2013 Excellence Award Recipients

Bertha E. Brimmer Medal
Simeen Tabatabai
Citizen of the University
Kamiar and Arash Alaei
Distinguished Alumni Award
Thomas Thundat Ph.D.'87
Excellence in Alumni Service Award
Wendy Hale B.S. '05
Roberta Vogt B.S.'86, M.S.'88
Excellence in Arts and Letters Award
Ann Mataraso M.F.A.'02
Excellence in Business Award
Joan Rosenbaum Solotar B.S. '86
Bill Wise B.S. ’94
Excellence in Community Service Award
Robert Lazar M.S. ’77
Excellence in Education Award
Peter Shea M.S. ’93, Ph.D. ’98
Karen Erickson M.S. ’88
Excellence in Entrepreneurship
Louis DeSorbo B.S. '76, M.S.'80
Excellence in Science & Technology
Gregg Rothermel M.S. ’86
Outstanding Young Alumni Award
Christina Hansen M.P.H. ’09


Bertha E. Brimmr Medal

Simeen Tabatabai B.A. '99, M.S. '03 (return to list)

Whether she’s sharing a piece of her own writing as a model or playing a piece of music to pique her students’ interest in an upcoming text, Simeen Tabatabai consistently finds a way to engage her students in the process of reading – and learning. Simeen is a fifth grade reading teacher in the North Colonie School District where she brings a wealth of experience to her quest to help her students reach their full potential.

Simeen first started teaching in Nigeria and then was a private ESL (English as a Second Language) tutor in the Middle East from 1982 to 1991. She taught ESL in a girl’s private school before moving to the United States, where she has taught for the past decade. “Simeen inspires and supports her students to engage thoughtfully and deeply as readers, writers, thinkers and citizens,” said Peter Johnston, chair of the University at Albany’s Reading Department. Her literacy instruction includes a range of pedagogical practices including multi-disciplinary units, guided reading lessons, technology integration, book clubs and independent reading. 

Colleagues praise Simeen’s ability to see her students as individuals and to adjust her instruction accordingly. “Simeen is indefatigable in her efforts to reach students and make classroom instruction relevant,” said Kathleen Skeals, assistant superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for North Colonie Central Schools. “She understands the need to have students engaged and active in their learning. She consistently finds ways not only to validate students’ efforts, but also to invite them to become a part of the classroom community.”

Her efforts are clearly reflected in her students’ accomplishments. Last year, Simeen was one of only seven percent of New York teachers to receive a Highly Effective rating from the state, reflecting that her students’ growth was “well above the state average for similar students.”

Simeen’s dedication to education extends well beyond the classroom. She is involved extensively in teacher leadership and research in her school, her district and the broader educational research community. She is a member of numerous school and district committees and is a leading member of the North Colonie District Globalization Task Force, helping to facilitate its study group which explores and studies global and cultural issues that impact the school community. At SUNY Albany, she is a member of a research project funded by the Longview Foundation for Education in World Affairs and International Understanding where she and other members explore how to incorporate global perspectives into the local curriculum and to create opportunities for young people to take action as global citizens.

Simeen brings her wealth of teaching experience to her position as a teaching assistant in UAlbany’s Reading Department, where she coaches graduate students in the masters in literacy program. Her focus, as always, is on the student as an individual -- helping the educators of tomorrow extend their understanding of what it means to be an effective literacy teacher and, ultimately, to impact their students’ lives through their truly motivating and deeply transformative teaching.  It’s a role well suited to this dedicated, outstanding educator.

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Citizens of the University

Arash Alaei, M.D. and Kamiar Alaei, M.S., M.P.H., M.D. (return to list)

In 2012, Drs. Arash and Kamiar Alaei founded the Institute for Health and Human Rights at the University at Albany. Its goal: to advocate for the promotion and protection of health and human rights for all. The newly established Institute for Health and Human Rights attempts to make a bridge between public health on the one hand and human rights on the other, promoting a democratic approach toward the right to health around the world. The brothers have developed inter-institutional partnerships with major academic and human rights organizations, giving the institute an exceptional ability to influence international health and human rights policy, to conduct cutting edge research, to facilitate internships and field work for younger generations, and to develop and implement projects throughout the world, all while educating the human rights advocates of tomorrow.

