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Congratulations to the winners of the Fall 2017 URCA Assistant Program Awards!!

Vaughn Vandegrift URCA Assistant Research Mentor of the Semester Award


Dr. Maria Kontoyianni, Pharmaceutical Sciences

Nominated by: Anna Ngo 

"Dr. Kontoyianni has three sayings that explain why she deserves this award. She often says that she, “doesn’t want another pair of hands.” To further explain, she does not want her students to be robots. For instance, she encourages me to explore my curiosity and know the purpose behind everything I do in the lab instead of ignorantly getting my tasks done. Another common saying she has is, “it’s okay to make mistakes, don’t be scared of breaking anything." Dr. Kontoyianni emphasizes that I should try to find solutions on my own and not be scared to test them out. She assures me that nothing will break, or even if I do manage to break something, she can re-install it. Lastly, every time I was impossibly stuck, Dr. Kontoyianni would first point me in the right direction and then show me how I could have figure out the problem myself. Each time she would say, “it’s never a linear process.” I see this as Dr. Kontoyianni pushing me to think outside the box and to really understand what I am doing and why I am doing it. Thinking creatively is pertinent in many aspects of life. Having me practice creative problem solving speaks volumes about how Dr. Kontoyianni wants to prepare her students for her research and life beyond it."

URCA Assistant Creative Activities Mentor of the Semester Award


Brigham Dimick, Department of Art and Design

Nominated by: Haley Mason

“The reason I think that he is so worthy of this award is because of his compassion and willingness to alter his own plans for the sake of others. Dr. Dimick went out of his way to work with me and help me overcome the challenges I was facing at my own pace. I am very grateful to him for not letting me give up.”

URCA Research Assistant of the Semester Award

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Margaret Scarsdale, Department of Political Science  

Nominated by: Dr. Laurie Rice

“Margaret demonstrates a level of excellence in research. She is currently scouring the congressional record for me looking for mentions of presidents’ use of Statements of Administration Policy, signing statements, and executive orders. This data collection effort is a massive undertaking. Thousands of hits must be screened for relevance. Each week she comes in with great ideas for better organizing the document collection in ways that will help streamline their coding. She has suggested valuable refinements to search parameters, redundancy checks to make sure documents are not included multiple times, and suggested additional searches to insure we have an exhaustive collection of mentions of these documents. In short, she anticipates the needs of the project. While the data collection phase of new projects can become mundane and routine, she retains a high degree of motivation, reliability, and efficiency. She sees the research potential inherent in the data and has already made important suggestions that will influence the coding procedure we undertake next."

URCA Creative Activities Assistant of the Semester Award 

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Rachel Wagner, Department of Music

Nominated by: Dr. Marc Schapman

"Rachel has served as an assistant stage director, stage manager, publicist, and most importantly, assistant choregrapher. She is punctual, organized, creative, and a genuinely good person. Rachel’s largest contribution has been in choreography. She is an extremely strong dancer, and has been able to serve as dance captain for the production. This enables us to multitask in rehearsals, and accomplish twice as much in a regular rehearsal period. I feel very fortunate to have her as part of our creative team this semester."

Other nominees:


Dr. Kevin Tucker, Chemistry
Nominated by:
Clayton Donald

Dr. Jill Schreiber, Social Work
Nominated by:
Taylor Dichsen

Dr. Darron Luesse, Biological Sciences
Nominated by:
Erica Periandri

Dr. Jessica DeSpain, English Language and Literature
Nominated by:
Allyson Taylor

Dr. Jessica Krim, Teaching and Learning
Nominated by:
Leyla Kays

Dr. Kamran Shavezipur, Mechanical Engineering
Nominated by: Nino Giganti


Bobbi Potter
Nominated by:
Dr. Kevin Tucker, Chemistry

Nicholas Coglianese
Nominated by:
Dr. Nima Lotfi Yagin, Mechanical Engineering

Spring 2017 Award Winners
Fall 2016 Award Winners
Spring 2016 Award Winners
Fall 2015 Award Winners
Spring 2015 Award Winners
Fall 2014 Award Winners
Spring 2014 Award Winners
Fall 2013 Award Winners
Spring 2013 Award Winners
Fall 2012 URCA Award Winners
Spring 2012 URCA Award Winners
Fall 2011 URCA Award Winners

For more information about the URCA program,
contact Dr. Laura Pawlow at 618-650-2608 or
The calls for nominations for these awards go out mid-fall and mid-spring.

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