Trustees ratify 5 named, distinguished professorships

December 14, 2013  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University's Board of Trustees on Saturday (Dec. 14) ratified five named and distinguished professorships and approved an amended title of a distinguished professorship.

Trustees also approved a resolution of appreciation for those who have donated $1 million or more to Purdue.

Mahdi M. Abu0Omar

Mahdi M. Abu-Omar 
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Trustees approved Mahdi M. Abu-Omar as the R.B. Wetherill Professor of Chemistry, Jay S. Gephart as the Al G. Wright Chair of Purdue University Bands and Orchestra, Bruce Hamaker as Distinguished Professor of Food Science, Jozef L. Kokini as the William R. Scholle Endowed Chair in Food Processing, and Dennis A. Savaiano as the Virginia C. Meredith Professor of Nutrition Policy.

Abu-Omar is a professor of chemistry and chemical engineering as well as associate director of the Center for Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels and division head of inorganic chemistry. He came to Purdue in 2003 from the University of California at Los Angeles, where he was an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

His research areas include synthetic and mechanistic organometallic chemistry, chemical kinetics, and catalysis. He and his research group are developing catalysts that transform renewable resources such as biomass to hydrocarbon fuels and valuable materials.

Abu-Omar has published more than 100 original research papers and mentored 25 doctoral students and 10 postdoctoral fellows. A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Abu-Omar won the JPP Young Investigator Award from the Society of Porphyrins and Phtalocyanines and was a senior Fulbright Fellow. He also was a University Faculty Scholar and won the College of Science Interdisciplinary Award.

He received his bachelor's degree from Hampden-Sydney College and his doctorate from Iowa State University.

The R. B. Wetherill professorship was established in memory of R. B. Wetherill (1859-1940), a local physician, donor and lecturer in Purdue's School of Pharmacy. Two other professors, Nobel laureate Herbert Brown and Phil Fuchs, have held it.

Gephart has been professor of university bands and director of bands and the Purdue "All-American" Marching Band since 2006. He also is conductor of the Purdue Wind Ensemble.

Jay S. Gephart

Jay S. Gephart 
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He came to Purdue in 1995 as assistant professor of bands and conductor of the symphonic band and symphony orchestra. Previously, he was director of bands at North Central High School in Indianapolis.

In 2001 Gephart won the Indiana Outstanding Bandmaster Award and in 2008 was inducted into the American Bandmasters Association (ABA). He now serves on the ABA board of directors and is also vice president of the John Philip Sousa Foundation and the collegiate representative of the National Band Association. He is former president of the Big Ten Band Directors Association.

He received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Indiana University.

The Al G. Wright Chair of Purdue University Bands and Orchestras was made possible by an endowment established in 2012 through lead donors Vanessa J. Castagna, Al G. Wright and Gladys Stone Wright, Robert A. Hull and Trudy L. Dankert Hull, Thomas H. Miller, and others. Wright is director emeritus of Purdue University Bands and Orchestras.

Bruce Hamaker

Bruce Hamaker 
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Hamaker has been the Roy L. Whistler Chair of the Department of Food Science since 2008 and since 2003 has been director of the Whistler Center for Carbohydrate Research at Purdue. He came to Purdue in 1992 as a visiting associate professor, became associate professor in 1993 and was made a full professor in 1999. Prior to coming to Purdue, he was an assistant professor of food science at the University of Arkansas.

As director of the Whistler Center for Carbohydrate Research and a professor of food science, Hamaker performs research on carbohydrates and health, cereal starch and protein structure-function relationships, and dietary fiber and the microbiome. In 2012 he and other scientists found a way to turn on or off the enzymes responsible for processing starchy foods into sugars in the human digestive system, a finding they believe will allow them to better control those processes in people with type 2 diabetes and obesity. His research ranges from designing carbohydrates for potential health benefits to ways to improve cereal utilization in developing countries.

He won the Alsberg-French-Schoch Award for advances in starch research from the American Association of Cereal Chemists in 2013 and the WK Kellogg Food Security Award from the Institute of Food Technologists in 2012. He has published more than 140 articles in refereed research publications and has lectured throughout the world on his research.

Hamaker earned his bachelor's degree from Indiana University. He received his master's degree in human nutrition in 1983 and doctoral degree in food chemistry in 1986, both from Purdue.

