University Honors Newest Endowed Chairs, Professors at Investiture Ceremony
April 21, 2016
An injured leg in a cast and pair of crutches were not going to keep 11-year-old Emily Le Prell from watching her mother receive The University of Texas at Dallas’ highest academic honor.
At a recent campus event, Emily’s mom, Dr. Colleen Le Prell, professor and head of audiology at UT Dallas, stood on stage dressed in her academic regalia as University officials draped a medallion around her neck signifying her title: the Emilie and Phil Schepps Professor in Hearing Science.
Emily joined her dad, grandparents and about 80 other audience members in celebration of five distinguished faculty members who were honored with endowed professorships and chairs at UT Dallas’ 2016 Investiture Ceremony. The positions, typically funded by individuals, corporations and foundations, create opportunities for UT Dallas to attract and retain outstanding professors who will enhance students' academic experiences and the University’s reputation .
“This ceremony gives us a chance to celebrate with our great faculty and their friends and families, and also to thank the people who made the endowments possible,” said Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, UT Dallas president ad interim, who welcomed family, friends and supporters to the investiture.
Emilie and Phil Schepps established Le Prell’s professorship in 2005 to support research activities at UT Dallas’ Callier Center for Communication Disorders.
“This is an exciting time to be in hearing science, so I want to express my gratitude to Emilie and Phil Schepps, who established a professorship in hearing science that will support all of the activities that the University encourages and that we’re engaged in,” said Le Prell, a professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
UT Dallas has more than 100 endowed chairs and professorships, which assist faculty members in the advancement of their instructional programs and research.
“These outstanding faculty members serve as institutional leaders,” said Dr. Inga Musselman, acting provost. “They uphold UTD’s strong tradition of academic excellence by challenging and encouraging our students to maintain high standards in the completion of their education.”
Dr. Reza Moheimani, a professor of mechanical engineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, holds the James Von Ehr Distinguished Chair in Science and Technology. James Von Ehr MS’81 and his wife, Gayla, established the chair in 2002 and attended the recent ceremony.
James Von Ehr is founder and CEO of Zyvex Labs, and has been active in the business community in North Texas since starting his first company in 1984. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus in 2004, and his service to UT Dallas includes serving as chairman of the Development Board from 2005 to 2012, and as a member of the campaign council for the Realize the Vision: The Campaign for Tier One and Beyond fundraising effort.
“We’re very pleased to welcome Professor Moheimani,” Von Ehr said at the ceremony. “It’s great first to be able to have the money to endow a chair. Anyone who has the money should do it now, while you’re alive, so you get to meet the person in the chair. We’re looking forward to getting to know Reza and his family.”
The previous holder of that chair was Nobel laureate and nanotechnology pioneer Dr. Alan MacDiarmid, who was a UT Dallas faculty member in chemistry from 2002 until his death in 2007.
“You have big shoes to fill,” Von Ehr told Moheimani, “but you’re on the right path.”
Moheimani related the story of how, as an early career engineer on faculty at an Australian university, he read with enthusiasm about the then-emerging field of nanotechnology. He read about “someone in Texas” who had decided that it was the right time to commercialize ideas from that field.
“That person was Jim Von Ehr, and his startup was Zyvex,” Moheimani said. “Never did I expect to be standing here today to receive the chair that Jim donated to UT Dallas. Nor did I expect to be working with Zyvex on projects of mutual interest.
“Jim is a visionary, and it is an honor for me to accept this chair.”
Dr. Vikram Nanda received a medallion recognizing him as the O. P. Jindal Distinguished Chair in Finance from Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, president ad interim, and Dr. Inga Musselman, activng provost.
Dr. Vikram Nanda was recognized as the O. P. Jindal Distinguished Chair in Finance. Naveen Jindal established the chair in 2012, in honor of his father, to support the research and scholarly activities of the chairholder in the Naveen Jindal School of Management.
Nanda said he was grateful to be at the University, and has enjoyed meeting students and colleagues.
“This is a great department to be in,” Nanda said. “We have the right leadership and the right research focus.”
Dr. Paul Diehl, associate provost and director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, was invested as the Ashbel Smith Professor of Political Science in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences. The UT System Board of Regents created the Ashbel Smith Professorships in 1963 to honor the board's first president. Smith, who died in 1886, was surgeon general to the Republic of Texas, founder of the Texas Medical Association, and an advocate for university-level education in the state.
Diehl said endowed positions come with certain obligations to the future.
“We’re all recognized here for our research acumen in the past, but I think the expectation is, with an endowed professorship, you have a responsibility to continue that research that is both important and relative to the problems of today,” he said. “I also think it carries the obligation to be a role model, not just to be an outstanding researcher, but an exceptional teacher and someone who provides exceptional service to the University and to the local community.”
Dr. David McPhail is a professor of chemistry and the Edith O’Donnell Distinguished Chair of Conservation Science in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. McPhail is working closely with the Edith O'Donnell Institute of Art History and the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s major art museums in collaborative research projects in conservation science. The endowed chair was established by a gift from Edith O'Donnell in 2014.
“This is the greatest day in my academic career,” said McPhail after receiving his medallion. “It is a tremendous honor.”
McPhail noted that conservation science is a widely interdisciplinary subject, spanning artistry, curation, conservation, science, engineering, psychology, sociology and more.
“In less than three months at UT Dallas, it’s very obvious to me that this is a university that really fosters, encourages and supports work across traditional subject boundaries,” he said.
In additional to thanking his wife and children for their support of his career, McPhail singled out the rewards that come to university educators from working with students.
“Taking students through undergraduate and postgraduate education and seeing them become mature professionals in their chosen fields is perhaps the most fantastic aspect of our job.”