Purdue entomology, engineering professors to receive presidential research awards

July 24, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Two Purdue University researchers will receive Presidential Early Career awards for Scientists and Engineers next week from President Barack Obama.

Assistant entomology professor Ian Kaplan and Alice Pawley, an assistant professor in the School of Engineering Education, are among 96 recipients announced Monday by the White House. The award - also known as PECASE - is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Awardees  are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach. The honors will be given during a July 31 ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Kaplan researches ecological approaches to pest management for vegetable crops.

"This is a big honor, and I'm looking forward to the opportunities this will afford me to further my research," said Kaplan, who has been at Purdue for nearly three years. "We try to apply ecological principles and ecological theory to best management practices for pests."

Those principles and practices include understanding plant-insect interactions, the chemical ecology of insects and sustainable biological control of pests through natural predators.

"This is an area of increasing importance, and we could not be more proud that Ian has received this recognition," said Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of the College of Agriculture.

Pawley, who is studying why some groups, including white women and people of color, have remained chronically under-represented in engineering degree programs, also was excited when she was informed of her selection.

"It's a huge honor to be recognized by the White House," said Pawley, who also is an affiliate faculty member in Purdue's Women's Studies program and the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering. "Such recognition encourages the American public and funding agencies to support studies aimed ultimately at improving diversity in engineering. I am thrilled that feminist research methods hailing from women's studies, blended with engineering education research questions have been recognized in this way."

Pawley was among six Purdue faculty members to receive a Faculty Early Career Development award in 2010, the National Science Foundation's most prestigious honor for outstanding young researchers.

Women represent about 18 percent of undergraduate engineering students - a proportion that hasn't changed much in two decades. To address issues of under-representation, Pawley uses information from the personal experiences of under-represented undergraduate students to better understand how different institutional structures affect their persistence and success. The research may help policymakers learn how to better structure institutions to better meet the needs of under-represented students. She is developing tools, including systematically collected and analyzed stories from students, to teach policy makers to "learn from small numbers" of under-represented engineering students, rather than through statistics alone.

"Dr. Pawley's pioneering research represents an important component in efforts to increase diversity in engineering," said Leah H. Jamieson, Purdue's John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering. "She is working to learn some of the root causes underlying why women and people of color continue to be under-represented in engineering fields."

The federal agencies involved in nominating the presidential award winners include the National Science Foundation; the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs; and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The award was established in 1996. Four previous Purdue faculty members to win the award were Demetra Evangelou and Monica Cox in the School of Engineering Education, Douglas Adams in the School of Mechanical Engineering and Carol Anne Clayson in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Other engineering faculty members to receive the award before joining Purdue are Shirley Dyke, a professor of mechanical and civil engineering, John Sutherland, a professor of mechanical engineering and head of the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering, and David Bahr, recently named as head of the School of Materials Engineering.
Writers: Brian Wallheimer, 765-496-2050, bwallhei@purdue.edu
                Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709, venere@purdue.edu

Sources: Ian Kaplan, 765-494-7207, ikaplan@purdue.edu
                  Jay Akridge, 765-494-8391, akridge@purdue.edu
                  Alice Pawley, apawley@purdue.edu
                  Leah H. Jamieson, 765-494-5346, lhj@purdue.edu

Related Websites:
White House news release