School of Arts and Humanities News

15 Distinguished Faculty Members Honored at Investiture Ceremony


A crowd of family members, colleagues and benefactors gathered to pay tribute as UT Dallas celebrated 15 of its most accomplished faculty members with a formal Investiture Ceremony and reception March 18.

The ceremony honored both the distinguished faculty members and the far-sighted donors who helped establish the endowed chairs and professorships, President David E. Daniel said.

“Without this partnership — key leaders who help invest in the future of the University and great faculty members who bring that vision to realization — we would not be the kind of University that we are,” Daniel said.

The faculty members who were invested hold professorships and chairs in the Office of Undergraduate Education, the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, the School of Arts and Humanities, and the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Dressed in full academic regalia, each investee was introduced to colleagues, family members, students and mentors before their dean and Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, executive vice president and provost, draped a medallion around the recipient’s neck, signifying the honor of the investiture.

President David E. Daniel

For faculty such as Dr. Orlando Auciello, holder of the Distinguished Chair in Engineering and professor of materials science and engineering and bioengineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, the ceremony was an opportunity to publicly thank family members for the support given throughout his career.

“I want to thank first and foremost my dear wife, Hildegard, who accompanied me all these years, starting as a physics student in the mountains of Argentina at the Balseiro Institute, then going to Canada where I became a materials scientist, then to North Carolina State University and the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina … and finally to Argonne National Laboratory where I turned into a bioengineer,” said Auciello, who joined UT Dallas in 2012.

Dr. Andrew Blanchard, Mary McDermott Cook Distinguished Chair for Undergraduate Education and Research, thanked his wife, Darwin, for her support over four decades as he rose from an engineer to the University’s dean of Undergraduate Education, vice president for Information Resources and chief information officer.

Dr. and Mrs. Andrew Blanchard

“When I started my career, I believed that my mission was to be a good engineer  —  a noble, yet limited mission,” Blanchard said. “Throughout four decades, Darwin helped me to understand that my mission was to become a better person, and with that, everything would fall into place.”

Faculty also expressed appreciation for donors who have supported the University with chairs and professorships, as well as those for whom the positions were named.

Dr. Daniel C. Krawczyk, associate professor of cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and holder of the Debbie and Jim Francis Chair, thanked the couple for whom his new chair was named.

“I’ve had the good fortune to get to know Debbie and Jim over the years, and the striking thing about them is how devoted they are to the cause and building support for brain research,” Krawczyk said. “They work tirelessly on this cause every day and inspire others to do so as well.”

Debbie Francis said it was a “huge honor” to have the chair named after her and her husband.

“Having worked with Dan, and knowing Dan, it’s an even bigger honor that our names are now associated together,” Francis said. “We’re so amazed by the University and the talent that it has and the talent that it wants to continue to get. It really encourages us to keep working on behalf of UT Dallas.”

Dr. Michael Kilgard, the Margaret Fonde Jonsson Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, said he has been influenced by the family connected with his chair for his entire life. His father worked for Texas Instruments for 35 years, and now Kilgard’s professorship is named for the widow of Erik Jonsson, one of three founders of both Texas Instruments and UT Dallas.

Dr. and Mrs. Robert L. Rennaker

“The Cecil Green family, the Eugene McDermott family and the Erik Jonsson family had a really big impact, from the beginning of my days as a toddler, through my toys, to my first car in college,” Kilgard said. “I really thank them for their continuing support in my career.”

The University’s collaborative spirit was on display, as Kilgard and Dr. Robert L. Rennaker II, head of the Department of Bioengineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and associate professor of neuroscience in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, each mentioned their work with the other in their acceptance remarks.

The two are part of a team of researchers and clinicians that has developed a new method of directing neuroplasticity, the changing of the nervous system in response to new experiences, which could result in new treatments for tinnitus and chronic pain, as well as stroke, traumatic brain injury, autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

“What we are trying to do is improve the quality of life of millions of people suffering from neurological conditions, and our God has allowed us to find something that we think might help us do that,” said Rennaker, Cecil H. and Ida Green Professor in Systems Biology Science and executive director of the Texas Biomedical Device Center. “I am honored to be part of this place, to be part of an institution that is forward-looking.”

His wife, Paula, had brought their three children, Abbey, Mya and Lily, to see Rennaker “being recognized for all the hard work that they know Daddy does.”

Student researchers in Dr. Moon Kim’s lab cheered when he was invested as the Louis Beecherl Jr. Distinguished Professor. Kim is professor of materials science and engineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, and professor of arts and technology in the School of Arts and Humanities.

“I started my career in the early ’90s, looking at small things, small things called ‘nano.’ Nanotechnology is the thing we enjoy every day. Since then, I tried to convince our organization that small is big, or should be big in Texas. I hope I was successful,” Kim said.

Materials science graduate student Francis de Dios, who is a researcher in Kim’s lab, praised his mentor for his expertise and academic guidance.

“He has given me a lot of good advice in my first year at UT Dallas,” de Dios said after the ceremony. “We’re pretty proud of him. It’s evident he deserves it. He knows what he’s doing.”

For Dr. Stephen Levene, the investiture was made more poignant when he learned his PhD advisor and mentor had died unexpectedly the day before the ceremony. Levene changed his acceptance remarks to dedicate his honor to Dr. Donald Crothers of Yale University.

“He was a model in terms of intellectual rigor, in terms of dedication and in terms of science to the scientific and academic community,” said Levene, professor of bioengineering and holder of the Cecil H. and Ida Green Professorship in Systems Biology Science. “I try every day to live up to the example that he set.”

UT Dallas has more than 100 chairs and professorships, the highest academic awards that the University can bestow on a faculty member. Funding generated by the establishment of a chair or professorship plays a critical role in assisting faculty members to advance their instructional programs and research.

“This is yet another important, vital dimension of becoming a great university, namely that we have benefactors who enable us to fund these positions and faculty so worthy of the honor. It’s fun to be a provost of a university which has great faculty and the means to recognize them,” Wildenthal said.

Investitures are one of the oldest traditions in academia, dating back more than 500 years. They originated in England as a way for universities to honor their most accomplished scholars.

The last such ceremony at UT Dallas was held in fall 2012.


This Story Originally Appeared on the UT Dallas News Center