Kamiar came to UAlbany’s School of Public Health in 2007 as a doctoral student. At the end of his first year, Kamiar returned to Iran to visit his family, including his brother Arash, who worked in HIV/AIDS and addiction treatment in Iran. The brothers had already become internationally known for their work in serving AIDS patients. They had established training courses on HIV/AIDS and harm reduction of drugs for health experts throughout the Middle East and Central Asian countries. They also founded clinics for the treatment and education of patients. Their innovative model triangulating the prevention and care of HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections and drug-related harm was celebrated worldwide as a World Health Organization best practice.

In 2008, however, the Iranian government changed their policies in relation to academic and public health programs. As the antagonism increased, the brothers were eventually arrested, accused of seeking to overthrow the government and imprisoned. Kamiar spent two-and-a-half years in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison; Arash more than three. They began serving as doctors for fellow inmates and started exercise and smoking cessation programs. When officials moved them to the kitchen to curb their efforts, they started nutrition programs, making the food healthier and encouraging more balanced diets. “Drs. Arash Alaei and Kamiar Alaei are truly heroic individuals,” said Susannah Sirkin, director for International Policy and Partnerships for Physicians for Human Rights. “They remained steadfast to the most profound calling of the healing profession behind the prison walls in Iran that were intended to break them. Instead of giving way to despair, they transformed a place of oppression into an environment of hope and health.”

The brothers’ imprisonment provoked outcries for their release from around the world. Kamiar was ultimately released in Fall 2010 and returned to UAlbany. Arash remained in Evin until August 2011. “Drs. Kamiar and Arash Alaei are true humanitarians who have enriched the lives of many around the globe,” said George Philip ’69, ’73, former UAlbany president. “Their passion for helping others fueled their drive to overcome life threatening obstacles and adversities. I considered it my duty to advocate for their release from prison so they could continue their philanthropic work. I was delighted that they decided to make University at Albany their home and help to put the ‘World Within Reach’ for all.”

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Distinquished Alumni Award

Thomas Thundat Ph.D. '87 (return to list)

Dr. Thomas Thundat is a world leader in the study of molecules and nanoscale structures at interfaces. He is a pioneer in the area of nanomechanical sensors for chemical and biological detection.

Thundat is currently a professor and Canada Excellence Research Chair in Oil Sands Molecular Engineering at the University of Alberta and a Fellow at the National Institute of Nanotechnology. Previously, he was a University of Tennessee-Batelle/Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Corporate Fellow and led the Nanoscale Science and Devices Group at ORNL. He holds professorships at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, the University of Burgundy in France and an honorary professorship at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras.

Thundat’s pioneering research is focused on novel physical, chemical and biological detection using micro- and nano-mechanical sensors, which have applications in areas ranging from defense and security to healthcare diagnostics. His expertise lies in the areas of interfaces, biophysics, scanning probes, nanoscale phenomena and quantum confined atoms. In addition to sensor applications, his work also focuses on investigating the nanomechanics of molecule-substrate interactions, solid-liquid interfaces, and surface state interactions on a micromechanical platform.  He has pioneered new techniques for molecular detection on surfaces, even in trace quantities, and has developed new sensors which have tremendous potential applications for oil sands processing.

“Dr. Thundat is a technology visionary with a unique combination of creativity, scientific competence, technical leadership and educational excellence,” said Narayan Sahoo, professor at the University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center. “He has made many seminal contributions to science and technology in the area of nanomechanical sensors, scanning probe microscopy and material characterization.”

In 2008, Thundat was selected for the prestigious position of Canada Excellence Research Chair in Oil Sands Molecular Engineering at the University of Alberta. In this position, he is developing techniques to enable new technology to reduce water use, remediate tailings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to bitumen extraction from the oil sands. “These inventions are finding applications in chemical and biological sensing, food security, environmental monitoring as well as in commercial products such as water filters, biomedical devices and many more,” said Sushanta Mitra, professor at the University of Alberta. “His research is making Canada, and especially Alberta, a world leader in energy and environmental research.”

Thundat’s sustained research and innovations have resulted in 40 U.S. patents, several international patents and more than 315 publication credits in leading international journals and textbooks. Internationally recognized for his work, Thundat has received numerous awards, including the Young Scientist Award from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Pioneer Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Discover Magazine Award, Jesse Beams Medal, the Batelle Distinguished Inventor Award, and the Scientific American 50 Award. He was also twice named the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Inventor of the Year. He is an elected Fellow of the American Physical Society, the Electrochemical Society, the American Association for Advancement of Science and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

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Excellence in Alumni Service Award

Wendy Hale

Wendy S. Hale B.S '05   (return to list)

Wendy Hale is a pied piper of sorts, leading talented and committed University at Albany students behind her on the path to Ernst & Young (EY). It’s not music she entices them with, however. It’s her enthusiasm, her genuine interest and unwavering support that make so many young professionals choose to start their careers at EY.