Jozef L. Kokini

Jozef L. Kokini 
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Kokini came to Purdue in October from the University of Illinois, where he had been the Eugene Bingham Professor of Food Engineering in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition since 2007. In the last five years, he served as associate dean of research and director of the Illinois Agricultural Experiment Station of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. He was chair of the Department of Food Science and director of the Centre of Advanced and Food Technology (CAFT) at Rutgers University from 2000-2007 and associate director of CAFT from 1992-2000. He also was distinguished professor in the Department of Food Science at Rutgers from 1994-2007 and prior to that was professor, associate professor and assistant professor in the same department.

His research areas include food materials science, linear and non-linear rheology; computational fluid dynamics, food nanotechnology and fabrication of nano-biosensors; phase behavior and compatibility of ingredients in food mixtures; food structure and texture, especially during extrusion; mixing process; and computational fluid dynamics.

Kokini has has published more than 200 scientific papers in refereed journals and book chapters. In 2011 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association for Engineering and Food. He was elected to the International Academy of Food Science and Technology in 2006. He was elected fellow of the Institute of Food Technologists in 2000.

He received his bachelor's degree from Bogazici University and his master's degree and doctorate from Carnegie-Mellon University.

The William R. Scholle Endowed Chair in Food Processing was established in 2003 with a $1.5 million gift from the late Sarah R. Scholle, on behalf of the Scholle family, in memory of her husband, William R. Scholle, a Purdue graduate. He founded Scholle Chemical Co. and invented bag-in-box packaging. He and Phillip E. Nelson combined the packaging with Nelson's aseptic processing technology, which reduces postharvest waste and makes seasonal fruits and vegetables available year-round and easier to transport worldwide.

Dennis A. Savaino

Dennis A. Savaiano 
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Savaiano is professor of nutrition science. He was dean of consumer and family sciences from 1995-2010. Under his leadership, the college experienced significant student growth and also led the development of several interdisciplinary research initiatives across campus. The college implemented new honors, scholarship and multicultural programs and had an eightfold increase in research and gift funding.

For the past three years, he worked to help establish the Honors College. He led two university-wide task forces, helped develop a successful proposal for the college, worked with Housing and Food Services to develop a space plan for the college, and helped develop and implement a recruiting program for honors students. He also served as interim dean of the college from 2011-2013.

Savaiano has studied lactose intolerance for more than 25 years. He identified dietary factors that can promote adequate calcium intake for the 25 percent of the U.S. population and 75 percent of the world's population that suffer from the problem.

He earned a bachelor's degree from Claremont McKenna College and master's and doctoral degrees from the University of California at Davis. Before coming to Purdue, he was a professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota from 1980-1995.

Trustees also voted to rename the title of distinguished professor of physics Christopher Greene. Greene's professorship will now be known as the Albert Overhauser Distinguished Professor of Physics. Overhauser, who died in 2011, was a professor of physics at Purdue from 1973-2011. Starting in 1974, he became the Stuart Distinguished Professor of Physics. Overhauser is one of only two people from Purdue to receive the National Medal of Science, and he also was a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

In other business, trustees approved a resolution of appreciation for donors Cadence Design Systems, Dr. William O. Iverson, Dr. Peter and Charlene Kesling, Lilly Endowment, Centaur Gaming, Waterfield Foundation, and an anonymous donor. Cadence Design System donated $10.4 million to the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering for academic software. Iverson gave $1 million to endow the William O. Iverson Professorship in Toxicologic Pathology in the College of Veterinary Medicine. The Keslings donated $1 million to Purdue North Central for the Student Services and Activities Complex. Lilly Endowment gave $5 million to the Office of Engagement for the Initiative to Promote Opportunities through Educational Opportunities and $2.3 million to the Military Family Research Institute in the College of Health and Human Sciences. Centaur Gaming donated $2.7 million to the College of Veterinary Medicine for the Regional Equine Diagnostic and Surgical Center. The Waterfield Foundation gave $1 million to Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne for the Chapman Scholars Fund. An anonymous donor gave $5 million for the College of Engineering's Innovation Design Center.

Writer: Greg McClure, 765-496-9711, 

Sources: Mahdi M. Abu-Omar, 765-494-5302,

Jay Gephart, 765-494-7886,

R. Jozef Kokini,

Dennis Savaiano, 765-494-8791,

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