2021 Outstanding Achievement Awards

Each year, the College of Natural Sciences honors its faculty, staff, and student leaders who have made important contributions to their discipline, department, college, and university by presenting them with the Outstanding Achievement Awards.  


Recipients are nominated by colleagues within the college and chosen by committees chaired by designees appointed by Dean Tricia Serio, who may include past awardees. Of this year’s recipients, Dean Serio remarked, “These leaders continue to enrich our college community with their exceptional work. I am tremendously grateful for their efforts to demonstrate academic excellence, enhance the student experience, and create a more inclusive and accessible learning environment.” 

Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Awards

Karine Fénelon, Assistant Professor, Biology

Karine Fénelon

“I am deeply humbled and honored to receive this award. I also truly appreciate the continued support of UMass and CNS in creating a space for diversity and social justice. But most important, I hope that my efforts have contributed to the University’s mission and willingness to engage in conversations and self-reflections toward concrete tangible changes and actions. In these challenging times, I remain optimistic that we can all come together as a community and continue to educate ourselves on how to become true allies and anti-racists. This hard work will only come to fruition if each of us takes the time to assess our own individual efforts and learning progress. While I am motivated to continue to propose ideas that will advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, I believe that this award is a reflection of the willingness of my peers and allies to undertake and continue this work, together. Quoting Amanda Gorman: ‘For there is always a light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.’”


Wayne Barnaby, PhD student, Neuroscience & Behavior

Wayne Barnaby“I am truly honored to receive this award. I want to thank the community for choosing to make the collective effort to battle systemic racism. Over the past year this choice has led to real tangible progress. It has also uncovered unforeseen issues and has led to uncomfortable but crucial conversations. I appreciate those willing to genuinely engage and contribute to these discussions. I believe that this is a strong community filled with unbelievably brilliant minds. As we continue to apply our collective energy and talents to harm reduction and improving support for Black and Brown members, we will see this college become even more well rounded and innovative than we already are. I hope this award represents collaboration and the struggle forward to a more inclusive and anti-racist environment.”

Outstanding Teaching Awards 

John Bickford, Senior Lecturer, Psychological & Brain Sciences

John Bickford

“I often tell people that being a lecturer at UMass Amherst feels like winning the career lottery. It is the perfect position for me, not only because I’m doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, but also because I’m doing it in an incredibly supportive environment. The university, the College of Natural Sciences, and especially the Psychological and Brain Sciences department have always done an amazing job of making me feel completely welcomed and valued here, and this great honor is another wonderful example of that. Moreover, the amazingly bright, talented, enthusiastic, and just plain delightful students at UMass are a constant source of inspiration for me. So I feel incredibly fortunate to be here, and deeply honored by this award.”

Donald Candela, Professor, Physics (tenure system) 

Donald Candela

“I am delighted and honored to have been selected for this teaching reward. For me, the keys to successful teaching have been fairly simple: Have some enthusiasm and fun with your subject matter, and pay attention to and care about your students’ problems. Of course we have definite goals for the skills we want to teach, but I have found the surest path to those goals leads through our own wonder and love for the subject material — if we don’t care about it, why should our students? Finally, I would like to thank the wonderful students we have here at UMass — they come from many different backgrounds and have their own, original ways of thinking, and without their interest and hard work, there would be no good teaching.”

Outstanding Staff Awards

Sara Cooper, Department Manager/Assistant to Department Head, Physics

Sara Cooper“I’m so honored to be chosen for this. I work with amazing faculty, researchers, staff and students who inspire me to do my best for them. My everyday goal is to make sure they have the information and resources to do their best teaching, research, learning and departmental responsibilities. Having their support is so appreciated.

Darci Connor Maresca, Assistant Director, School of Earth and Sustainability, Environmental Conservation

Darci Connor Maresca

“It is a privilege to be part of an impressive team of faculty, staff, and students here at UMass and the College of Natural Sciences. My work resides within the School of Earth & Sustainability (SES), a relatively new transdisciplinary unit at the university. Our focus is on sparking and sustaining collaborations that emphasize sustainable, systems-based thinking and address the pressing environmental challenges of our time. I am incredibly proud of the programs, projects, and initiatives that SES is advancing here on campus and throughout the region. While we are a small, nimble, and dedicated (i.e., badass) team, what positions us to make a meaningful difference is our approach to problem-solving. We operate from a collaborative framework, drawing on the expertise of diverse and sometimes uncommon partners. In my view, that is part of what makes our work so timely, exciting, and impactful. It is also how I have interacted and collaborated with so many talented and passionate colleagues from across UMass. It would be an honor to be recognized as “Outstanding” by the college in any year. As a working mom during COVID, it is received on a whole other level with immense gratitude.” 