Hale is a manager in EY’s Advisory Services practice in New York City. She has more than seven years of varied information technology audit experience in the telecommunications and health care industries. She also serves as the firm’s team leader to UAlbany. In this role, she leads a group of client-serving professionals who work with faculty, students and administrators to enhance the student experience and to recruit graduating students.

Since starting with EY in 2005, Hale has been committed to strengthening the ties between the company and her alma mater. She founded EY’s UAlbany mentor program, helping interns and staff hires transition smoothly to professional life by pairing them with alumni for their first year of employment. Hale also manages the company’s matching gift fundraising efforts, working with professionals at all levels in the firm to encourage their support of UAlbany. Her efforts have resulted in more than $100,000 in donations each year and sponsorship of some key courses and programs in the School of Business.

Looking beyond the accounting field, Hale saw an opportunity for non-accounting majors at EY. She helped establish an internship program for students in UAlbany’s Information Technology Management and Computer Science programs, opening up more placement opportunities for UAlbany graduates. “Since she graduated, Hale has always been ready to pitch in with her time, talent and treasure to enhance the academic experience,” said School of Business Dean Donald Siegel. “Her support has helped prepare our students to enter the competitive workforce and has greatly increased the number of students receiving internships and jobs at EY and other Big Four firms.”

Throughout her time at EY, Hale has been an advocate for the need for more diversity in accountancy. She has been a supporter of and guest speaker at the School of Business’ Career Opportunities in the Accounting Profession (COAP) program, which brings minority high school students to campus for three days in the summer to expose them to the world of accounting and business. Hale also was instrumental in securing funding from EY to help pay for accounting tutors to assist minority students in the UAlbany’s accounting program.

Anna Politano first met Hale when Politano was a sophomore at UAlbany. Politano attended an EY event on campus at which Hale was speaking. “Her enthusiasm for accounting and for UAlbany was evident the moment you met her,” Politano said. “We stayed in touch, and it was due to people like her that I ended up choosing to start my career at EY.” Politano is now an accountant with EY and co-leader of EY’s UAlbany mentor program. “Hale’s efforts have had a lasting impact on so many people. To the many graduates of UAlbany at EY, Hale is an example of how we should all be active as alumni and give back to the school that has given us all so much.”

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Bobbi Vogt

Roberta "Bobbi" Vogt, B.S. '86, M.S. '88   (return to list)

As a woman working in science and technology, Bobbi Vogt has always been in the minority. It’s a position that has brought its own set of challenges, and one that she’s looking to change for future generations through a unique set of partnerships with her alma mater.

A team manager in KeyBank’s technology area, Vogt has partnered with the University since 2008 on a number of projects to promote technology education, support women in technology and assist UAlbany with preparing students for positions after graduation. In 2008, Vogt worked with the College of Computing and Information (CCI) to secure sponsorship from KeyBank and to co-plan the first local Junior FIRST Lego League, a worldwide program that uses LEGO building activities to interest students ages six-nine in science and technology.

Vogt also has focused directly on UAlbany students studying computer science and business. Over the past five years, she has facilitated two-day software development workshops, using KeyBank volunteers to teach more than 550 students the practical tools of their trade, as well as teamwork and communication skills. “Vogt’s involvement has enabled UAlbany instructors to give their students career-ready skills,” noted Peter Bloniarz, CCI dean. “Our students enter the workforce better prepared because of Bobbi’s commitment to their education.”

Vogt also has been a regular contributor to the University’s career development programs, providing resume support and interview practice. She has served as a guest speaker in classes and at special events. She has consulted with computer science faculty and is sought by students for one-on-one education and career guidance.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Vogt is devoting herself to changing the climate for women in school and in the workplace who are involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. She is currently planning a leadership retreat, which she plans to host at her home, with CCI’s Women in Technology program for Fall 2013. She also has helped secure sponsorship for the second New York Celebration of Women in computing, a regional event supporting female students and faculty. Vogt has outlined and advocated an internship program and recommended UAlbany engagement for a pilot. She currently is working with Jennifer Goodall, director of the Women in Technology program, to design a shadowing program for female undergraduates. “With Bobbi, it’s always ‘How can I help?,’ ” Goodall said. “She feels passionately about engaging more women in technology at UAlbany. Her dedication as an alumna is astounding.”

