2023 Recipients

Faculty Excellence in Teaching

Courtney Adams Wooten
Assistant Professor, English

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Courtney Adams Wooten is associate chair for writing program administration and assistant professor in the English department in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. She joined Mason in 2018 and has focused energy on supporting faculty in the Composition Program and providing students with excellent instruction in composition informed by cutting-edge research in writing studies. She regularly teaches general education composition courses as well as graduate courses in composition pedagogy, using these experiences to refine her personal teaching and inform work in the composition program as a whole. She has worked with a dedicated administrative team and faculty across the program on projects such as a linguistic justice working group, a hybrid task force, and a contract grading working group, which have not only supported work across the program but led to professional publications and presentations by teams of composition faculty. To support this work, she has collaborated with other faculty to receive funding for various projects through two Mason Curriculum Impact Grants, a Stearns Center ARIT Grant, and a national Conference on College Composition and Communication Research Initiative Grant. She served on the Council of Writing Program Administrators Executive Board for three years; she was the book review editor for WPA: Writing Program Administration for four years; she co-edited the collections The Things We Carry: Strategies for Recognizing and Negotiating Emotional Labor in Writing Program Administration and WPAs in Transition: Navigating Educational Leadership Positions; and she has published articles and book chapters about writing program administration and writing pedagogy, some of which are co-authored with Mason colleagues. She has also done considerable work across campus that helps her advocate for faculty and improve student learning, including work on the Mason Core Committee and the Faculty Senate Task Force on Reimagining Faculty Roles and Rewards.

Gwendolyn Lewis
Associate Professor, Interdisciplinary Program in Neurosciences

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Gwendolyn (Wendy) Lewis is an associate professor (term-instructional) in the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience (IPN). Lewis joined the IPN when it was created in 2016 and was the first teaching-focused faculty member dedicated solely to the program. She has served as the undergraduate coordinator for the IPN since 2018, overseeing the growth and expansion of the program. Lewis has helped position the neuroscience program as a leader in innovative course design by promoting the development of Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs). In Lewis’s research course, the Zebrafish Neurodevelopment Laboratory, students design and carry out novel research projects to investigate the nervous system in zebrafish, a commonly used model system, and present their work at internal and external symposiums. Through this Mason Impact + Research and Scholarship course, Lewis has increased the access and availability of undergraduate research experiences, mentoring over 100 students on dozens of research projects since 2017. Lewis has also been actively involved in developing and teaching courses for the Mason Core, including the Natural Science course Introduction to Neuroscience, which makes neuroscience accessible to a broad audience of non-majors, and the Writing Intensive course Nervous System Injury and Disease. Both of these courses have been recognized by students as outstanding Mason Core courses on multiple occasions. Lewis is passionate about science education and promoting scientific literacy, and looks forward to continuing to innovate in course and curricular design.

John Toups Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Teaching

Anya S. Evmenova
Professor, Special Education and disAbility Research

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Anya Evmenova is a professor in the Division of Special Education and DisAbility Research in the College of Education and Human Development. She teaches undergraduate, master, and doctoral courses in assistive technology, special education, and research methods. She is the recipient of the Teaching Excellence Award for the Technology-Enhanced Teaching (2016) and the inaugural Online Teaching Excellence Award (2018). She has developed a number of online courses featuring all modalities. She specializes in accessible instruction methods grounded in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) with application in all learning environments (face-to-face, hybrid, online). An advocate for understanding learner variability and removing barriers, her courses offer multiple means of engagement, motivating students in creative ways; multiple means of representation, presenting content in different formats; and multiple means of action/expression, allowing students to demonstrate knowledge in a variety of ways. She meaningfully uses technology innovations to support the inclusion and success of all learners. Her students consistently comment on how much they benefit from personalized learning options. Dr. Evmenova regularly engages in research around her teaching and disseminates her teaching innovations via publications and presentations.

As a mentor for doctoral students, she has contributed to 45 successfully defended dissertations (chairing 14) and is currently serving on 10 dissertation committees (chairing 6). She makes a concerted effort to generate opportunities for all of her students to engage in research. More than half of her publications and presentations include students as co-authors. Dr. Evmenova is a prolific scholar, having raised more than $14 million dollars in federal grants to support her work. Her research focuses on the use of assistive technology for academic instruction and cognitive development of diverse learners as well as UDL. All of her research projects include professional development opportunities for teachers, caregivers, students, and/or individuals with disabilities enhancing their use of technology.

