on smart grids, which have the potential to create a better, more effective and economically efficient system. The class' format led to a popular article in the IEEE Power and Energy Magazine. To help students delve into the topic more fully, he has since developed and teaches a second undergraduate / graduate-level class on smart grids.

Through work on the department's undergraduate and graduate curriculum committees, he's helped create a sophomore-level course to help students develop programming skills and is mentoring the instructor who is teaching the class for the first time next fall, and he's brought new classes to the advanced degree programs.

To help broaden STEM interest in area youth, Aravinthan guest lectures and mentors staff with the Upward Bound Math Science Program, which helps low-income and first-generation high school students consider careers in math and science. As the father of an elementary-age son, he is comfortable working with gifted students at Wichita's Minneha Core Knowledge Magnet Elementary School.

When one visits with Aravinthan about his teaching and service, it's evident he has a genuine interest in helping others succeed. It's a characteristic based in part on his experiences as an international student dealing with cultural differences. He was so grateful when faculty, whom he had rarely interacted with at his Sri Lankan university, opened their doors, shared their knowledge and even formed friendships with him and his wife, also a fellow international student at the time at WSU. Now, he tries to pay it forward, by doing what he can to help others achieve success.

For example, he has created a course to introduce research to new graduate students in the department's advanced degree programs, stressing the process is just as important as the product. Between 2012 and 2014, he successfully organized panels for international graduate student orientations to help students bridge cultural differences.

He's even helped improve the curriculum of an emerging engineering program at the University of Jaffna in Sri Lanka, where he has spent some time working with faculty members and giving a guest lecture.

Mike RossMike Ross, instructor, Department of Sport Management, College of Education

Mike Ross earned the Bachelor of Arts degree and Master of Education degree in sport administration in 2002 and 2006, respectively, from Wichita State University. He joined the faculty of his alma mater in January 2010, after spending nine years in the media relations office of WSU Athletics.

With his experience working first as an assistant and then as an assistant director in the Wichita State Athletics media relations office, Mike Ross knows the importance media and technology play in marketing sports on any level.

Perhaps the best example of his ability to use an innovative, creative experience was when he successfully challenged his sport public relations classes to develop grassroots social media campaigns to lobby one of college sports' most coveted TV programs, ESPN College GameDay, to choose WSU as a site for a Saturday broadcast during basketball season. In 2014, ESPN changed its programming format to announce sites of its GameDay show the week before, paving the way for Ross to assign his class with the campaigns. The class was successful with its #BringGameDaytoWichita campaign in 2015, with the show being broadcast from Koch Arena Feb. 28.

“Having ESPN on campus generated an estimated $13 million in media exposure (for WSU) and provided students with a real world, applied learning experience,” wrote Mark Vermillion, chair and associate professor of WSU's sport management department, in Ross' award nomination letter.

The teaching example Ross set by seizing such a opportunity — capitalizing on a programming change and then engaging his students in the campaigns — is being researched and promoted by the international governing group, the North American Society for Sport Management, Vermillion continued.

After more than a decade in Division I athletics — he continues to work with WSU Athletics with game-day broadcasts and stats during events — Ross has helped bring changes in the graduate and undergraduate sport management curriculum to reflect the use of technology in the field.

As a result of the changes, he teaches two newly created courses, Technology in Sport Management and Sport Management Technology. The latter is being taught for the first time this year. It includes sections on not only the practical use of technology platforms for ticketing, branding and more, but also the ethical use of social media, which has become a hot topic among college sports marketers trying to incorporate student-athletes into social media campaigns while being careful about invasion of privacy issues.

According to graduate student Blake Molina, who works in the WSU Athletics media relations office, Ross uses technology, and in particular social media, very well.

“He uses social media to promote events, internships in the industry and job opportunities for both students and alumni. His expertise of social media and its trends also have permeated into his curriculum, an important key as virtually all professional fields will require its usage.”

Molina, and other students, also said that Ross' work experience means he can share — “and not sugarcoat,” as Molina said — the challenges and crises that can come with a job in sports management and marketing, like losing seasons, clashes among athletes and/or coaching staff and the fatiguing hours that can lead to burnout.

“I try to give students insights that I've picked up along the way by being in the industry and prepare them for what's out there,” Ross said.

Young Faculty Scholar

Wichita State University’s Board of Trustees established the Young Faculty Scholar Award in 1988 to recognize faculty members who are between their third and eighth year of service and have records of excellence in teaching performance and substantial achievement in research and/or creative activity. The recipient receives a $2,000 award. 

Animesh ChakravarthyAnimesh Chakravarthy, assistant professor, Departments of Aerospace Engineering and of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, College of Engineering

Animesh Chakravarthy earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Bangalore University, a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, and a Ph.D. in controls and estimation from the aeronautics/astronautics department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2007. He joined the WSU faculty in 2011. In 2015, he was the recipient of WSU's Excellence in Research and Excellence in Teaching awards.

One could say Animesh Chakravarthy's research is pretty edgy.

In the past year, he's been on the receiving end of two collaborative, three-year grants worth $750,000 each from NASA and both look at that fine line between intended and unintended consequences, that edge before something disastrous could happen. Chakravarthy specializes in controls engineering, as well as aerospace engineering.