Vogt’s work has made an exceptional difference in the lives of UAlbany students and laid a foundation that will continue to benefit future students. “Vogt is an enthusiastic catalyst for change,” Bloniarz said. “We feel her unbridled positive thinking and enthusiasm for giving students the best. We benefit from her commitment and passion for leveling the playing field. And we draw inspiration from her energy and insights into what our students need as they enter the workplace.”

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Excellence in Arts and Letters Award

Ann Mataraso

Ann Mataraso M.F.A. '02 (return to list)

As with many artists, Ann Mataraso’s career was not a straightforward path. Turns and twists, stops and starts, have marked an artistic career that has spanned more than half a century.

Mataraso earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1954 followed by a master’s in elementary education that would allow her to put her future husband through Albany Law School. The couple had five children, and Mataraso eventually became a stay-at-home mom. After daily routines were met, Mataraso dedicated every free moment to creative design in the needle arts. Art books were at her side as she pursued her interest in weaving fabrics.

It wasn’t until more than three decades later, however, that her love of art took a more formal turn. After recovering from breast cancer in the 1990s, Mataraso began to pursue her passion for art by taking private painting lessons and classes at the Art Center of the Capital Region. Soon she began to take painting and drawing classes at the University at Albany, although she was not working toward a degree program. After three years of study, she was encouraged by her professor and internationally recognized painter Mark Greenwold to apply for admission to the master of fine arts program. “The 60-credit MFA is a challenging program,” said UAlbany Art Museum Director Janet Riker. “It includes course work in studio art, art history and criticism, a written thesis, as well as a culminating thesis exhibition and oral defense. While being a non-traditional student is challenging for many, Ann thrived in the environment and was awarded the MFA in 2002 at age 70.”

In addition to painting and drawing, Mataraso’s work in fiber arts has included carding and dying wool, hooking rugs, lacemaking, weaving and beading. “All are part of her diverse and eclectic artistic practice, which blurs the distinctions between crafts and fine arts,” Riker said. “Whatever the medium, Ann’s work demonstrates a deep love of abstraction and a keen eye for form, color and pattern.”

Fellow artists note Mataraso’s commitment to experimentation of media and approaches. “She has worked in both three and two dimensions, and cross-over media from craft to fine arts,” noted UAlbany Professor JoAnn Carson and Associate Professor David Carbone.  “Her work, however, is marked by the consistency of her vision: always buoyant, exuberant and a celebration of the cornucopia that artistic choice offers.”

Mataraso’s life has been characterized not just by doing, but by teaching as well. She is a founder of the Hudson-Mohawk Weaving Guild and taught at the Arts Center of the Capital Region. She also has taught two-dimensional design at UAlbany. “Her dedication to her artistic practice in all its diverse forms, and the meaning it gives to her life, was an inspiration to students working to find their own artistic voice,” Riker said. “There are some artists who work from a commitment that it is central to their lives and their being. No matter what obstacles life puts in their paths, they will find an outlet for creative expression. Ann is one of those artists.”

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Excellence in Business Award

Joan Solotar

Joan Rosenbaum Solotar B.S.'86 (return to list)

Joan Solotar’s success doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows her. Her keen intellect, tenacity and ability to build relationships have helped her deliver outstanding results for more than 25 years in the financial industry.

Solotar is senior managing director and head of External Relations & Strategy for Blackstone, the largest alternative asset management firm in the world. She is responsible for managing Blackstone’s relationship with its public investors, industry analysts and the general investment community. She guides Blackstone in analyzing strategic development opportunities and leads several firm initiatives, including co-founding the firm’s women’s network. Solotar also sits on the firm’s Executive and Management Committee, the only woman to do so.

Solotar joined Blackstone in 2007 when the firm went public. Over the last five years, the company has seen enormous growth in terms of profitability and assets under management. “Although Joan has only been at the firm for five years,” notes Michael Nash ’83, senior managing director of Blackstone, “she has made a huge contribution to the firm’s recent success. She sits on several of the firm’s investment committees and is a driving force for analyzing strategic direction of the firm.” 

“Joan has gained the respect and admiration of all of her partners and colleagues,” said Steve Zelin ’84, a senior managing director in Blackstone’s Restructuring & Reorganization Group. “Her dedication to the success of the firm is evidenced not only by the work she does as a member of the Executive Committee, but for her thought leadership in promoting a culture of success.” Solotar spearheads many of the cultural initiatives of the firm and is chair of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, which is committed to improving the community through Blackstone’s intellectual capital and financial resources.

Before joining Blackstone, she was with Banc of America Securities where, as a managing director and head of Equity Research, she contributed significantly to the growth of the company’s equity research team and the quality of the research product. She started her career in equity research at The First Boston Corporation and was part of the financial services team at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, and later with Credit Suisse First Boston as a managing director.

