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Honoring Excellence with the Chancellor's Award 

Top row, from left: Melinda Larsen, Li Niu, and Donna Scanlon. Bottom row, from left: Janet Riker and Brian Keough. Photos by Mark Schmidt.

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 20, 2016) — Five UAlbany faculty and staff have been named recipients of the 2015-2016 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence for consistently superior professional achievement. They are among 317 faculty and staff across SUNY to be honored.

Janet Riker, Excellence in Professional Service.
Brian Keough, Excellence in Librarianship.
Melinda Larsen, Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities.
Li Niu, Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities.
Donna Scanlon, Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities.

“The Chancellor’s Award for Excellence is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to the many faculty across our university system who have gone above and beyond as they educate, mentor, and conduct research alongside our students, as well as the staff whose service to SUNY is of the highest caliber,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. “It is an honor to recognize excellent work across the SUNY system. Congratulations to all of this year’s recipients.”

Janet Riker

Riker joined UAlbany in 2004, as Director of the University Art Museum. Over the years, she has raised the level of the Museum to new heights of excellence in programming, outreach, community engagement, and fund-raising. It is now one of the most prestigious contemporary showcases of nationally and internationally recognized contemporary artists in the region.

Under her guidance, it is also a go-to destination for an enthusiastic student population. In addition to its art exhibitions, there are now programs designed specifically for undergraduates — including the First Tuesday receptions.

Riker, widely respected as a superb administrator and visionary, has collaborated with many departments and offices on campus – including the Department of Art and Art History, the New York State Writers Institute, Performing Arts Center, Office of Sustainability, and the Center for Humanities, Arts and Technosciences — to forge bridges that extend beyond classroom instruction.

Under Riker’s leadership, the Museum has created four endowments supporting exhibitions, publications, and student engagement. There is now, for the first time, an annual individual giving campaign.

Janet Riker serves as a model for how the University can be a force within itself while extending significant influence and energy to affect the lives of people far beyond the local audience.

Brian Keough

Keough is Head of the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, a position he has held since 2001. Prior to that, he was Curator of Manuscripts for two years in the same department.

Keough has shown leadership and creativity in acquiring and making accessible new University Libraries collections and played a major role in developing and expanding the New York State Modern Political Archive and the National Death Penalty Archive.

In addition to acquiring materials, he has successfully applied for grants that have led to improved cataloging and search aids for researchers.

Keough is eager to share his knowledge with University students. He has guest-lectured in several departments and has developed a freshman seminar course, A History of the University at Albany from 1844 to the Present. A doctoral student in the Department of History, he expects to earn his Ph.D. in 2017.

Melinda Larsen

Larsen joined the University faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences in 2007 and was named associate professor in 2013.

A highly accomplished scientist, her research focuses on the development of the salivary gland, which provides a powerful model system for the larger, less accessible organs. She has developed a productive model of the molecular mechanism controlling branching morphogenesis, a process required for the development of many mammalian organs, including the salivary gland.

Among other implications, the work is leading to increased understanding of how adult tissues can be repaired or regenerated.

This research has attracted more than $6 million in sponsored funding from the National Institutes of Health and other scientific agencies. She has published more than 20 peer-reviewed papers, including publications in the field’s leading journals.

Larsen has created an interdisciplinary research program that combines basic science with the development of new technology. A highly effective and dedicated teacher, she is seriously engaged at all levels of the institution and in her profession.

Li Niu

Niu joined the faculty in the Department of Chemistry in 2000 and was promoted to full professor in 2012. A talented and productive researcher, he specializes in the development of novel technologies and techniques that lead to a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of glutamate receptors.

His particular focus is on the structure-function relationship and regulation mechanisms of glutamate ion channel receptors, which are linked to consciousness, learning, and memory. Abnormal receptor activity has been implicated in neurological diseases and disorders such as epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. Niu’s research has been instrumental in the development of new compounds for therapeutic use.

He has maintained extraordinary research productivity even while managing the administrative demands of Department of Chemistry chair and a full teaching load.

Niu has published more than 35 scientific papers, has been granted four U.S. patents, and has a strong record in competitive sponsored funds ($4.8 million), including substantial grants from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Donna Scanlon

Scanlon joined UAlbany as a research associate in the Child and Research Study Center in 1983 and was appointed assistant professor in the School of Education in 1999. Except for two brief appointments at other institutions, she has been a full-time faculty member in the Department of Literacy Teaching and Learning (formerly the Department of Reading); she was promoted to full professor in 2011.

She is widely recognized for her research on how children develop as readers, including how to prevent and remediate reading difficulties. This work became the basis for an approach to reading intervention called the Interactive Strategies Approach (ISA), which revealed that the population of children identified as learning disabled was much too high. Through ISA, the proportion of children experiencing difficulties with reading acquisition dropped from ten to less than five percent.

Scanlon’s work has influenced federal education policy, changed the lives of thousands of children and teachers, and set the agenda for substantial and enduring advances in a variety of related disciplines and fields of study, notably early reading interventions.

Scanlon has an outstanding record of professional publication and presentation, being the principal investigator or co-PI on more than $20 million in grants. She is also an effective and dedicated teacher and mentor, as well as a committed University citizen.

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