In one of the grants — for which Wichita State is the lead collaborating university and joined by Missouri Science and Technology University and the University of Kansas — Chakravarthy is continuing research on the conceptual idea of morphing aircraft, which would involve wings changing shape while in flight, like birds do.

The team of researchers is studying control designs and aspects of sensing the wings' shapes as it undergoes changes.

“In order to allow it to deform, we make the wings quite elastic, but the price we pay is that sometimes they might deform in a way we don't want them to,” Chakravarthy explains.

In the second grant, also a collaborative effort with MSTU, he and the researchers are looking at sensing issues to deal with an impending or potential loss of control of an aircraft.

The two impressive grants are just the latest in the strong research track Chakravarthy is building at WSU. After receiving a prestigious $400,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2014, he received a $50,000 supplement to involve collaborating researchers from European universities. He is also a part of a multi-investigator team of WSU faculty that secured another NSF grant worth more than half a million dollars to perform research on swarming cyber-physical systems such as robotic fish. 

With the NSF CAREER grant, Chakravarthy is building upon collision avoidance research that he started with his master's thesis. As more moving, inorganic things share our space — such as space debris, swarms of drones including unmanned aerial and micro air vehicles the size of insects, humanoid robotics and even self-driven cars — it's important to study how those things can avoid colliding with one another and with humans.

Chakravarthy’s research has also been funded by the U.S. Air Force and the FAA.

His publication record continues to grow as well. He has been the lead author in most of the 11 peer-reviewed articles that have been published about his research in some of the most significant journals in his field. He also has 25 peer-reviewed conference papers. His citation record has increased, too, within the past year: His papers have more than 430 citations in Google Scholar and 275 citations in Scopus.

While Chakravarthy loves research, it was the opportunity to do both teaching and research that prompted him to come to WSU, after spending three years as a research scientist at the University of Florida Research and Engineering Education Facility. In most student satisfaction surveys, Chakravarthy receives scores of very good or high.

This summer he hopes to inspire high school students to pursue engineering and in particular aerospace engineering by helping teach about flying robotics in the College of Engineering's summer camp.

Gregory HousemanGregory Houseman, associate professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Gregory Houseman earned the Bachelor of Arts degree and secondary teaching certificate in biology from Cornerstone University in Michigan in 1992, the Master of Science degree in biology from Illinois State University in 1998, and the doctorate degree in ecology, evolution and behavioral biology from Michigan State University in 2004. He joined the Wichita State faculty in 2008, after working as a research associate at the Kellogg Biological Station at MSU and as a United States Department of Agriculture postdoctoral fellow at The University of Kansas.

Gregory Houseman's research into plant community ecology and invasive species biology is yielding a stream of grants and publications, say colleagues.

The root of Houseman's research is plant populations, but it also branches out into ecology and much more as he studies the diversity of plants, the conditions they live in and how to restore the integrity of plant communities after years of use and/or abuse by humans and animals.

This past year, the research record he's been building reached what biological sciences department chair William Hendry calls “a truly impressive crescendo,” when Houseman was awarded more than $1 million in funding through grants from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His pre-proposal for a nearly $1.2 million grant from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to study grazing on Conservation Reserve Program land is also currently undergoing a full review.

With the largest of the two 2015 grants — a $629,000 grant from NSF — Houseman is studying patch dynamics. Five years ago, using a section of land at WSU's Ninnescah Field Research Station, he started a pilot experiment to see if changing the spatial distribution variation of soils makes a difference in plant diversity. That experiment is testing some long-held theories about patch dynamics. The NSF grant will continue that work, which down the line could help provide insight into prairie restoration, Houseman said.

With the USDA grant, Houseman and his team of researchers are studying the non-native, noxious weed, sericea. The plant, which he's been investigating for nearly a decade, has become a thorn in the side of ranchers and nature centers because of its invasive nature. In the late 1880s the plant was sown in areas that were highly eroded, with the thinking that it would provide good forage for animals. It turns out cattle avoid it, and it's a strong competitor for native prairie grasses.

In 2014 and 2015, Houseman's lab, which includes researchers from other universities and sometimes a handful of WSU students, produced 10 publications in internationally respected, peer-reviewed scientific journals, WSU colleague F. Leland Russell noted in his nomination letter of Houseman. “His success as a mentor is exemplified by the fact that four (Master of Science) theses from his lab have yielded articles in peer-reviewed journals or are currently in review.”

“Greg is one of the strongest young plant ecologists/community ecologists around and I fully expect his star to keep rising,” wrote Bryan Foster, a biology professor at the University of Kansas.

Along with his research and teaching duties, Houseman also helps manage WSU's three field station properties: The Ninnescah and Sellers Reserve are located in southwestern Sedgwick County, while the Gerber property is in Kingman County. Houseman has also become the point person for a fourth property, the 4,700-acre Youngmeyer Ranch site in the Flint Hills. He's coordinated a plant survey of the property, identifying 470 plant species; a survey of amphibian and reptiles is in the works.

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