Solotar spent more than a decade covering financial services stocks as an equity analyst and was ranked for eight years on the Institutional Investor All-America Research Team and consistently ranked highly in the Greenwich Survey of portfolio managers.

Outside of work, Solotar is married to a UAlbany graduate, Gavin Solotar, B.S. ’86, and they have two children, Lindsay and Max. Solotar has a particular interest in improving education opportunities in underserved neighborhoods. She serves as chairman of the board of trustees of both the East Harlem Tutorial Program and the East Harlem Scholars Academy, organizations that prepare students with the academic and development skills they will need to reach their potential and, ultimately, to serve as models for their communities – something Joan Solotar knows a lot about.

Bill Wise

Bill Wise B.S. '94   
(return to list)

Bill Wise’s latest venture, the launch of Mediaocean, required vision, tenacity, leadership – and a thick skin. Fortunately, those are qualities the ad tech entrepreneur has in abundance.

Wise has been a major player in the ad tech ecosystem for many years at some of the industry’s most groundbreaking companies. He started his career as a CPA with Arthur Andersen, but quickly made a leap into advertising as the director of investor relations at DoubleClick in 1997. After rising to general manager of DoubleClick, Wise became CEO/COO of MaxOnline, an ad network acquired by Ask.com. Wise then served as CEO of Did-it.com, a search marketing firm for two years before becoming president of media for Right Media. Yahoo acquired Right Media in July 2007 for $680 million.

Following the Right Media acquisition, Wise signed on with Yahoo as its senior vice president/general manager for ad platforms and global exchange. In 2010, he became CEO of MediaBank, which quickly became a rival for Donovan Data Systems (DDS), one of the most widely used advertising technologies in North America and Europe. Under Wise’s leadership, MediaBank was able to quickly take serious market share in the industry.

“Imagine my surprise when he reached out to me to talk about a proposed merger,” said Michael Donovan, DDS founder. Donovan’s response was a flat out “no” followed by more of the same for future requests. Wise refused to take no for an answer, however, and his persistence eventually paid off.  Donovan said he not only began to admire Wise’s tenacity, but his passion for the complex and constantly shifting world of ad technologies. “It’s Bill’s rare combination of zest and intelligence that drives his passion,” Donovan said.

In the end, it was Wise’s vision for the future that brought the two companies to the table and eventually ended in a merger, forming Mediaocean in 2012. Wise saw an opportunity to meld the companies’ strengths, creating a single, neutral and universal operating system for advertising technology. “It’s hard to convey how much of a change of direction that was,” said Trish German ’83, DDS’s financial applications business director at that time. “This wasn’t Nixon going to China; it was Nixon proposing that China and the U.S. become one country.” In the end, Wise’s business acumen, leadership and charisma won out, and Mediaocean was born. The merger has been called a “billion dollar threat to Google.”

Colleagues say that despite his string of successes, Wise remains well grounded. “Bill operates, both as a colleague and a leader, with one of the most wonderful combinations of egolessness, confidence and charm that I’ve ever seen,” Donovan said. “He’s never afraid to speak his mind, on the one hand; and he’s entirely open to ideas from everyone he meets, on the other.” It’s that combination of willpower, genius and charm that has brought Wise such success, and in the case of the merger of Media Bank and DDS, to create a partnership that is, by far, more than the sum of its parts.

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Excellence in Community Service Award

Robert Lazar

Robert Lazar M.S.'77   (return to list)

If there is a central theme to Bob Lazar’s life, it might be, “get a little, give a little.” Or, more appropriately, “get a little, give a lot.” Lazar has spent much of his professional life giving back to his community, sharing his good fortune, and helping others obtain their dreams.

While working full time, Lazar spent evenings taking college courses. All told, he spent 14 years at night school, often holding down multiple jobs. It was only through the financial support of his employers – Albany Savings Bank, New York Business Development Corporation and TBC Accounting – that Lazar was able to obtain his bachelor’s, master’s and CPA credentials, a fact that galvanized him to give back to the community that had given him so much. A cancer scare in 2004 reinforced his commitment and desire to serve others.

