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U Announces New “Beacons of Excellence” Award

Students gather on the lawn outside the University Union.

Sept. 26, 2012 — As part of the University of Utah’s new campaign to transform the undergraduate experience, the offices of Undergraduate Studies and Student Affairs have established the Transforming U: Beacons of Excellence Award to recognize and celebrate examples of “best practices” on the University of Utah campus, whether by individuals, programs, centers, or projects. Six awards—given annually— will recognize excellence in creating and offering a transformational experience to undergraduate students.

This first year, the award attracted more than 270 nominations from students, faculty, staff and community members. Martha Bradley, senior associate vice president for academic affairs, charged the Harvesting Best Practices Committee with developing excellence criteria and selecting award recipients. They will be honored at a ceremony on Oct. 31, hosted by David Pershing, president of the University of Utah; Barb Snyder, vice president for student affairs, and Bradley. The event will take place in the University Union Ballroom from noon to 1:30 p.m.

The six recipients include Matt Bradley (posthumously), a professor in the Honors College; Ganesh Gopalakrishnan, a professor in the College of Engineering; Hester Henderson, founder of the UFIT Program, College of Health; Mark Nielsen, a professor of anatomy and the Human Anatomy Lab, College of Science; the Native American Research Internship Program, School of Medicine; and the University of Utah fraternity and sorority community, Dean of Students Office.

“The Transforming U:  Beacons of Excellence Award recognizes pockets of brilliance at the University of Utah:  inspiring teachers, empowering programs, and engaging research opportunities,” says Bradley.  “The award winners demonstrate the core values of the campaign to transform the student experience.”



Matt Bradley, Honors College
Matt Bradley was a distinguished assistant professor in the University of Utah Honors College, where he led several programs on social justice and change. He was an active member of his community and was recognized for his approachability and his encouraging nature to students of all levels. Bradley was a good listener and supported the dreams and ambitions of his students for a more just society. A student stated on his behalf, “Through activism, a positive example and an enormous heart, he inspired students to be all that they could be, to never let life get them down and to live with open hearts and minds.” The award will be given posthumously. Bradley passed away in March 2012.

Ganesh Gopalakrishnan, Formal Analysis of Concurrency Group, College of Engineering
Ganesh Gopalakrishnan is a professor in the School of Computing, principal investigator for the Formal Analysis for Concurrency Group, and director of the Center for Parallel Computing, which he was instrumental in founding in 2009. “Professor Gopalakrishnan sets a perfect precedent for both teaching and research as a member of the School of Computing,” writes one of Ganesh Gopalakrishnan’s students. “His cheerful attitude and good humor are contagious—he is rarely seen without a smile.” Gopalakrishnan personifies what it means to be a professor at the U. He teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses, introducing students to the latest cutting-edge research in science and engineering. Students find his classes energizing and rewarding. Gopalakrishnan’s approach to student mentoring is modeled after the advice of the late Randy Pausch, a noted computer science professor and author of “The Last Lecture”—that of backing students until they have a chance to realize their true potential.


Hester Henderson and the UFIT Program, College of Health
Housed in the U’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science, UFIT is a program that teaches special needs children and their families how to be physically fit. Hundreds of U students volunteer to work one-on-one with community participants to build self-esteem, improve motor skills, and expand team and social concepts through activities and sports. One parent described UFIT as “a wonderful program that serves not only Utah children with disabilities, but their whole families, as well as creating wonderful opportunities for university students to learn about the challenges they face.” Founded by Hester Henderson, special/adapted physical education mentor, the UFIT program provides support for many families each year and serves the community, provides excellent educational opportunities for students and supports health and fitness.

Mark Nielsen and the Human Anatomy Lab, College of Science
The Human Anatomy Lab, under the direction of Mark Nielsen, professor of anatomy, provides undergraduate students interested in health-related professions the unique opportunity to work with and study the structure of the human body and how it works. Through a rigorous, innovative curriculum and hands-on experience, students study anatomy in depth. Each year under the mentorship of Nielsen, 60 top students from the course are selected as teaching assistants where they broaden their anatomy background and develop excellent teaching skills. Many of these student assistants have gone on to teach anatomy in their medical school classes around the country. “[I] am sincerely indebted to [Nielsen] and his anatomy program for helping to shape my life and future,” says a first year medical student. Nielsen is a beloved professor, having previously been awarded a University Distinguished Teaching Award.


The Native American Research Internship Program, School of Medicine
A unique program in the Intermountain West, the Native American Research Internship Program (NARI) offers paid research internships to Native American undergraduate students pursuing careers in the biomedical and health science professions. Students from across the U.S. come to the U to work in laboratory or clinical research settings with research faculty. They are mentored by indigenous U faculty, staff, and community members; attend a Native American health conference; engage with the local Native American community; and learn the “ins and outs” of applying to graduate or medical school. An intern in the program commented, “More important than enlarging an American Medical College Application Service application, more important than money, even more important than the networking this program has provided, is the great job it has done in fostering our self-identity as future physicians…. The fires ignited here can bring light to our tribes for generations.” Now in its third year, NARI continues to support the future health professionals of Indian Country.


The U Fraternity and Sorority Community, Dean of Students Office
The purpose of Greek-lettered organizations is to promote the values of scholarship, leadership, service and philanthropy. This group of women and men at the University of Utah strive for excellence in each of these categories and take an active role to promote the mission of the University on and off campus. Not only are the University of Utah Greeks involved, but they are hardworking and dedicated. The students in the fraternity and sorority system work daily to prove themselves as some of the best and the brightest at the University of Utah. The Greek system includes members of the PanHellenic Council, the Interfraternity Council, Multicultural Greek Council and the National Pan-Hellenic Council.

The University of Utah, located in Salt Lake City in the foothills of the Wasatch Range, is the flagship institution of higher learning in Utah. Founded in 1850, it serves more than 31,000 students from across the United States and the world. With more than 72 major subjects at the undergraduate level and more than 90 major fields of study at the graduate level, including law and medicine, the university prepares students to live and compete in the global workplace. Learn more about all the U has to offer online at