PSU announces recipients of prestigious university research and mentoring awards

Research Awards Recipients

Portland State University announces the 2021 awards for excellence for research, graduate mentoring and research administration. The awards are among the university's highest honors. They recognize and incentivize PSU faculty and staff excellence in research, scholarship, artistry and dedication to PSU students.

Recipients of the awards are some of the most dynamic faculty and staff members at PSU. Colleagues submit nominations; a jury of peers selects awardees based on the significance and quality of their research or creative achievements and extraordinary commitment to creating an environment supportive of research and student success. Join us as we celebrate this year’s awardees at the Research Awards Ceremony during Research Week (May 3-7).

Presidential Career Research Award

The 2021 Presidential Career Research Award recipient is Jennifer Dill. Dill is a professor in the Nohad A. Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning and Director of the Transportation Research & Education Center at PSU. TREC houses the National Institute for Transportation and Communities, a national university transportation center funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Professor Dill is an internationally known scholar researching the relationships between transportation, land use, health and the environment, focusing on active transportation. Before entering academia, Professor Dill worked as an environmental and transportation planner in California. That experience motivates her teaching and research, which aims to inform practice and policy. She has published extensively in peer-review journals and has served as principal investigator or co-PI on over $4.3M in research projects and over $28M in federal center funding. Her research has been covered by Wired, Governing, USA Today, the PBS NewsHour, Here and Now, Marketplace and the Atlantic. She has served on and chaired Transportation Research Board committees and is on the editorial boards of the Journal of Transportation and Health, Transportation Research Record and the Journal of Transportation and Land Use. Professor Dill also serves on the Board of Trustees for the TransitCenter, a foundation that works to improve public transit across the U.S.

"Dr. Dill is a very accomplished and prominent researcher and is well-respected in her field," said Chris Monsere, professor and chair of Civil & Environmental Engineering. "Her research aims to understand people's everyday travel decisions, focusing on bicycling, walking and transit. Her scholarship informs our understanding of travel decisions, how the built environment influences travel decisions and how those decisions impact our health."

Graduate Mentoring Excellence Award

The 2021 Graduate Mentoring Excellence Award recipient is David H. Peyton. Peyton is a professor in the chemistry department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Portland State. Professor Peyton has been at Portland State University since 1987. Besides being the recipient of the 2021 Graduate Mentoring Excellence Award, Petyon has been honored with the 2021 Branford Price Miller Award, given annually to a tenure-related faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in the areas of scholarship, instruction, university and public service. Peyton has served as the thesis chair for 16 PSU Ph.D. and 11 M.S. graduate students, most of whom have moved on to successful academic or industrial research careers. Through developing research projects, Peyton mentors students, closely supervising research project design, analyses and guiding writing papers, dissertations, and presentations. The Peyton research group has impacted protein-ligand (including drug) interactions, drug discovery and development (particularly for treating malaria) and the possible toxicology related to electronic cigarettes. In all these studies, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) has been a primary focus. Before coming to Portland State, Peyton earned his Ph.D. at the University of California at Santa Barbara, then held postdoctoral research appointments at the Cornell University Medical College (now called Weill Cornell Medicine) and at the University of California at Davis.

"As my Ph.D. graduate mentor, Dr. Peyton was very supportive of my research, providing solid guidance while leaving ample space for me to exercise my imagination, creativity and troubleshooting skills,” said Ayna Alfadhil, a research assistant professor at Oregon Health & Science University. “He excelled as a teacher and provided exceptional training. He was always willing to share his experience and knowledge to help me navigate through career decisions and opportunities."

Early Career Research Award

This year, the awards selection committee chose two outstanding faculty members to receive the prestigious Early Career Research Award.

Julius Alexander McGee is an assistant professor in the Nohad A. Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning and Black Studies and one recipient of the 2021 Early Career Research Award. His scholarship focuses on the relationship between social inequality and climate change. He has also published on topics related to organic farming, renewable energy, global urban development and transportation. His most recent work explores how mass incarceration contributes to climate change.

McGee has been an active critic of climate mitigation strategies that do not consider the complex reality of social inequality. Since earning his Ph.D. in 2016 at the University of Oregon, Julius has outlined how organic agriculture contributes to climate change, illustrated how renewable energy consumption expands social inequality, and advocated for a more robust understanding of how energy systems perpetuate racism. More recently, Julius has embarked on a book project that explores the connection between social injustice and the climate crisis.

"Academics argue about the measurement of excellence, but there is no aspect of the term which does not apply to Julius's research and scholarship," said Aaron Roussell, assistant professor of sociology at PSU. "An environmental sociologist, he publishes prolifically in the top journals, while also finding ways to speak to broader interdisciplinary audiences."