Beyond the classroom, Dr. Evmenova is passionate about promoting accessible, inclusive education locally as well as around the world. She has conducted numerous workshops for international teachers (e.g., in Pakistan, Cameroon, Argentina, Uzbekistan, Kyrgystan, and Saudi Arabia) to transform their inclusive education practices for students with disabilities. Within Mason, she has contributed to the development and teaching of the Online Teaching Initiative, an asynchronous online course offered to CEHD faculty to prepare them for effective online teaching. She serves as the CEHD’s co-coordinator of digital learning and the associate director for the Global Online Teacher Education Center.


Faculty Excellence in Research

Evan Marie Lowder
Assistant Professor, Criminology, Law and Society

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Evan Marie Lowder, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society, researches strategies to reduce justice system contact and improve behavioral health outcomes among justice-involved adults and adults at risk of justice system involvement. Her work seeks to elevate decarceral strategies that promote individuals’ risk management and connection to needed services in the community. She is also interested in understanding drivers of disparate outcomes in the legal system, particularly for Black individuals. Since joining Mason in 2019, Lowder has received over $1 million in funding from local, state, and national organizations to study early intervention strategies that connect justice-involved individuals to community-based treatment, facilitate release from pretrial detention, and improve community outcomes. An applied researcher, Lowder brings a strong community-focused perspective to her work. Her research routinely involves collaboration with professionals in local community organizations, jails, pretrial services, courts, and community corrections. At Mason, she directs the Early Justice Strategies Lab, which trains undergraduate and graduate students in applied research methods. 

 Zhisheng Yan
Assistant Professor, Information Sciences and Technology

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Zhisheng Yan, an assistant professor of the Department of Information Sciences and Technology and the Center for Secure Information Systems in the College of Engineering and Computing, has striven to develop immersive multimedia systems such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in everyday life. In contrast with traditional AR/VR research, Yan has launched a research program to revolutionize personal computing by replacing smartphones with smart headwears and enabling immersive computing at scale. For this innovative research, he has received both the NSF CAREER and NSF CRII awards, two prestigious grants that support junior faculty in their research endeavors. Additionally, he leads a multi-investigator project in collaboration with UIUC and Illinois Fire Service Institute to enhance firefighter safety through AR technologies. Yan has published extensively in top-tier conferences and journals and received several paper awards, including Best Student Paper Award at ACM MMSys’22, Best Demo Award at ACM HotMobile’18, and ACM SIGMM Best PhD Thesis Award. He has also contributed significantly to the professional community by chairing the Technical Program Committee for four international conferences and co-directing the Review Committee of IEEE Multimedia Communications Technical Committee. His services and leadership have been recognized by IEEE Transactions on Multimedia Outstanding Reviewer Award, IEEE SmartWorld Congress Outstanding Service Award, and IEEE Cybermatics Congress Outstanding Leadership Award.

Justin Gest
Associate Professor of Policy and Government

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Justin Gest is an Associate Professor of Policy and Government at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. He studies immigration and the politics of demographic change. He is the author of six books:  
-Apart: Alienated and Engaged Muslims in the West (Oxford University Press/Hurst 2010);  
-The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality (Oxford University Press 2016);  
-The White Working Class: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press 2018);  
-Crossroads: Comparative Immigration Regimes in a World of Demographic Change (Cambridge University Press 2018);  
-a textbook, Mass Appeal: Communicating Policy Ideas in Multiple Media (Oxford University Press 2020); and 
-Majority Minority (Oxford University Press 2022)  

He also co-edits the Oxford University Press book series, “Oxford Studies in Migration and Citizenship.” He has authored peer-reviewed articles in a variety of journals including Comparative Political Studies, Ethnic and Racial Studies, the International Migration Review, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He has provided reporting or commentary for ABC, BBC, CBC, CNN, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, NPR, The New York Times, Politico, Reuters, Vox, and The Washington Post. 

In 2014 and 2020, Professor Gest received Harvard University’s Joseph R. Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize and the George Mason University Teaching Excellence Award, respectively each university’s highest award for faculty teaching. In 2013, he received the 2013 Star Family Prize for Student Advising, Harvard’s highest award for student advising. In 2007, he founded the Migration Studies Unit at the London School of Economics (LSE), and currently chairs the advisory board of Cornell University's Migrant Rights Initiative.

