a trophy being held in the air

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 

BRiDGE — BRiDGE is a student-led initiative at UMass Amherst aiming to highlight scholars from a variety of backgrounds with exceptional broader impacts. 

BRiDGE Coordination Committee

“Building BRiDGE has made us realize that student-led initiatives are critical to supporting underrepresented students. Creating this program from scratch gave us crucial leadership skills. BRiDGE also gave us the agency to build spaces where the conversations we wanted to have about identity, visibility and broader impacts in STEM would be highlighted and valued. Seeing the way that the next generation of BRiDGE organizers are contributing to the program and making it their own has been immensely rewarding for us. We started BRiDGE because we identified a need that was not being met by other initiatives on campus, and the fact that so many students are now contributing their time and energy to ensure the continued success of BRiDGE is evidence that our efforts were successful.” — The BRiDGE Coordination Committee  

Paige Warren, professor, Environmental Conservation

Paige Warren


“I am very honored by the award. There is still so much more that I hope to do to advance the goals of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.”



Megan West, Director of Administration and Outreach, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


Outstanding Teaching

Lara Al Hariri, senior lecturer, Chemistry

Lara Al Hariri

“It is an honor to have received this award in the shadow of the current global pandemic. As a chemist, I have always wanted to be the catalyst that brings the best out of students, helping them to reach their maximum potential. My focus is on fostering the development of skills that establish a foundation for their careers by teaching them ‘how to think’ rather than ‘what to think.’ I love creating an engaging learning environment using the best inclusive teaching practices that advance the curiosity for class activities and helps them relate the course material to their experiences. My philosophy involves teaching using innovative, evidence-based methods paired with empathy to show them that I sincerely care about their commitment to higher education.”

Randall Phillis, associate professor, Biology  


Outstanding Research

Lila Gierasch, distinguished professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Lila Gierasch

“I am thrilled and honored to be selected by my colleagues for the CNS Outstanding Achievement Award. I want to expression my appreciation for the supportive environment UMass Amherst has provided me and give buckets of credit to all the people who’ve worked with me over the years! This represents the fruits of their labor and creativity!” 



Li-Jun Ma, associate professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology  

Li-Jun Ma

“My research focuses on Fusarium oxysporum, a pathogen that infects both animals and plants whose genome usually encodes one or more pathogenicity chromosomes. Like some bacterial plasmids, these genetic elements determine host-specific pathogenicity and can be transmitted horizontally. One of our research published this year also documented the contribution of such pathogenicity chromosomes in causing infectious diseases among immunocompromised (disseminated fusariosis) and Fusarium keratitis (vision impairment) patients. Passionate about research, I am equally committed to promoting an inclusive and collaborative research environment for the purpose of discovering scientific knowledge.” 


Outstanding Service and Engagement

Janice Telfer, professor, Veterinary and Animal Sciences

Janice Telfer

“It has been a privilege and delight to help our talented students achieve their dreams, whether they were long-held or newly discovered. I would also like to thank my colleagues for their hard work and unstinting support of this endeavor.”




Outstanding Advising

Sarah Berquist, lecturer, Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Sarah Berquist

“I am so grateful to be recognized for this Outstanding Achievement Award by CNS because having one-on-one relationships with students is one of my favorite parts about my job. My advising meetings are a space for students to explore both their personal and professional values and goals and feel seen and heard as whole human beings. When students can connect their personal and academic goals, they grow as life-long learners and are more prepared for their work. I believe awareness and inclusivity are essential in advising. The more aware I am of my own judgments and social identity, the more inclusive and effective listener I can be. Being fully present and honest allows for deeper connection, trust, and openness. I am excited to continue welcoming new advisees and love staying connected to former students…they are already out transforming our food system and changing our world!” 


Outstanding Staff

Anne Gaddy, Manager of Research Support Services, CNS

Lisa Groth, clerk, Polymer Science and Engineering

Lisa Groth

“I am extremely honored to be selected as a recipient of the CNS Outstanding Achievement Award. This award came as a welcome surprise while trying to make my way to a new normal due to COVID-19. I sincerely enjoy working in Polymer Science & Engineering Department as the office and graduate program manager. This unique position affords me the opportunity to collaborate with faculty, staff, students and many others on campus. My two favorite days of the year is when I get to meet our incoming students for the first time and on commencement when I can watch the success of our combined efforts and know we made a difference in a student’s life. I am grateful to work with an amazing group of people in PSE who without their support and friendship this award wouldn’t be possible. I want to thank our Department Head, David Hoagland and the many others who nominated me for this award.” 

Walter Pollard, machine shop foreman/model maker, Physics 

Walter Pollard

“This is the highlight of my career here at UMass. This makes me proud, appreciated and respected as a part of the CNS team here at UMass. It makes me feel so warm that many people took their valuable time to nominate me for this award. I take great pleasure and pride in serving the professors and their students in consulting design, designing and manufacturing their apparatus for their research work. This is indeed an honor that I cherish.”



In gratitude to the award winners, associate 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.” 

In previous years, recipients have been presented with their awards and a $1,000 honorarium at a special ceremony during the spring semester. The date for this year’s celebration has been postponed and will be announced later during the fall semester. 


Source: Environmental Conservation News