For three longtime professors, their career tangents converged at an Ursa Major podium.
The recipients of the Provost’s Awards for Academic Excellence addressed the motivation behind their work at a March 2 symposium that also offered the campus community a chance to applaud their accomplishments.
“In higher education, it is our faculty that make our institutions great.” Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Sylvia A. Alva told the audience. “We’re very fortunate at Cal Poly Pomona to have very dedicated and talented faculty who care deeply about our mission, who embrace the teacher-scholar model, who understand that academic quality matters, student success matters.”
Mariappan “Jawa” Jawaharlal
Excellence in Teaching
Jawa, a mechanical engineering professor, began his presentation with a confession: Growing up in India, he did not want to be a professor or an engineer.
Jawa ended up being both, and is highly regarded for the passion that he instills in his students.
“When some of my colleagues in the teaching community say that students are not passionate about their class, I get it. I was never passionate about anything when I was 18 years old.” Jawa said. “When I see students not passionate about my class, I don’t get upset. I try to understand what I can do to get them excited.”
Jawa has used a hands-on, guided approach to help students learn since 2003. He was instrumental in creating the Femineer program recognized by the White House for increasing educational outcomes and opportunities for female Hispanic K-12 students, and is a pioneer in developing engaging online videos for hard-to-learn concepts in the STEM fields.
In addition to teaching, Jawa has developed a passion for cooking, and likens the kitchen to the classroom.
“If you make good food, you smell it and you want to eat it and you crave that food,” Jawa said. “Our job is to create cravings for learning.”
In January, Jawa was named a recipient of the Wang Family Excellence Award from the CSU for his commitment to student achievement and contributions to engineering education.
Jeffery S. Mio
Excellence in Service
A professor of psychology, Mio has served on a myriad of committees and boards. He shared with attendees what service means to him and paid homage to the person who taught him about sacrifice.
“My mother was always active. When I became a Cub Scout, they needed a den mother so she volunteered. She was the backbone of our church for years and years. She was the original mother taxi driver,” Mio said. “My older brother played baseball and later basketball, so she drove him around. My older sister played piano, so she drove her to piano lessons and recitals. My younger sister was doing ballet and ice skating.
“I was in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and I played trumpet, so she took me to trumpet lessons. I learned at the elbow of someone who really did a lot of service,” Mio said.
Mio, who joined Cal Poly Pomona in 1994, serves at the department and university level, with particular contributions to the Asian Pacific Faculty, Staff & Student Association.
On the national and local levels, he has contributed to the American Psychological Association and the Asian American Psychological Association, and was president of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, a watchdog group that advocates for positive portrayals of Asian Americans in the media. Mio has chaired five university search committees and was the founding director of the master’s program in psychology.
“Service can help connect us to our institution. Service is a way to maintain our profession. Service is an opportunity to help people in need. Service is way of giving back to our communities. Service can lead to social justice. And service can be personally fulfilling, which service has been for me all my life,” Mio said.
Craig W. LaMunyon
Excellence in Scholarly and Creative Activities
If LaMunyon has a second home, it’s his biology lab in Building 4.
“I really do love research and I can’t imagine my life without it. I investigate, therefore I am. For me, that feels so true,” said LaMunyon, biological sciences professor and department chair. “Without research and without that investigation, and everything that goes along with it, I would just be a shell of a person.”
Since 2003, he has shared his passion for research with Cal Poly Pomona students who not only work in his lab but also co-author peer-reviewed articles in prestigious journals, including Genetics. In addition, he has trained 37 graduate and undergraduate students in his labs.
LaMunyon has obtained $2.7 million in grants, from entities such as the National Institutes of Health to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to support his research on improving the human condition.
He also has developed a nationally recognized research program on various aspects of biology, from the evolution of sexuality and the mechanisms of vitamin transport to the genetics of sperm development.
“When we think about this idea of discovery, discovery can be incredibly addictive,” LaMunyon said. “You really desire that next discovery. You want to get back in the lab and find that next new thing.”
The Provost’s Awards for Excellence, which is in its sixth year, were developed to recognize faculty members who have earned distinction in the areas of teaching, scholarship and creative activities, and service. The awards are made possibly by a grant from the $42-million Kellogg Legacy Project Endowment.