After earning his master’s from the University at Albany, Lazar served on the board of the UAlbany Foundation and the School of Business’ Advisory Board and M.B.A. Advisory Board. He served as an executive-in-residence and facilitated donations for a new accounting classroom and an M.B.A. office suite. He is a mentor and donor to the school’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a member of the investors panel and serves as a judge for the school’s annual business plan competition. He also has been a strong supporter of the new School of Business building, facilitating the first major corporate gift. “Bob is a loyal alumnus and one of my trusted advisors,” said Donald Siegel, dean of the School of Business. “He has also been a staunch supporter of our efforts to promote entrepreneurship in research, teaching and community service.” 

Lazar’s service extends well beyond the borders of UAlbany.  He has served on the boards of Mt. St. Mary College, Sage Colleges and Academy of Holy Names. His extensive background in business, economic development and entrepreneurship serves him well as emeritus director of the New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC), which he led for two decades. He is chairman of the NYBDC Charitable Foundation, director of St. Peter’s Hospital Foundation and vice president of Living Resources Foundation. He is a member of the Audit and Finance Committees of Teresian House and the Audit and Loan Committee and board of directors at Sterling Bancorp. Lazar volunteers at Catholic Charities and LaSalle School. He is a former treasurer of the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce and past board member of the Center for Economic Growth and the NYC Small Business Development Centers. A former marine, he has helped raised thousands of dollars for local families of reservists sent to Iraq and marines returning home.

“Bob has a remarkable ability to build networks, to touch people personally, to inspire giving and to lead,” said Peter Semenza, vice president for Philanthropy at St. Peter’s Health Partners. “He believes deeply in the power of volunteerism, philanthropy and higher education, and has dedicated his life to bringing these forces together to better our community.”

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Excellence in Education Award

Peter Shea

Peter Shea M.S. '93, Ph.D.'98   (return to list)

Dr. Peter Shea is part of a revolution. Not a political revolution, but a revolution that is transforming higher education – online learning.

Shea is an associate professor at the University at Albany with joint appointments in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice and the Department of Informatics.  His research focuses on the development of communities of learners in higher education online environments. “The new universe of online learning will transform higher education into a more accessible, more instantaneous, more interactive, more dynamic and more distributed enterprise,” said Robert Bangert-Drowns, dean of UAlbany’s School of Education.  Leading the charge, says Bangert-Drowns, is Peter Shea.

Shea’s influence on online learning has been both theoretical and practical. He has been a long-standing champion of the importance of human presence, the felt experience of real people, in online learning. His research has investigated factors that help online students feel connected to their peers and instructors. He was one of the authors of the Community Inquiry survey, used worldwide, which makes it possible to compare online courses across programs and institutions.

Prior to joining UAlbany, Shea was director of the SUNY Learning Network (SLN), one of the largest online higher education systems in the United States with annual student enrollments of more than 100,000. At that time, online learning was in its infancy and SLN was an important model to others just beginning to try online classes. He also served as manager of the SUNY Teaching, Learning and Technology Program and as project director of SUNY’s participation in the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, an international collaboration for peer review of discipline-specific online learning resources.

Shea has worked tirelessly to entice education leaders and practitioners to think critically about the ways in which online learning is implemented. He has conducted innumerable workshops and consultancies to assist practitioners and has had a central role in organizing numerous regional and international conferences on online learning, such as the Sloan Consortium International Learning Conference. Currently, Shea is developing a program to teach K-12 teachers to teach Chinese in online and blended environments. “Shea’s work has not only shaped the programs of transformation in post-secondary teaching, but will also influence the progress of change in K-12 education as aspects of online and blended learning become more common,” Bangert-Drowns noted.

Shea’s research has attracted more than $2 million in external funding from organizations such as the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. He has more than 100 publications on the topic of online learning that have generated over a thousand references in the literature.  He is the recipient or co-recipient of four national awards including the EDUCAUSE Award for Systemic Improvement in Teaching and Learning.

Technology continues to develop at breakneck speed, broadening opportunities for education from the college level to the kindergarten classroom. Peter Shea remains at the forefront of this revolution, transforming the way in which in the world learns and teaches.

Karen Erickson

Karen Erickson M.S. '88   (return to list)

All individuals, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, have the right to an opportunity to learn to read and write in order to enhance their educational opportunities, vocational success and independence. This is the basic principal of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the guiding belief of its director, Dr. Karen Erickson.

Erickson, who also is the David E. & Dolores J. Yoder Distinguished Professor of Literacy and Disabilities in the Department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, began her career as a special education teacher. She witnessed daily the struggles of young readers with disabilities, launching what has become a lifelong quest to understand the best ways to assess and teach reading and writing to children with severe disabilities.

