Pankaj Lal, associate professor of Earth and Environmental Studies and associate director of the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies at Montclair State University, is among 102 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The awards, announced by President Obama on January 9, are the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on federally funded science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their research careers.
“I congratulate these outstanding scientists and engineers on their impactful work,” Obama said in a statement announcing the awards. “These innovators are working to help keep the United States on the cutting edge, showing that federal investments in science lead to advancements that expand our knowledge of the world around us and contribute to our economy.”
“It is extremely gratifying to get presidential validation of the research I am undertaking and an absolute honor,” says Lal. “Personally, it gives me added confidence to continue on with my sustainable energy and resources research, which is one of the grand challenges facing modern society. I also share this award with the exceptional students in my research group. I’m proud that their work contributed towards my getting this award, and am thankful to my colleagues at Montclair State, who have been extremely supportive.”
To read more stories about Montclair, scroll down:
Montclair State Holds January 2017 Commencement
University Magazine Profiles Campus Growth
Professor Receives Prestigious NSF Career Award
Online Graduate Education Program Named One of Top 50 in the Nation
Robert Prezant, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics says, “Dr. Lal and his federally funded work in environmental economics represents the best among emerging scientists and their disciplines. For Dr. Lal to receive the PECASE award is an obvious and natural fit. His work reflects the broad spectrum of critical and far-reaching research within our College that informs our students and simultaneously offers important, positive benefits to our global society.”
Supporting Energy Independence
Lal was nominated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has funded his collaborative, interdisciplinary research that contributes to the development of a sustainable bioeconomy as a fossil fuel alternative, by assessing the socioeconomic impacts of forest- and agriculture-based biofuel development in Southern rural communities.
As a researcher, Lal is committed to providing science-based knowledge and solutions to inform policy choices. Noting that a “one size fits all approach” is inadequate to address the challenges of sustainable bioenergy, he instead proposes strategies based on an integrated, tailored place-based approach that emphasizes local context and suggests place-based interventions.
Lal’s PECASE award nomination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture stressed the contributions Lal is making to develop new biofuel pathways, saying that, “Besides fostering innovative developments in science and technology, Dr. Lal’s efforts and commitment enhance connections between fundamental research and the grand challenges facing the nation, and highlight the importance of interdisciplinary and systems-approached science, engineering, and technology for America’s future.”
This is not Lal’s first award for work on bioenergy sustainability. In 2016, he received a highly competitive five-year, $450,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant from the National Science Foundation to support his research and education initiatives. His research portfolio includes nearly $7.5 million in grants and contracts for research as a Principal Investigator or Co-Principal Investigator not only from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but also from the U.S. Department of Energy, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“I was thrilled to learn of the award,” Lal says. “It means a lot to me. Being awarded for what I enjoy doing is really awesome.”
The Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers
The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. 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.
Montclair State Holds January 2017 Commencement
Montclair State University conferred 2,277 degrees in science and mathematics, humanities and the social sciences, business, the arts and education to students who graduated in August 2016 and January 2017 during its Commencement exercises on Monday, January 23 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Montclair State University President Susan A. Cole presided over the exercises and Tony-nominated actor Frankie Faison delivered the Commencement address and received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree.
An internationally recognized actor of stage and screen, Faison’s career has spanned four decades featuring more than 100 film and television appearances, as well as numerous Broadway productions. His career has featured roles in movies including The Silence of the Lambs and Mississippi Burning, and he starred as Commissioner Ervin Burrell in HBO’s The Wire. His role on Broadway as Gabriel in Fences earned him nominations for Tony and Drama Desk Awards.
“Each of you can make a difference,” Faison told the graduates, encouraging them to go forward with open hearts and minds. “I urge you all to be the masters of your fates – be the captains of your souls.”
Greetings from the graduate students were offered by Stanley Fils, who received a Master of Business Administration degree in Marketing and will be pursuing his passion in entrepreneurial ventures and investments.
Maria Del Mar Miranda spoke on behalf of the senior class. Miranda, who received a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Health, plans to pursue a career in community health education and eventually return to school for a degree in nursing.
The celebration marked the first time that the University has held a mid-academic-year Commencement ceremony – a new format brought about to meet both the wishes of its student body and the needs of a record enrollment of 21,000 students. Montclair State will hold Commencement ceremonies for spring 2017 graduates on May 22 for graduate students and May 25 for undergraduate students.
University Business Magazine Profiles Campus Growth
Magazine states “A workhorse university becomes a thoroughbred”
Noting its academic momentum and national reputation for “doing the heavy lifting” of higher education, Montclair State University was selected by the editorial staff of University Business magazine for one of only two Portrait of a Leader profiles published each year. Titled “A workhorse university becomes a thoroughbred,” the feature-length article highlights President Susan A. Cole’s direction and vision in growing the University and access to its programs.
Senior Associate Editor Matt Zalaznick visited campus for two days in November, 2016 to meet with a wide range of the University’s stakeholders – administration, faculty, staff, students and members of the local municipalities – and gain perspective and understanding of the daily life and broad scope of the University. He was especially interested in the diversity of the campus, the academic excellence, our new Research Doctoral status and the fact that the University educates and successfully graduates a large number of low-income and first-generation students.
Along with describing the University community, the article serves as insight into the president’s philosophy and values.
