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Distinguished Professors, Benefactors Celebrated at Investiture Ceremony
May 28, 2015
Like a gathering of an extended yet close-knit family, the recent Investiture Ceremony and reception at UT Dallas brought together parents, children, siblings and spouses to celebrate with the University as it bestowed its highest honors on a group of distinguished faculty members.
Families of the faculty honorees as well as colleagues, students and friends attended the April 2 event that recognized 11 individuals and the benefactors who helped establish endowed chairs and professorships at the University. Funding generated by the establishment of chairs or professorships plays a critical role in advancing faculty research.
Donning full academic regalia, each investee took center stage as UT Dallas President David E. Daniel described their professional accomplishments. Then their respective deans and Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, executive vice president and provost, draped an investiture medallion around each recipient’s neck, as the audience of proud picture-takers captured the joyous moment.
Dr. Daniel A. Cohen with his daughter, Yael, 4.
Faculty members who were invested hold positions in the School of Arts and Humanities, the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, and the Naveen Jindal School of Management (JSOM).
“UT Dallas’ aspirations to become a major, nationally competitive research university will take buildings and infrastructure, but above all else, it will take people: faculty members who are at the top of their respective academic disciplines, who can teach and inspire the current students who will become our future leaders,” Daniel told the crowd.
Among the honorees was Dr. Daniel A. Cohen, a professor of accounting in the Jindal School, who said he was grateful for the opportunity to join the UT Dallas family in 2010, to do what he loves on a daily basis. He also said he was happy that so many of his family members attended the celebration of his investiture as an Ashbel Smith Professor. His parents came from Israel, and his sister traveled with her family from Cypress. His wife, 4-year-old daughter and 17-month-old son also joined him.
The occasion marked only the second time Cohen’s father has visited the United States. The first was for Cohen’s PhD graduation ceremony at Northwestern University.
“I feel incredibly honored to be the first one to hold this fellowship, and I hope to make Sydney proud of my research,” said Dr. Rebecca L. Files, Sydney Smith Hicks Faculty Fellow, (left) with Dr. Sydney Smith Hicks and President David E. Daniel.
“It’s very emotional,” Cohen said. “It means a lot because they have supported me so much. When I came from Israel by myself, I was fortunate enough to get a full scholarship because they didn’t have the means, but they were fully supportive of me leaving them behind and travelling thousands of miles. They never had a doubt that I would succeed. Even though the PhD studies and the tenure process were very challenging, they were always there for me.”
Several donors or their representatives also took part in the ceremony, receiving replica medallions matching those associated with the university chair established by their gifts.
A longtime supporter of JSOM, Dr. Sydney Smith Hicks created a faculty fellowship to champion educators early in their careers. Hicks is a Plano entrepreneur who got her start as an assistant professor as she was finishing her doctoral degree. Dr. Rebecca L. Files, an assistant professor of accounting, was invested as the first Sydney Smith Hicks Faculty Fellow.
“I think all of us, no matter what career we’re in, remember what it was like to get started,” said Hicks, who serves on the advisory board of the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and the JSOM Advisory Council. “That’s why I created this fellowship, because it is so hard to start. If we can accelerate results faster, that’s a passion I have.”
Files said it is forward-looking that Hicks would want to support assistant professors in particular. She called Hicks an amazing role model.
“When you look at this University, you have to really think about and thank the people who decide to make a commitment, usually pretty early in their life, to spend their life creating knowledge and transferring it,” said distinguished alumnus Ron Nash MS’79. He and his wife, Susan, established a professorship in JSOM.
“I feel incredibly honored to be the first one to hold this fellowship, and I hope to make Sydney proud of my research,” Files said. “Being involved in this investiture ceremony has been incredibly motivating, to see the other faculty members who have gone before me, and how I can use the resources that Sydney has provided to jump-start my research even more.”
Texas Instruments has supported UT Dallas since the institution’s beginning, and the company continued that tradition by creating the Texas Instruments Distinguished Chair in Bioengineering, now held by Dr. Robert L. Rennaker II, head of the Department of Bioengineering and executive director of the Texas Biomedical Device Center.
Rennaker, who holds faculty appointments in both electrical engineering in the Jonsson School and in neuroscience in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, is part of a team of researchers and clinicians who developed a new method of using vagus nerve stimulation to address such conditions as tinnitus, chronic pain, stroke, Alzheimer’s and more. He also worked with TI to develop a device that could identify changes in neurological function after sports impacts.
“You and the University have been given much, and it’s our shared responsibility to go forth in pursuit of knowledge, understanding and innovation. We’ll hold each other accountable and we’ll urge each other to new heights.”
“We’re here to support the University in every way going forward,” Doug Phillips MBA’03, TI’s worldwide university marketing manager, said after the ceremony. “I’m not a science person, but I travel to universities all over the world and see that bioengineering is one of the fastest emerging areas in the world. That’s why Dr. Rennaker’s work is so fascinating.”
During his remarks before the crowd, Rennaker thanked the company for believing in his work. “With Texas Instruments and UT Dallas investing in us and the initiatives that we’re moving forward with, I think that we’re going to change the world, and we’ll see it in our lifetime,” he said. “We’re going to improve the quality of life of people suffering from a wide range of neurological and other conditions.”
Distinguished alumnus Ron Nash MS’79 and his wife, Susan C. Nash, established a professorship in JSOM as part of their longtime support for the University.
“I’ve been very blessed to participate in this University in a lot of different roles, initially as a student and then as a volunteer. I’ve benefitted from all of those roles,” said Nash, who serves on the Development Board Executive Committee and was a member of the University Campaign Council associated with Realize the Vision: The Campaign for Tier One & Beyond. Ron is an entrepreneur who serves as CEO of Pivot3, and Susan is vice president of VMware.
“When you look at this University, you have to really think about and thank the people who decide to make a commitment, usually pretty early in their life, to spend their life creating knowledge and transferring it.” Nash said. “I hope this professorship in some small way will be a ‘thank you’ to all those people who made that dedication and commitment and transferred knowledge to me, which made my life so much more robust and successful.”
Dr. Michael J. Rebello, whose expertise includes corporate governance, capital structure and restructuring, as well as venture capital financing, was invested as the Susan C. and H. Ronald Nash Distinguished Professor of Finance and Managerial Economics.
Rebello thanked the Nashes, the University and his family, as well as his colleagues and students over the past 25 years, “without whose help I would not be here,” he said.
Susan Rogers, vice president for advancement, concluded the program by urging faculty members to live up to the potential of their titles.
“You and the University have been given much, and it’s our shared responsibility to go forth in pursuit of knowledge, understanding and innovation. We’ll hold each other accountable and we’ll urge each other to new heights,” Rogers said.
She also expressed thanks to the donors whose generosity made the endowed positions possible, characterizing them as “true visionaries.”
“You entrust us with resources and you allow us to dream, and to achieve our dreams of excellence,” she said. “Your gifts further work that holds the potential to advance our society in ways that are both truly profound and critically needed. You have a farsighted commitment to improving and advancing the world around you. We cannot thank you enough.”
Media Contact: Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].