“Karen’s pioneering work over two decades has changed the way educators, scholars and families view and practice literacy in persons with complex communication needs, Rett syndrome, visual impairments, dual sensory impairments, Down Syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, multiple disabilities, and others,” said David Koppenhaver, a professor at Appalachian State University.

Erickson is nationally and internationally recognized for her expertise in assistive technologies and has a proven track record developing new technologies, testing their impact and bringing them to market. These include SOLO ™ Writing Coach and Extending MEville to WEville with the Start-to-Finish Literacy Starters, both developed in conjunction with Don Johnston Inc. Recently, Erickson served as the principal investigator on Big Words, a Steppingstones of Technology Innovations grant that resulted in Web-based learning software for adolescents and young adults with disabilities. It will be transferred soon to the commercial market. Erickson directs multiple grant-funded research projects, including the literacy and math efforts of a multi-year and multi-institutional project to create and implement an alternative assessment for the Common Core State Standards for students with significant intellectual disabilities. She has received more than $6.5 million in external funding to support her research agenda.

Erickson has published two books on literacy instruction for children with severe disabilities, six book chapters in highly influential collections or handbooks and numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals. She has presented more than 100 invited and/or peer-reviewed papers at national and international conferences and is in great demand as a consultant, researcher and program developer. Her sustained history of accomplishments has been recognized with numerous awards including the National Down Syndrome Congress Educator Award and the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication Distinguished Literacy Lectureship Award.

Colleagues describe Erickson as “brilliant,” “innovative,” and “remarkable.”  She has “some of the best clinical and teaching smarts I’ve ever witnessed,” added David Yoder, director emeritus and senior associate, Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Whether providing a clinical service, directing a doctoral dissertation, writing a grant or teaching a seminar, “she thinks and operates ‘outside the box’ and keeps those of us working with her scrambling. As a colleague stated, ‘Karen is a sequoia on a putting green.’ ” 

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Excellence in Entrepreneurship

Louis DeSorbo

Louis DeSorbo B.S. '78, M.S. '80  (return to list)

Quantum mechanics, waves, and thermodynamics -- all concepts Lou DeSorbo mastered while earning his physics degree from UAlbany in the ’70s. But the most important skill he learned, and perhaps the key to his success as an entrepreneur, is the ability to problem solve. 

DeSorbo completed his master’s in computer science at the university while working part time at New York State Higher Education Services as a computer programmer. After a two-year stint as a computer programmer at the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene, he took a position as a consultant for a small, local company, North American Technical Consultants.  He was assigned to General Electric and also managed a group of programmers developing a commercial software package for the dental industry.  Both assignments ultimately were key to his career success.

In 1984, DeSorbo started a computer contract programming business, Heart Information Systems.  His first project, with Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City, was to create the Automated Foreign Currency Exchange System. The project gave him his first glimpse into international business. A year later, DeSorbo began a 10-year contract with GE Silicones in Waterford, N.Y.  He began to add staff, and developed numerous computer systems. Key among them was the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) System, a software tool that enables a company to stay in compliance with chemical hazardous communications regulations and to be able to export its products.  In 1993, DeSorbo received permission from GE to commercialize his MSDS system, renaming it The WERCS, Worldwide Environmental Regulatory and Compliance System.

In 1998, the company was renamed The WERCS, Ltd., and today, provides software solutions to thousands of chemical companies across Europe, Asia, North America, the Middle East and Africa. The WERCS offers global solutions in areas such as multilingual MSDS Authoring, management and distribution software and services, retailer compliance, green chemistry and sustainability solutions. The company, which now employs more than 90 people, has a client base that includes some of the world’s largest companies, such as Wal-Mart, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Procter & Gamble.

It is DeSorbo’s ability to problem solve and envision possibilities – the seeds of which developed years earlier at UAlbany – that colleagues say has been the key to his success. “Louis’s vision and leadership has propelled his company to global leadership in chemical regulation software and services,” said Michael Francher, vice president for Business Development for UAlbany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. “His ability to see an opportunity, create a global technology platform, build a dynamic team and fulfill his customers’ expectations is a testament to his spirit, leadership and drive. Lou’s innovative ideas and foresight have continued to keep his company at the leading edge of technology.”

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Excellence in Science & Technology

Gregg Rothermel

Gregg Rothermel M.S. '86  (return to list)

Gregg Rothermel is an internationally recognized researcher and leader in the software engineering community. His seminal work and reputation as a committed collaborator and mentor make him one of the most respected professionals in his field.