“This institution is what I believe it should be, which is an institution that is wholly and entirely focused on what is needed to ensure a free and democratic society,” she says. “It never ever gets old to me when I see 4,600 students stand to be graduated at the end of the year. I love doing the best we can to prepare them and send them out into the world to do the best they can to make it better.”
Professor Receives Prestigious NSF CAREER Award
Grant funds research and education project in gravitational-wave science
Marc Favata, assistant professor of Mathematical Sciences, was recently awarded a five-year, $400,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant from the National Science Foundation for a research and education project that will explore ways in which gravitational waves offer a new way of looking at the universe. The competitive award supports the research and education initiatives of faculty like Favata who are in the early stages of their careers.
Favata is a member of the NSF-funded Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO. The international LIGO team made history in 2015 when it detec
ted, for the first time, gravitational waves from two black holes colliding to form one. The detection, which is one of the most significant physics discoveries of the past 50 years, confirmed a key prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 theory of relativity.
According to Favata, the detection of these waves – which are ripples in the curvature of spacetime produced by the collisions of black holes – opened up a new era in observational astronomy and fundamental physics. “As LIGO continues to operate, we expect to find many more black hole systems.”
“I feel very humbled – and lucky – to have received this award,” says Favata. “I’m gratified that my peers and the NSF thought that the proposed work is worth pursuing.”
According to Favata, the LIGO discovery of merging black holes helps to answer fundamental science questions about the nature of the environment in which these black holes formed and how they interacted and evolved before becoming black holes. “Another question we’re trying to answer is ‘Was Einstein right?’ General relativity has passed every observational test so far. But it’s possible that as our measurements become more precise, we could find a disagreement with Einstein’s theory.”
Favata’s CAREER research projects focus on two topics broadly related to these questions. “One will involve extending the theoretical models for the gravitational wave signal to include elliptical orbits. This will help us look for evidence of ellipticity in future LIGO signals – and will let us determine if elliptical orbits could be a potential source of confusion when looking for violations of Einstein’s theory,” he explains. The second project involves a phenomenon known as the “memory effect.” Favata says, “If we can detect a particular, non-oscillating aspect of the gravitational waves, it would let us test Einstein’s theory in a new way or give us insight into the objects that produce these signals.”
Getting the Word Out
Montclair State students will be involved in both the project’s research and educational components. “In particular, they will help me to improve the existing ‘Sounds of Spacetime’ website, which I developed with previous students and which lets people ‘listen’ to the universe by exploring the analogy between gravitational waves and sound.”
In addition to engaging – and educating – a broader public about LIGO’s discoveries through lectures and outreach exhibits, Favata will be organizing a collaborative effort to develop instructional kits that demonstrate the concepts behind LIGO’s work.
“NSF CAREER grants are awarded to the best scholars who have created proposals that offer highly promising research while integrating that research with education,” says Robert Prezant, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics. “Dr. Favata created such a proposal, defining his own disciplinary expertise and his dedication to our students, while reflecting the outstanding drive and innovation of our College’s faculty.”
Favata joins past Montclair State faculty recipients of the CAREER award: Pankaj Lal, associate professor of Earth and Environmental Studies and associate director of the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies at Montclair State University; Stefanie Brachfeld, Earth and Environmental Studies chair and director of the doctoral program in Environmental Management; Biology chair Quinn Vega; and Jamaal Matthews, associate professor of Educational Foundations.
“I’m looking forward to LIGO finding many more signals,” says Favata, who is eager to continue expanding the frontiers of gravitational-wave science.
Montclair State University Receives Top Ranking from U.S. News & World Report
Online Graduate Education Program Named One of the Top 50 Programs in the Nation
Montclair State University’s online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program has been ranked the best in New Jersey – and among the top 50 in the nation – by U.S News & World Report in its 2017 Best Online Graduate Education Programs survey.
The ranking, released on January 10, 2017, is the latest recognition of Montclair State’s growing national reputation. U.S. News & World Report included the University’s graduate education programs among the nation’s top 100 in its listing of the 2017 Best Education Schools, and also placed the University’s graduate programs in elementary and secondary teacher education among the top 15 in the country.
“I am very proud that our College continues to look to the future and beyond our walls to serve a diverse population of graduate students,” says Tamara Lucas, dean of the University’s College of Education and Human Services. “We are committed to making both national and local impacts, and the online Educational Leadership program is one way we do that. The program offers exceptional opportunities for educators to excel in their field and become the next generation of leaders. I commend the faculty and staff for their impressive work in getting us the well-deserved recognition of being in the Top 50 schools in the nation for our online Educational Leadership program.”
The University’s comprehensive graduate Educational Leadership program gives students the conceptual tools and professional preparation they need to become accomplished school leaders, while its flexible design lets them choose the study option that best meets their career goals and schedules.
“We have benchmarked best practices in the design and delivery of online programs across a number of disciplines,” explains Peter McAliney, executive director of Online and Extended Learning at Montclair State. “Our team has focused on developing sound online teaching and learning methods, hiring and training the best instructors and creating a ‘Concierge’ service to ensure the highest quality learning experience for our students.”
McAliney notes that his team is currently evaluating existing on-ground programs to see which might be delivered online with the same commitment to quality as that of the Educational Leadership program.
In February 2016, the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education designated Montclair State as a Research Doctoral University. The latest U.S. News & World Report ranking acknowledges Montclair State’s substantial commitment to expanding its graduate and doctoral degree programs.
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