The Beck Family Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Research

Giorgio A. Ascoli
University Professor, Bioengineering

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Dr. Giorgio A. Ascoli received a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Neuroscience from the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa, Italy, and continued his research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, to investigate protein structure and binding in the nervous system. He moved to the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University in 1997, where he is University Professor in the Bioengineering Department and Neuroscience Program. He is also founder and Director of the Center for Neural Informatics, Structures, & Plasticity, a transdisciplinary research group (staffing a personnel of >20) that includes biologists, physicists, psychologists, computer scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and physicians. Dr. Ascoli is founding Editor-in-Chief of the journal Neuroinformatics and an editorial board member of several other international journals. He serves on the advisory board of numerous scientific organizations and is Past President of the Potomac Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience. Dr. Ascoli contributed to the establishment of the fields of computational neuroanatomy and neuroinformatics. His own laboratory investigates the relationship between brain structure, activity, and function from the cellular to the circuit level. In the long term, Dr. Ascoli seeks to create large-scale, anatomically plausible neural networks to model entire portions of a mammalian brain, such as the hippocampus. His interests also involve human memory and consciousness. Dr. Ascoli received the 2012 Outstanding Faculty Award of the State Council for Higher Education of Virginia. His 2015 book “Trees of the Brain, Roots of the Mind” was published by MIT Press. 

Dr. Ascoli’s funding portfolio includes current grants from NIH and DOE as well as recent awards from NSF and DoD. This funding sums up to 20+ years of continuous extramural support from several public and private institutions, including the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research, Air Force Research Lab, DARPA, IARPA, Keck Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Society for Neuroscience. Dr. Ascoli’s recent publications include papers in Nature, New England Journal of Medicine, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Neuron, Trends in Neuroscience, Nature Methods, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Nature Neuroscience, PLoS Biology, eLife, Current Biology, and Nature Communications, in addition to cover articles in Nature, Journal of Neuroscience, Hippocampus, Neuroimage, Neuroscience, Learning & Memory, and Cortex. Dr. Ascoli’s research was described in textbooks and in the national press. He was elected AIMBE fellow in 2022 and won the NIH/FASEB DataWorks!Challenge ‘Distinguished Achievement Award’ in 2023.


Faculty Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion

Jonathan Auerbach
Assistant Professor, Statistics

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Jonathan Auerbach is an assistant professor in the Department of Statistics within Mason’s College of Engineering and Computing. His research covers a wide range of topics at the intersection of statistics and public policy, including urban analytics, open data, and the collection, evaluation, and communication of official statistics. Much of his work develops new methods for the analysis of longitudinal data, particularly for data science and causal inference.

Auerbach began his professional career in the community affairs office of Robert Jackson, the New York City council member representing West Harlem. While completing his Ph.D. at Columbia University, he won a scholarship to create and teach the course Statistics for Activists, which he designed to empower students to analyze data to effect social change. He was the 2016 Public Understanding of Statistics Fellow and the 2020 Science Policy Fellow at the American Statistical Association.

Auerbach has published research on pressing societal issues, such as the rise in middle-age mortality, the persistent gender gap in STEM, the security and accessibility of elections, and the quality of the census. He is the principal investigator on a grant to study disparate healthcare outcomes arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, and a co-principal investigator on a grant to study the state of America’s data infrastructure. He is also co-leading a comprehensive assessment of how diverse participation in New York City government shapes policy decisions. The assessment is based on more than a hundred hours of in-person interviews and more than twenty-four hours of recorded discussions among local politicians. 

Auerbach partners with departments across campus to design activities that make Mason more diverse and inclusive. He worked with the College of Engineering and Computing Office of Diversity, Outreach & Inclusive Learning to create a class unit in which students investigate the state of diversity and inclusion at Mason for themselves and report their findings to the university. He also created similar units with University Sustainability to investigate the use of water fountains and recycling bins on campus. 

Auerbach co-organizes the Cherry Blossom Prediction Competition in which contestants from around the world join Mason students to predict the day cherry trees will bloom. The competition brings together students, faculty, and staff from across Mason, including the Institute for a Sustainable Earth, the Department of Biology, and the Department of Modern and Classical Languages.

Shvetha Soundararajan
Associate Professor, Computer Science

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Shvetha Soundararajan is an Associate Professor (Teaching) in the Department of Computer Science. At Mason since 2016, she is a strong advocate for women in the fields of computing and engineering. She leads the Break Through Tech-DC initiative at Mason, through which we seek to increase the number of women graduating with computing degrees and pursuing tech careers. In this role, Soundararajan is primarily involved in curriculum innovations and community building efforts that would help achieve the goal of increasing the number of women graduating with computing degrees at Mason. Her research interests include agile transformation, requirements engineering, software architecture, and computer science education. She is passionate about teaching and strives to inspire her students to learn and appreciate computer science, explore new ideas, and articulate their thoughts. She has taught both introductory and advanced courses in computer science and software engineering.

