University of Central Florida First in Florida for Coveted National Science Foundation CAREER Grants
By Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala, UCF Today // February 29, 2020
CAREER awards are among most prestigious in nation, recognize early-career professionals
ORLANDO, FLORIDA – UCF leads the state and ranks third in the nation for the number of National Science Foundation CAREER Award recipients so far this year.
UCF has nine confirmed awards as of this week and NSF has recommended two more for funding.
In Florida, a total of 21 awards have been given, so far including four to the University of Florida and two to Florida State University.
More than 470 awards have been made nationwide. Additional awards will be made in the next few weeks.
The CAREER awards are among the most prestigious in the nation. The awards recognize early-career professionals with promising research.
The awards are part of the NSF’s Early Career Development Program and are given to recipients who have the potential to serve as academic role models and lead their respective fields.
“The awards recognize what we’ve long known. We have talented faculty with a pioneering spirit and a drive to make an impact on the world,” says Elizabeth Klonoff, vice president for Research and Dean of the College of Graduate Studies.
“This year’s success also demonstrates the power of investing in people. I want to thank our Associate Vice President for Research and Scholarship Debra Reinhart and Faculty Fellow Saiful Khondaker for their work. They created a robust program that supported our faculty applying for these awards. The results speak for themselves.”
For the past several years, UCF has seen the number of its CAREER awards increase, but this is a new record. The process is highly competitive with thousands of scientists and engineers nationwide vying for the award.
This year the awards to UCF translate into more than $4.5 million for the faculty to continue researching topics that range from energy to cybersecurity.
This year’s recipients are:
From the College of Engineering and Computer Science:
• Andrew Dickerson
• Kelly Kibler
• Paul Gazzillo
• Junjian Qi
• Ranajay Ghosh
• Akihiro Kushima
From the College of Sciences
• Charissa De Bekker
• Xiaofeng Feng
• Mihai Vaida
Last year, Reinhart and Khondaker pitched an idea. How about creating a tailored program that would help faculty interested in applying for the award? If they could reach applicants early enough and mentor them along the way, they argued, the quality of the proposals would increase and lead to better success.
Khondaker, a physics professor and a 2008 NSF CAREER grant recipient, led the initiative with the help of more than 38 past CAREER winners and senior faculty including the department chairs.
The group provided mentoring, multiple rounds of feedback and tips about writing the proposals. Once the proposal was polished it was submitted. Some faculty members also took advantage of other programs offered by the Office of Research during their proposal writing process.
“During the course of this mentoring program, I spoke to a lot of our researchers and was impressed with their ideas,” Khondaker says.
“The close one-on-one mentoring, feedback and critical reviews helped bring out their best ideas to reality. It was a team effort, but the awards themselves are a result of the quality and dedication of the faculty who applied.”
Many faculty members say it was difficult making time for the program with all their other commitments from teaching to conducting research, but in the end, it was worth it.
“The most useful part of the program was the critical reviews, which helped identify the parts of my proposal that the reviewers could use as reasons for rejection,” says Akihiro Kushima, an assistant professor in the Advanced Materials Processing and Analysis Center at UCF.
“Eliminating these flaws in the proposal gave me confidence that the proposal would be accepted.”
Physics Assistant Professor Xiaofeng Feng concurs.
“I participated in the mentoring program because Dr. Saiful Khondaker is motivating,” Feng says.
“The many detailed comments and suggestions he provided were very helpful. I would encourage junior faculty to participate in this program, because I feel like it contributed to my success.”
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