Research Magazine

Auburn Research
Spring/Summer 2022
2021 Awards for Research, Creative Scholarship & Undergraduate Research Mentoring

Creative Research and Scholarship Awards

Auburn’s Creative Research and Scholarship Award is given annually to faculty members who have distinguished themselves through research, creative works and scholarly achievement in one of two categories.

Dr. Giovanna Summerfield

Fine Arts, Liberal Arts, Architecture & Design, Business, Social and Human Sciences

Dr. Giovanna Summerfield is fluent in six languages and is recognized for her wide-ranging scholarship focused on Sicily and the Mediterranean.  Summerfield is a published poet and short novel author and during her 17 years at Auburn University has served as professor of Italian and French, associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and an ambassador in the Office of Sustainability’s Peer Network.

While her scholarly interests are varied, Summerfield finds a few particular research topics among her favorites. “I am first and foremost a specialist of the long eighteenth century both in Italy and France,“ she noted.  “I have worked extensively on the literature, history and culture of this period in both countries and particularly on the spiritual facets of the Enlightenment. Publishing on the deep connections between Freemasons in France and Sicily, I was attracted by the invaluable (but neglected) contributions of Sicilian writers and historians. I was also thrilled to unearth works by Sicilian women writers.  I continue to explore some of these topics while re-discovering cinematic adaptations of literary works as well as civic initiatives for gender equity, anti-mafia movement and Mediterranean matters that are very dear to me.”

Summerfield was born and raised in Sicily and views her native region as a “major crossroads of several cultures,“ adding that it is “a stepping stone between Europe and Africa, thus multiculturalism and multilingualism are the wonderful and exciting benefits of living in this beautiful island. Because of this, I speak several languages and I am appreciative of all the influences and the reinventions that are available on this island.”

In early 2022, Summerfield began duties as editor-in-chief of Italica, a major journal in Italian studies, and is working on several articles and essays that will be published between 2022 and 2023. Also on the horizon are two books that will be available next year, one a critical study of the cinematic representations of Sicily and the other a novel.

“I know there is power in writing,“ Summerfield said. “And I would love to use my time and effort to help making some of our more pressing issues visible and understood.”

Dr. Dongye “Don“ Zhao

Sciences, Biomedical Sciences, Engineering and Agriculture

He still remembers it. It was exciting. Dr. Dongye “Don“ Zhao was a graduate research assistant at Lehigh University. He got an email from a researcher interested in a paper he’d written a year earlier — his first published in a journal — on trace contaminant sorption through polymeric ligand exchange.

“We had developed a new absorbent material that could selectively remove toxic chemicals such as arsenic and selenate from water,“ said Zhao, the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “I was told they would be citing my paper, which made me feel that we were doing something useful. A great encouragement. That was my first citation.”

That was in 1996 — over 15,000 citations ago. That’s not a typo — it’s some of the hardest work Dr. Andy Nowak has ever seen.

“Don is not an average professor,” said Nowak, the Elton and Lois G. Huff Eminent Scholar Chair for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “When he first got here in 2001, oftentimes it would be late in the evening, and we would be the only two people in the building. He would still be working. Obviously, there are many examples of how that sort of hard work paid off.”

In his 20 years at Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, Zhao has led, co-led or participated in more than 40 projects with external funding totaling nearly $9 million.

In addition to putting him among the top 1% of the world’s highly cited researchers, according to Clarivate and the Stanford List of World’s Top Scientists, Zhao’s innovative work in the field of environmental remediation has earned him seven U.S. patents.

Zhao’s work birthed an entirely new research avenue into technologies for remediation of contaminated soil and groundwater using stabilized nanoparticles and inspired literally hundreds of thousands of additional studies. According to Google Scholar, one of the two journal papers reflecting those particular innovations — which resulted in two patents — has been cited 914 times. The other has been cited 721 times.

Not that Zhao is counting. Over the past five years, his research has averaged five citations per day.

“But, yes,” Zhao said, smiling, “I’ll still get on Google Scholar every now and then.”

Provost Award for Faculty Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring

The Provost Award for Faculty Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring recognizes faculty who demonstrate a strong commitment to undergraduate research through their support of Auburn students interested in careers in research and creative works. The award has been given annually since 2012.

Dr. Gretchen Oliver

Dr. Gretchen Oliver is known both nationally and internationally as the leading researcher in softball pitching and injury prevention.

Oliver, a professor in the College of Education’s School of Kinesiology, has mentored more than 70 students in her Sports Medicine and Movement Lab, giving them high-quality research experiences to propel them to future success.Regan Shaw, a 2020 graduate of Auburn University, worked in Oliver’s lab from August 2017 to May 2020. “Dr. Oliver cultivates a wonderful learning environment in her lab that challenges all of her undergraduate students to excel,“ Shaw said. “Dr. Oliver is with us every step of the way, whether it is asking leading questions to guide us on the right track in our research, helping us learn to analyze our data or reviewing every detail in a paper or poster for presentation.”

Oliver has successfully integrated research in the Sports Medicine and Movement Lab and provided critical entry points for undergraduate researchers, demonstrating the importance of undergraduate research as a high-impact practice.

Oliver said the root of her mentoring philosophy is derived from her life’s motto, “Be Better Tomorrow.”

“The caveat of ‘Be Better Tomorrow’ is that ‘I Did My Best Today’ – thus, I am always striving to be even better tomorrow,“ she explained. “My approach to student mentoring is no different. My goal every day is to be better than I was yesterday. I want my students to gain more from the research experience today than they did yesterday.”

Recognized by the director of Auburn’s School of Kinesiology, Dr. Mary Rudisill, as a strong mentor whose work results in incredible outcomes, Oliver gives students the opportunity to learn how research informs practice.

“Oliver is recognized as one of the foremost authorities of upper extremity motion in the world,” Rudisill said. “Over the years, her research team has had an enormous impact on how athletes and soldiers train and perform. Dr. Oliver has been invited to present her research around the globe and has also been invited to work with teams of orthopedic physicians/surgeons about implications of her research as it applies to the practical world.”

Last updated: June 02, 2022