University of Nebraska names top faculty award recipients

Benson Edagwa, PhD, and Jonathan Vennerstrom, PhD

Benson Edagwa, PhD, and Jonathan Vennerstrom, PhD

University of Nebraska Interim President Chris Kabourek on Thursday announced the 2024 recipients of NU’s most prestigious faculty awards for teaching, research, engagement and commercialization.

The system-wide President’s Excellence Awards honor faculty whose work has had a significant impact on students, the university and the state.

“Great faculty are at the heart of the University of Nebraska’s work and mission. We are fortunate that our classrooms and research labs are led by people who care deeply about creating a strong future for students and our state,” Kabourek said. “I’m honored to have this opportunity to lift up the work of some of the University of Nebraska’s most outstanding faculty, and I thank them for all they do to change lives in Nebraska and around the world.”

Award recipients are selected by system-wide committees of faculty members and community members. Recipients each receive a $10,000 stipend. They will be honored at the Aug. 8 Board of Regents meeting.

The 2024 President’s Excellence Award recipients are:

Research

Outstanding Research and Creative Activity (ORCA) Award: Recognizes individual faculty members for outstanding research or creative activity of national or international significance.

Jonathan Vennerstrom, PhD, professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UNMC. Dr. Vennerstrom is internationally recognized for his work developing anti-malarial drugs.

He is widely published and cited in both the scientific literature and mainstream media for his work, particularly for the “single-shot antimalarial” technology he developed that has the potential for significant worldwide impact.

Dr. Vennerstrom has been successful in acquiring funding to support his research, with more than $20 million in grants secured during his time at UNMC. In addition, he has authored 31 patents for technologies he has developed.

Dr. Vennerstrom also was involved in the development of a nutritional supplement, creatine ethyl ester, that increases athletes’ strength, endurance and muscle recovery. The supplement was pivotal in the creation of a Plattsmouth company called Vireo Resources.

Dr. Vennerstrom expressed his thanks:

“First, I thank Vice Chancellor Ken Bayles for nominating me for this award, UNMC College of Pharmacy Dean Keith Olsen for his second to the nomination and my friends and colleagues for their letters of support.

“Second, I thank my many dear friends at UNMC, UNO and UNL, too numerous to list here, for their support, wisdom, patience and goodwill.

“Third, I thank former College of Pharmacy Dean Clarence Ueda for taking a chance and hiring me as an assistant professor in 1987.

“Fourth, I have been blessed with my wonderful family, students, postdocs and other collaborators. Without them, none of our work would have gotten off the ground.”

Said Keith Olsen, PharmD, Joseph D. Williams Endowed Dean of the UNMC College of Pharmacy, “The College of Pharmacy offers the warmest congratulations to Jonathan for this prestigious award. Jonathan has led the faculty by example excelling in drug discovery of some of the most promising anti-malarial drugs in the world. These drugs have the potential to impact millions of people with lifesaving medications.

“We are truly honored to have Dr. Vennerstrom on our faculty. “

Kristen Olson, PhD, Leland J. and Dorothy H. Olson Professor in the Department of Sociology and director of the Bureau of Sociological Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Dr. Olson’s research focuses on survey methodology, a field with broad real-world impacts in academia, government, marketing, public policy, public health, program evaluation, and nonprofit and for-profit enterprises around the world. Her work seeks to understand and improve survey data quality through the reduction of coverage, sampling, nonresponse, measurement and adjustment errors. Dr. Olson is widely published, has been elected as a Fellow of the American Statistical Society and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and has served on a number of national task forces and panels related to survey methodology and public opinion research. Her work shapes data collection at the highest levels and has put UNL on the map in the field.

Engagement

Innovation, Development and Engagement Award (IDEA): Recognizes faculty members who have extended their academic expertise beyond the boundaries of the university in ways that have enriched the broader community.

Benson Edagwa, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience at UNMC. In only 10 ½ years at UNMC, Dr. Edagwa has become one of the most productive and innovative faculty members who work with UNeMed, the tech transfer arm of UNMC and UNO.

He has played a pivotal role in the development of several inventions to treat chronic viral and other infectious diseases, including hepatitis B and mycobacterial tuberculosis. While at UNMC, Dr. Edagwa has been listed as an inventor on 19 unique new invention notifications which have led to 84 patent and patent applications. He also is listed as an inventor on 45 pending patent applications and 11 issued patents. Those numbers put Dr. Edagwa in the top 1% of all innovative faculty at UNMC.

He also has formed significant collaborations with industry, having co-founded Exavir Therapeutics, a startup company created to develop the long-acting antiretroviral technology he created in the lab.