Jeremy Spoon, associate professor of anthropology and director of Portland State University's new Emergency Management and Community Resilience Program, is the second recipient of the 2021 Early Career Research Award. He is an applied environmental anthropologist with more than 20 years of experience collaborating with Indigenous peoples and government agencies. Spoon's applied research focuses on the diverse ways Indigenous and rural peoples in the Nepalese Himalaya and western United States know, understand and interact with the environment in power and biophysical change contexts. Since arriving at PSU in 2009, he has authored and co-authored 15 peer-reviewed articles, books, and book chapters with graduate student, Indigenous, practitioner, and academic collaborators and raised $3.1 million in external grants and contracts, including two grants from the National Science Foundation. Dr. Spoon's research encompasses understanding how tourism influences Indigenous knowledge in Sagarmatha (Mount Everest) National Park and Buffer Zone. He also collaborates with more than 25 Native American Nations and five federal agencies in the Great Basin/Upper Mojave Desert and Pacific Northwest/Cascadia to integrate Indigenous knowledge into protected and secured area consultation, stewardship and public education. Following the catastrophic 2015 Nepal earthquakes, Dr. Spoon's research expanded to include understanding the multidimensional factors that influence tangible and intangible Indigenous and rural short- and long-term disaster recoveries. He also collaborates with the U.S. Forest Service to assess diversity and inclusion in the Pacific Northwest wildland fire program. The Society awarded Dr. Spoon and his collaborators the Hackenberg Prize for Applied Anthropology in 2019. He has also won the John Eliot Allen Outstanding Teaching Award in 2011, 2014, 2017, and 2020.

"Jeremy's record of original and path-breaking scholarship, the ways and extent he incorporates students into his work, and the number and size of the grants and contracts which have funded his work, all highlight the quality of his work and why he is deserving of this award," said Virginia Butler, professor emeritus and former chair of PSU's anthropology department.

Research Faculty Award

The recipient of the 2021 Research Faculty Research Award is Dora M. Raymaker. Raymaker is a systems scientist and research assistant professor at Portland State University's Regional Research Institute for Human Services in the School of Social Work, Co-director of the Academic Autism Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education ( and associate editor of the academic journal Autism in Adulthood. Raymaker's research interests include community-engaged practice, systems thinking, measurement, disability and the dynamics at the intersection of science and society. Raymaker conducts intervention services research in collaboration with the Autistic and mental health communities to improve employment outcomes and reduce discrimination and stigma.

"Dr. Raymaker has been an instrumental research scientist at the Regional Research Institute," said Mary Oschwald, Director of the Regional Research Institute. "Based on Dr. Raymaker's prestigious body of work, the extensive and positive outcomes attributed to their innovative intervention initiatives--locally, nationally, and internationally--their dogged and successful track record of securing external funding, which supports critical community-based participatory research initiatives in collaboration with numerous community partners, and their steady publication record and dissemination achievements warrant receipt of this prestigious award."

Research Administrator of the Year Award

The recipient of the 2021 Research Administrator of the Year Award is Aleksandra Herynk. Herynk is a departmental research administrator and team lead for Team Maple in Sponsored Projects Administration. She provides pre- and post-award support to principal investigators at the Maseeh College of Engineering & Computer Science. She also assists with the oversight and management of her team's assigned portfolio. Herynk has been working at PSU since 2017 after moving to Portland from Lawrence, Kansas, where she launched her career in research administration at the University of Kansas. She has been working in higher education for over ten years.

"I have worked with Aleks on a few proposals and have worked with her more since I became the Associate Dean for Research for MCECS," said Wu-chi Feng, professor of computer science. "Put simply, Aleks is an irreplaceable research administrator for MCECS.

Jason Podrabsky, interim vice president for Research & Graduate Studies, said the excellence awards recipients exemplify the quality and caliber of research and student training at PSU.

"The recipients of these awards are the best in their fields," Podrabsky said. "The achievements and dedication to our students are a source of pride for the entire university."

In addition to the university-level awards, RGS invited individual colleges and schools across campus to name a researcher, scholar, or practitioner of the year. Recipients of these awards are:

  • College of Education: Amanda Sugimoto, Assistant Professor, Curriculum and Instruction
  • College of Liberal Arts & Sciences: Jola Ajibade, Assistant Professor, Geography
  • College of the Arts: Georg Colligan, Associate Professor, School of Music & Theater
  • College of Urban & Public Affairs: Melody Valdini, Professor and Chair, Political Science
  • Maseeh College of Engineering & Computer Science: Jonathan Bird, Associate Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering
  • OHSU-PSU School of Public Health: Christina Sun, Assistant Professor
  • School of Social Work: Amie Thurber, Assistant Professor
  • School of Business: Meredith Woehler, Assistant Professor
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