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UGA math, engineering faculty honored with Presidential Early Career Awards

Daniel Krashen

Athens, Ga. – Two University of Georgia professors are among 105 professors announced as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, or PECASE, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professors in the early stages of their research careers.

Established in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach. The recipients receive the awards in person each spring at the White House.

The UGA recipients of the PECASE awards this year are:
• Danny Krashen, an associate professor in Franklin College of Arts and Sciences’ department of mathematics, and
• Joachim Walther, an associate professor in the College of Engineering.

“Dr. Krashen and Dr. Walther combine innovative research with a passion for inspiring and mentoring young people, and they are a testament to the extraordinary quality of STEM education the University of Georgia provides,” said Pamela Whitten, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.

Krashen joined the UGA faculty in 2008 following postdoctoral positions at the University of California, Los Angeles, Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. He began studying math more in depth to better understand physics, he said, and was quickly captivated by the beauty of its internal structure and ideas. With an interest in researching the interface of abstract algebra and geometry, his research focuses on the use of shape and geometry to gain insight into problems whose origins lie in algebra and arithmetic.

“My motivation for doing this research is aesthetic: I am compelled to do mathematics, because it is interesting in itself and I find it beautiful,” he said. “While the work I am involved with now has no particular applications to current problems, as a pure mathematician, I hope that the foundational ideas we create now will help to make the science of 100 years from now possible.”

Krashen received his doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin. Receiving the award is a tribute to those he has been surrounded by over the years, he said.

“Mathematics is a community endeavor, and, to me, the significance of the award is the value which it brings back to my community: my mentors, collaborators, colleagues and students,” he said.

“It is a wonderful honor that the President’s Early Career Award recipients include Dr. Krashen, whose research at the interface of algebra and arithmetic geometry is highly regarded throughout the world,” said Alan T. Dorsey, dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “At the same time, his unassuming willingness to share his insights with others makes him a very popular and effective teacher and mentor for undergraduate and graduate students alike.”

Walther joined the UGA faculty in 2009. His National Science Foundation CAREER project, which focuses on how to improve the quality of qualitative research in engineering education, has been an instrumental part of his efforts to build an innovative, collaborative and highly interdisciplinary research program.

“Qualitative research is inherently suited to investigating the complex social settings in which engineering education and professional engineering work take place,” Walther explained. “Crucially important research topics such as underrepresentation in engineering, the study of institutional cultures and the professional formation of engineers naturally lend themselves to qualitative inquiry.”

Walther and close collaborator Nicola Sochacka, a research professional and instructor in the UGA College of Engineering, have traveled across the nation and abroad to facilitate workshops based on their framework for qualitative research quality. He is also collaborating with Shari Miller, the associate dean in the UGA School of Social Work, to explore how explicit training in empathic communication impacts engineering students’ professional formation and their preparation for addressing complex 21st-century challenges.

“I feel extremely honored and grateful to receive such a high distinction for my work,” said Walther. “The PECASE award is a tremendous affirmation for my engineering education research program, its contribution to and potential for the UGA College of Engineering and the outstanding work conducted by my colleagues in the field.”

Donald Leo, dean of the UGA College of Engineering, praised Walther for his work: “Dr. Walther is a creative researcher with a unique ability to understand the connections between engineering and other disciplines,” he said. “His innovative work has the potential to redefine research in the field of engineering education. This is a very significant honor for Dr. Walther and a new point of pride for the college and university.”