“I am very humbled to have been selected for this prestigious award,” Dr. Edagwa said. “This recognition reflects our team’s commitment to create more effective and convenient long-acting treatments for patients suffering from persistent illnesses.

“Thank you to those who continue to support our efforts. I am truly honored and proud of our team and collaborators.”

Said Bradley Britigan, MD, dean of the UNMC College of Medicine, “My congratulations to Dr. Edagwa on his receipt this year’s IDEA award. His research over his time at UNMC is yielding novel approaches to therapy of many chronic infectious diseases that has the potential to impact many who suffer from these conditions throughout the world. Such work epitomizes what the IDEA award is intended to recognize.”  

Teaching

Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award (OTICA): Recognizes individual faculty members who have demonstrated meritorious and sustained records of excellence and creativity in teaching.

Phani Tej Adidam, PhD, professor and chair in the Department of Marketing & Entrepreneurship, University of Nebraska at Omaha. Always on the lookout for new and innovative teaching techniques, Dr. Adidam has worked tirelessly to elevate the quality of business education throughout his 27-plus years at UNO. Undergraduate business students have several concentration opportunities that were unavailable before Dr. Adidam joined the faculty, including a concentration in international business, because he recognized opportunities that would be valuable to students and voluntarily stepped up to make the changes happen. He also played a key role in redesigning the MBA and Executive MBA curricula. Dr. Adidam is a past recipient of UNO’s Excellence in Teaching Award and the UNO Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award, among other honors, and he has published more than 40 research papers in distinguished peer-reviewed journals.

Commercialization

Faculty IP Innovation and Commercialization Award (FIPICA): Recognizes faculty members who have developed and nurtured significant new intellectual property from concept to licensing/startup business.

Carrick Detweiler, PhD, Susan J. Rosowski Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; faculty fellow of the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute; faculty fellow of the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center; and co-director of the NIMBUS Lab. Dr. Detweiler’s research is focused on developing systems and software to enable interactions of unmanned aerial vehicles with water, fire and crops. As co-founder of Drone Amplified, he has successfully transferred his innovative and transdisciplinary work to the market and is helping to save lives and the environment. The company’s signature product is IGNIS, a drone-based system that allows firefighters to remotely ignite backburns and prescribed burns while staying out of harm’s way. These burns effectively eliminate the fuel wildfires rely on to spread out of control and are critical tools for federal, state and local agencies charged with reducing fire danger. Over 150 IGNIS systems have been sold and used by public and private entities. Drone Amplified also is growing the innovation economy, employing a number of university graduates, including several who moved to Nebraska specifically to work for the company, and expanding high-wage, high-skill jobs in the state.

15 comments

  1. John S Davis says:

    Congratulations Professor Vennerstrom. This is a well deserved recognition of your many accomplishments.
    You Rock!

  2. Clarence Ueda says:

    Congratulations, Jon. The recognition and honor are well deserved. All the best for continuing success.

  3. Elaine says:

    Congratulations Dr. Vennerstrom, so well deserved! It was an honor to support you and your research during my 23 years in the College of Pharmacy!

  4. carol j swarts says:

    Congratulations, Benson. Your work and innovations will make the world healthier.

  5. Jane Meza says:

    Congratulations to Drs. Vennerstrom and Edagwa for being recognized for your important work.

  6. Gleb Haynatzki says:

    Congratulations, Dr Edagwa! The research community at UNMC need you and are very happy for your leadership.

  7. Tom O’Connor says:

    Congrats to Drs Vennerstrom and Edagwa – truly two of UNMC’s shining stars.

  8. Subhash Chand says:

    Congratulations Drs. Edagwa and Vennerstrom on your well-deserved and outstanding achievements.

  9. OGEMBO FRANK says:

    Congratulations professor Benson Edagwa

  10. Albert Musasia says:

    Congratulations Dr.Edagwa. Keep shining my friend. We are soo proud of you and your work.

  11. Sheridan Wilkes says:

    Congratulations, Benson!! So nice to see the result of your Ph.D.! I only played a part in LSU admission process, but I’m so proud! Ms Sherry

  12. Barnabas Mayabi says:

    Congratulations Dr.Benson for your accomplishments.You are a superstar!

  13. Naomi Kigondu says:

    Congratulations Dr. Edagwa .

  14. Robin M Taylor says:

    Congratulations Benson and all others for your amazing work. You continue to make a positive difference at UNMC and the world.

  15. Benson Edagwa says:

    Thank you so much Everyone for the Congratulatory messages. Thank you for your support and for being a part of our teamwork effort.

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