United Bank Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion

Richard T. Craig
Associate Professor, Communication

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Dr. Craig began his career at George Mason as a Preparing Future Faculty Fellow in 2009. Upon receiving his Ph.D. from Howard University in 2011, he was appointed to a tenure-track position. He earned tenure and promotion to Associate Professor in 2017 and has served as the Director of the Communication M.A. program since that time.  In 2020- 2021, Dr. Craig was part of the faculty leadership team that planned the pilot of the first round of the JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) course that had been approved to meet both Global Understanding and Social and Behavioral Sciences requirements for the Mason Core.  ember of the Just Society Task Force that worked with a subset of the Mason Core Committee and also served on the QEP Development Committee, which created the Transformative Education through Anti-Racist Community Engagement plan.   

Currently, Dr. Craig is working to establish the Pop Culture Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access studies (I.D.E.A.’s) Lab promoting and encouraging scholarship with a range of interest in pop culture.  Pop Culture I.D.E.A.’s aims to examine and explore: 1) mainstream depictions/perceptions of marginalized communities present in popular culture, 2) the influence of popular culture content on development of identity for marginalized groups, 3) how marginalized communities respond to/produce popular culture content, and 4) the political economic impacts of popular culture on marginalized communities.  


Faculty Excellence in Social Impact

Christopher S. Koper
Professor, Criminology, Law and Society

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Dr. Christopher S. Koper is a Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University and the Principal Fellow of George Mason’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy.  Dr. Koper has more than 30 years of experience studying crime and justice issues at George Mason, the Police Executive Research Forum, the University of Pennsylvania, the Urban Institute, the RAND Corporation, the Police Foundation, and other research organizations.  He specializes in issues related to policing, firearms policy, program evaluation, and evidence-based policy and practice. Dr. Koper has conducted extensive research for the U.S. Department of Justice and worked with many local, state, national, and international criminal justice practitioners and policymakers on the development, implementation, and evaluation of policies and programs. His evidence translation efforts have also included serving as an expert witness on firearms policy in federal court cases, organizing Congressional briefings on firearms issues, providing technical assistance and training for police, serving as an advisory board member for major policing organizations, and giving many invited presentations to police agencies and practitioner groups. Dr. Koper’s studies on firearms policy and policing have been cited extensively by policymakers and the media and used by numerous police agencies in the United States and internationally. Some of his most prominent works include: studies of the 1994 federal assault weapons ban; the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix tool for policy translation of research on police crime control strategies (; and the “Koper curve” principle of placed-based patrol, which is used by many police agencies in the United States and abroad to manage problem locations. Dr. Koper is a fellow of the Academy of Experimental Criminology, co-editor of Criminology & Public Policy (the policy research journal of the American Society of Criminology), co-author of the award-winning book, Evidence-Based Policing: Translating Research into Practice, and a recipient of the Distinguished Scholar Award from the Division of Policing of the American Society of Criminology.  

Earle C. Williams Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Social Impact

R. Christian Jones
Professor, Environmental Science and Policy
Director, Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center

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R. Christian Jones is Professor of Aquatic Ecology in the College of Science’s Department of Environmental Science and Policy which he co-founded in 2000 and was its first chair. He is also Founder and Director of the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center (PEREC) which is located at the Potomac Science Center on the tidal Occoquan River in Woodbridge. Jones arrived at Mason in the Fall of 1980 just as the Ph.D. Program in Environmental Science and Public Policy was launched, one of the first four doctoral programs at Mason and the first in the sciences. He served as Director of the doctoral program from 1992-95 and was major professor for the first two students awarded Ph.D.’s. He initiated the long-term Ecological Study of Gunston Cove in 1984 which enters its 40th year this spring. This study, done in collaboration with other faculty from the Biology and ESP Departments and partial funding from Fairfax County, has trained over 100 graduate and undergraduates, produced over 20 Ph.D. dissertations and M.S. theses and won EPA awards for Environmental Excellence. It is recognized as one of the nation’s longest running aquatic ecology monitoring programs and has brought new insight into the fight to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Ten years ago, Alexandria Renew Enterprises, the sewage processing facility for the City of Alexandria and eastern Fairfax County, commissioned a similar study on Hunting Creek which continues with similar benefits for both Mason students and faculty and Alex Renew. Beginning in the early 1990’s Jones and former Mason professor Don Kelso began their quest for an aquatic ecology lab. Through many false starts the quest was continued until 2018 when Mason opened the Potomac Science Center which houses PEREC, a hands-on learning facility for K12 and Mason students as well as a research home for ten faculty PI’s and the largest research facility focusing on tidal freshwater in the country and perhaps the world. Through this entire period Jones was active in civic work including a local environmental advocacy group, Friends of Daniels Run Park. Recently Jones has found a new passion in Citizen Science and promoting native plant-based food webs on suburban lots as a way to maintain and enhance biodiversity, a movement called HomeGrown National Park. Jones is co-Chair of the Creation Care Committee at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Vienna and also an avid baritone in the church choir.