Robert “Bob” Sabola, Instrumentation Engineer, Chemistry 

Robert “Bob” Sabola“Truly a surprise, maybe even a little shocking, when I learned that I was chosen as a recipient of the CNS Outstanding Achievement Award. It is an honor for me to receive this award. Thank you to all the faculty, staff, and students who contributed to this nomination. I always had the thought that my job is to make the lives of those who are on campus a little bit easier. It’s easy to do when you enjoy what you do for work. As always, it has been a pleasure and joy to have worked for you and with you throughout the years. What more can I say other than thank you.”

Heather Lohr, Clerk, Center for Agriculture Food, and the Environment

Heather Lohr“I’m extremely honored to be a recipient of the CNS Outstanding Achievement Award. Since joining the administrative team at CAFE in 2014, I have continually been impressed and motivated by the commitment and dedication of my colleagues. The effort and excellence they bring to their work every day inspires me to do the same in my contributions toward fulfilling the mission of CAFE and Extension. I am grateful and excited to be able to contribute to that mission, supporting all my colleagues in their outreach and engagement efforts in service to so many stakeholders, citizens, and communities in Massachusetts. It means a great deal to me to be a part of an organization that can make a difference in the lives of so many people every single day. I’d also like to thank Jody Jellison, Director of CAFE, and Bill Miller, Assistant Director for Program Development, Assessment, and Federal Compliance for nominating me — and thanks to all of my CAFE colleagues for their guidance, commitment, camaraderie, and support.”

Outstanding Advising Awards

Meghan Gerson, Academic Advisor, Biology

Meghan Gerson

“Knowing all of the amazing advisors in the College of Natural Sciences, it is an honor to be recognized as this years outstanding advisor. I love what I do. All students care about what courses they take. However, advising is much more than helping students pick their courses. It is about providing students with the support they need so they can reach their full potential. Being able to connect individually with students is always a joy, and in this last year of uncertainty and chaos, still having those connections continue virtually has made this atypical advising year seem almost normal. What has certainly not been normal is the loss of connection with the other amazing individuals in the Biology Advising office, Bruce, Sue, Emily, and Carrie. We are truly a team and I am very proud to be a part of such a great office that cares about undergraduate student success. We are not afraid to work hard and do things right to best serve our students.”

Outstanding Service and Engagement Awards

Annie Raymond, Assistant Professor, Mathematics & Statistics

Annie Raymond

“I am deeply honored and grateful to be receiving this award for outstanding service and engagement. A few years ago, Francis Su asked the mathematical community, ‘Who do we picture when we picture a mathematician?’ This question has haunted me ever since. Time and time again, I have seen rooms full of incarcerated people erupt in cheers because of math. I have witnessed everybody from very young girls, to teenagers in lower socioeconomic communities, to older people in retirement houses get positively giddy about math. These are not the people who we traditionally think of when we think of mathematicians, and yet, there can be no question that they are. Meeting all of them has taught me so much and brought me so many joyful mathematical experiences. It has also reinforced my belief that we are all mathematical beings, but that, unfairly, few people get the opportunity to see themselves in that way. Changing this is central to my mission as an academic.”

Outstanding Research Awards

Verena Martinez Outschoorn, Associate Professor, Physics (early career) 

Verena Martinez Outschoorn

“It is an honor to receive this prize and be part of the CNS and UMass communities! This is a very intellectually stimulating and supportive environment in which to carry out research in particle physics. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone in my group and my colleagues on the ATLAS experiment and at CERN who have made this work possible.”

Lynn Adler, Professor, Biology 

Lynn Adler

“I am so thrilled and honored to have been chosen for this award, and grateful for such a supportive environment. I have the intellectual freedom to choose questions and the wonder of making new discoveries. I get paid to pay with plants and bugs, which is amazing. And I have the honor of mentoring outstanding and diverse students who allow me to share part of their journey, who contribute to our collective research goals, and who are constantly teaching me as well. These research accomplishments would not have happened without the efforts of so many wonderful past and present lab members.”


In gratitude to the award winners, Aassociate Dean for Research and Innovation Mark Tuominen said, “We are very proud of the dedicated accomplishments of the faculty, staff, and students in the College of Natural Sciences. The Outstanding Achievement Awards recognize the efforts of people who exhibit innovation and a commitment to excellence and extraordinary service.” 

Recipients will be presented with $1,000 honorariums in the Spring semester followed by a special awards ceremony. Our 2021 and 2020 CNS Outstanding Achievements Awards Ceremony will be combined this year and held virtually on Wednesday, April 28, from 3 to 5 p.m.

Source: Environmental Conservation News