Dr. Rothermel is a professor and Jensen Chair of Software Engineering at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. He is most noted for his many pioneering contributions to developing and empirically evaluating regression testing techniques, the testing performed after program changes are made. His techniques are widely used in industry today, reducing the amount of time testers spend unnecessarily retesting code. His work on regression testing has been used both in industry and in academia and has formed the basis for the work in this area over the past decade. “If any software engineering researcher is asked for a set of researchers most well known in software testing, Dr. Rothermel’s name would be among the top three,” said Lori Pollock, professor of computer and information sciences at the University of Delaware.  “His name is synonymous with regression testing.”

Another area in which Dr. Rothermel has made significant impact is automating the testing of spreadsheets. His contributions include techniques to generate test cases for spreadsheets automatically, which reduces the tedious, error-prone work for testers that can result in serious detrimental effects on a company’s bottom line. He has obtained two U.S. patents based on his innovative solutions to problems involving test generation for spreadsheets.

Most recently, Dr. Rothermel has developed major contributions to testing various end-user applications beyond spreadsheets, including web applications, embedded systems and mashups. Dr. Rothermel has analyzed the characteristics of these domains and evaluated how standard testing techniques need to be changed to be most effective. His work in this area led to the formation of the EUSES Consortium, an international collaboration of researchers interested in end-user software engineering.

Dr. Rothermel has been a pioneer in pushing software engineering researchers to increase the quality of their empirical evaluation studies, noted Pollock. “His publications have consistently been a model for how to design, implement and report on an unbiased, carefully designed evaluation study to answer quantitatively and qualitatively research questions.”

Dr. Rothermel has received more than $16 million in grants from the National Science Foundation and other funding agencies to support his research and educational activities. He has collaborated with top researchers in both the United States and Europe. He has been published prolifically in the industry’s top-tier journals and conferences. He currently serves as an associate editor of IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering and also sits on the editorial boards of two other journals. He has served on the program committees of numerous prestigious international conferences and has delivered many talks at international conferences and research institutions around the globe.

Sharing his knowledge with the researchers and scientists of tomorrow is another of Dr. Rothermel’s passions. He has received a number of teaching awards and has been recognized for his commitment to mentoring students. “Gregg contributes, leads, follows, suggests and brainstorms in ways that bring out the best in everyone,” said Margaret Burnett, computer science professor at Oregon State University. “He is a model of an ideal scientific collaborator.”

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Outstanding Young Alumni

Christina Hansen

Christina Hansen M.P.H. '09   (return to list)

While still a student at the University at Albany, Christina (Tina) Hansen was bringing about change in health policy. From leading the development of a grassroots campaign at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network to ensure health coverage for college students fighting serious illnesses to evaluating long-standing public health programs at the New York State Department of Health, Hansen was motivated to make a difference. Taking advantage of all that the University offered, she was selected as a Fellow in Public Policy by the UAlbany's Center for Women in Government and Civil Society, where she led patient safety efforts for the New York chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Hansen’s hard work and commitment to advance public health policies led to her current position as a program examiner in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). OMB, which reports directly to the President, prepares the President’s budget and oversees agency programs, policies and procedures to ensure they comply with the administration’s priorities.

It is Hansen’s role to contribute to the formulation and execution of the President’s budget, provide analysis and evaluation of policy options, and monitor and evaluate progress made by departments and agencies in implementing and executing the President’s policies. She also analyzes legislation, regulations and agency operations for budget and policy impacts and recommends adjustments as appropriate. Hansen oversees approximately $11 billion in federal funding, all in the area of healthcare. Currently, her portfolio includes the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (both within the Department of Health and Human Services) as well as the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund. In addition, Hansen is responsible for researching, reviewing and analyzing medical liability and malpractice issues and making recommendations to inform high-level policy decisions. “Tina is an excellent and dedicated analyst,” said Tyler Overstreet, program examiner at OMB. “Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious, and we are delighted that she is a part of our team. I expect that she will continue to make contributions to health policy long into the future.”

Despite being at OMB for just over three years, Hansen has become a leader among her peers and a valuable resource for OMB. Beginning at OMB in Fall 2009 amidst the height of the development of the Affordable Care Act, Hansen proved successful in applying her skills and expertise gained through her experiences at UAlbany. In fact, after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, she received the OMB Special Achievement Group Award. Later, OMB recognized her outstanding contributions in healthcare quality and medical malpractice with the OMB Professional Achievement Award in 2012.  

“Tina has demonstrated a clear commitment to public service and public health advocacy,” said Benjamin Shaw, associate professor in UAlbany’s School of Public Health. “She is a bright, mature young woman, with clear ambitions, who I knew from day one would have a successful career in public health.”

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