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Warnell Faculty, students recognized during UGA’s Honors Week

Several faculty members and students at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources were recognized during Honors Week at the University of Georgia. Awards recognized teaching, research and outreach efforts to local communities.

“We are extremely proud of our Warnell family, and Honors Week allows some of our best and brightest to shine,” said Dale Greene, Warnell’s dean. “The faculty and students honored this week represent the range and depth of our school’s expertise, and I congratulate them all for their achievements.”

For more than 90 years, the University of Georgia has set aside a week to recognize the achievements of its students, faculty, staff and alumni. This year was no different, with honors to graduate students who excel in teaching, student academic advisors, awards for research and some of the top teaching honors bestowed upon faculty at the university. (Read the full list of honorees.)


Meigs Teaching Professor

Warnell professor Sonia Hernandez, who holds a dual appointment with the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine, was one of four faculty members who was named a Meigs Teaching Professor. The professorship is the university’s highest recognition for instruction across graduate and undergraduate levels.

“My teaching philosophy is one of teaching through leadership, not intimidation; of emphasizing cooperation, not competition; instilling confidence; promoting independent, critical thinking, while understanding that different people learn differently and that, in the end, enthusiasm and passion for a topic are infectious,” said Hernandez. She believes in using active learning to get students excited about course content, and engages students through small discussions, tidbits about current events, games, role playing and other activities.

Hernandez has received the Russell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and a Fulbright Fellowship in Spain. She’s been inducted into the UGA Teaching Academy and served as a UGA Writing Fellow, UGA Senior Teaching Fellow and UGA Women’s Leadership Fellow, among other honors.

“Simply put, she embodies everything the Meigs Professorship represents, starting with a foundation of excellence in undergraduate classroom instruction, graduate student mentorship, and extending quickly across the campus and beyond, nationally and internationally,” one colleague wrote.


Russell Undergraduate Teaching Awards

Gino D’Angelo, an assistant professor at Warnell, was one of three recipients of a Russell Undergraduate Teaching Award. The award recognizes outstanding teaching by faculty who are early in their careers. For D’Angelo, mentoring plays a large role in what he teaches.


“Mentoring students has been one of the most enriching and important aspects of my career. I benefited from the advice of multiple people throughout my education, and as a young professional, I quickly realized that others needed the same guidance that I had received,” he said. “I try to act as an example to students by demonstrating ethics, compassion, professionalism and a link to the workforce.”


D’Angelo’s previous work as a practicing researcher and biologist gives him a unique perspective, allowing him to share invaluable real-world experience with his students. He works to build connections with each student so that they feel comfortable calling on him inside or outside of the classroom.


Students recognize the effort, which continues to help them after graduation. “I can say with complete sincerity that I would not be in my position today without his guidance and encouragement,” one former student wrote.


Research honors

UGA’s Creative Research Awards recognize faculty members who are established in their field, with a body of work that has established them as an international leader in their field. Warnell professor James Beasley, the Terrell Professor of Forestry and Natural Resources is one of five recipients of this award.


With a dual appointment with the Savannah River Ecology Lab, Beasley’s research includes the study of radioactive contamination and its effect as an ecological stressor. His work has challenged assumptions about the status and health of wildlife living in environments contaminated with radiation, leading to the discovery of abundant and diverse wildlife communities.


In 1980, UGA established the Creative Research Medals to recognize distinct and exceptional research or creative projects from mid-career faculty members. Warnell associate professor Susan Wilde is one of three recipients of this year’s Creative Research Medal.


Her work spans decades, starting 30 years ago when eagles were found dead from a mysterious disease that caused lesions in their brains. Her research unfolded into a series of clues and discoveries, much like a mystery novel, culminating with an international partnership that led to the discovery of the final piece of the puzzle: that exposure of the cyanobacteria discovered by Wilde’s lab to bromide resulted in the production of this deadly neurotoxin. The resulting paper, published in “Science,” was awarded the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize in 2022.


Among non-tenure track faculty, Warnell senior research scientist Dehai Zhao was honored for his work in forest biometrics. Zhao was one of four faculty members to receive a Non-Tenure Track Faculty Research Excellence Award.


One of the top quantitative forest scientists in the world, Zhao focuses primarily on issues of tree growth and yield in intensive southern pine plantations. But his work covers a range of topics and approaches, including analyzing long-term experiments, assessing foundational biological and silvicultural concepts, and exploring and developing the frontiers of forest biometrics.


Public Service and Outreach Awards

The University of Georgia’s awards for public service and outreach honor faculty and staff who show a commitment to connecting research with service. At Warnell, Charles Bargeron IV, a senior public service associate for the school, received the Walter Barnard Hill Award for his achievements.


Bargeron is also director of the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health at UGA’s Tifton campus. In this role, he oversees the development and maintenance of a critical program that collects and distributes information on invasive species, forest health, natural resources and agricultural management. He was one of four recipients of the award.


First-Year Odyssey Teaching Awards

While Warnell is known for its hands-on classes and labs, two faculty members were recognized for their unique approaches to teaching through the First-Year Odyssey Teaching Awards. These awards recognize instructors who have demonstrated creativity or innovation in instruction, as well as success linking their research with First-Year Odyssey program goals. The First-Year Odyssey program is a required, one-credit course for all UGA freshmen that delves into special topics not typically found in the general course catalog.


For associate professor Puneet Dwivedi, this meant field trips to resources across campus that challenged students to think critically about their environmental impacts. His First-Year Odyssey seminar, “Exploring Sustainable Development,” teaches students how to connect classwork to real-world situations and talk about the environmental issues that are most important to them.


Award recipient Michel Kohl also incorporated a trip into his first-Year Odyssey class. Although, his version took place over several days at Vogel State Park in North Georgia. Rather than holding classes and lectures, Kohl, an assistant professor and wildlife extension specialist, took students into the forest to learn first-hand about camera trapping, wildlife behavior and monitoring movements using technology.


Graduate Teaching Awards

Warnell graduate students also received honors this week. Behnoosh Abbasnezhad and Ally Brown were among recipients of the Outstanding Teaching Award presented by UGA’s Center for Teaching and Learning. The award recognizes teaching assistants who demonstrate superior instructional skills in the classroom of laboratory.


Abbasnezhad is a Warnell doctoral student in UGA’s Integrated Conservation program, where she is exploring the social, political, commercial and ecological factors that should be considered when constructing forest management strategies in developing countries. Brown is a Warnell master’s student studying the impact of ecological restoration on snakes.

— Compiled by Kristen Morales


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