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Lee, Khodakovskaya, and Mitchell named Faculty Excellence Award winners

The top 2019 Faculty Excellence winners in each category are from left, Jin Wook Lee, for Teaching, Mariya Khodakovskaya, for Research and Creative Endeavors, and Alicia Mitchell, for Public Service. Photo by Benjamin Krain.

University of Arkansas at Little Rock professors Dr. Jin Wook Lee, Dr. Mariya Khodakovskaya, and Alicia Mitchell have been named the 2019 winners of the Faculty Excellence Awards. 

Each of the three professors will receive a $5,000 award as winners of the Faculty Excellence Awards in the categories of teaching, research and creative endeavors, and public service.

Lee, assistant professor of systems engineering, received the Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award while Khodakovskaya was named the winner of the Faculty Excellence and Creative Endeavors Award. Mitchell, assistant visiting professor of law and director of the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, won the Faculty Excellence in Public Service Award.

“Thirty years of recognizing the work of our outstanding faculty underscores the university’s commitment to our mission,” said Dr. Christina Drale, interim executive vice chancellor and provost. “It signifies the value we place on excellent teaching, research and creative activity, and service to our community. These essential components of our institution create a learning environment that enriches the education of our students and prepares them to embrace a bright future.”

The winners were honored during an April 11 awards ceremony in the Schueck, McCarty, Lexicon Inc. Auditorium. Fourteen additional faculty members who earned Faculty Excellence awards at the college level also were honored, and they will each receive a $1,000 award. The 15 members of the UA Little Rock Board of Visitors reviewed the achievements and selected the winners.

This year celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Faculty Excellence Awards. Since 1989, the event has provided a way to recognize the great work of UA Little Rock faculty and is made possible through the valued contributions of the Bailey Foundation, Office of the Chancellor, Office of the Provost, and the UA Little Rock Chancellor’s Circle.

Sharon Bailey of the Bailey Foundation, which was instrumental in the creation of the Faculty Excellence Awards, presented the Bailey Teaching Award.

“I would like to express our appreciation for the outstanding service each of you here have given,” Bailey said. “The Bailey Foundation has a long history with UA Little Rock. My late husband, Dr. Ted Bailey II, recognized the importance of UA Little Rock many years ago and helped establish this teaching award. It is my honor to carry on his legacy.”

More about the winners:

Faculty Excellence in Teaching

Dr. Jin Wook Lee is an assistant professor of systems engineering in the College of Engineering and Information Technology.

“I never expected this kind of big award,” Lee said. “I am very honored. I would like to thank my wife, Ji, and son, Jason.”

He began his career at UA Little Rock in 2013 and previously worked as a senior engineer at Samsung in South Korea. He connects with his students through a “disciplined, yet friendly” approach to instruction.

In his teaching, Lee incorporates his personal experiences as examples in the classroom. He enjoys helping students understand new concepts and establish strong foundations to build their future careers. He is known for placing a high priority on his teaching and student interactions.

“I just keep asking students questions instead of just giving lectures,” Lee said. “I want to make sure they understand what I am teaching. And after each test, I arrange a one-on-one meeting with those who have below average scores to ask how we can improve their learning. I think that helps a lot.”

He contributed to the development of the Bachelor of Science in mechanical systems engineering at UA Little Rock and developed courses in fluid mechanics and computational fluid mechanics. Lee has been a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers since 2010. He was awarded two grants from NASA in 2015 and 2017 and has two patents pending.

Faculty Excellence in Research and Creative Endeavors

Dr. Mariya Khodakovskaya is a professor of biology and interim associate dean in the College of Arts, Letters, and Sciences at UA Little Rock. Her research is primarily on plant biology and nanotechnology, and she is well known for collaborations with scientists from other disciplines.

Last year, she received a $1 million grant to study the genetic qualities of rice to determine its heat tolerance. Khodakosvkaya is a part of a consortium of four universities that collectively received $4.65 million from the National Science Foundation to study heat tolerance in rice in hopes of reducing hunger by helping rice farmers improve their yield.

Khodakovskaya’s collaborations with material scientists, nanotechnologists, and other plant molecular biologists and biotechnologists resulted in the development of a unique research area in the intersection of plant biology and nanotechnology. She was the first person to demonstrate that carbon-based nanomaterials can affect plants at genomic and metabolomic levels, which activates genes involved in water transport, cell division, and response to environmental stress. She has also established new methods for increasing seed germination and plant and cell growth using nanomaterials.

Khodakosvkaya strives to commercialize her research through interactions with industry professionals and through the submission of patent applications. In the past five years, two of her patent applications have been approved. In 2014, she formed a start-up company, Advanced Plant Technologies, LLC.

Since 2008, she has been a principal investigator or co-principal investigator on grants totaling more than $9.6 million. Her research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, Arkansas Science and Technology Authority, Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, and the Arkansas Space Consortium.

Faculty Excellence in Public Service

Alicia Mitchell is an assistant visiting professor of law and director of the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic at the UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law. She has worked at Bowen for almost 17 years and has spent her entire teaching career working in the clinical program, training students to ethically and professionally represent parties before the Internal Revenue Service.

Alongside her students, Mitchell has served hundreds of economically distressed individuals in need of assistance with tax information. She works with the international student population, ensuring they are in compliance with federal tax regulations.

Since 2014, Mitchell has been awarded the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic grant from the National Taxpayer Advocate each year to aid in her endeavors. She also works in the Little Rock Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition and several national taxpayer committees.

“The most impactful thing I do for students is give them the opportunity to learn by gaining practical experience,” Mitchell said. “They gain satisfaction by helping their clients in the clinic. When the students get a positive result, it reinforces everything that I am trying to teach them in the clinic – to be a good and impactful attorney.”

In the community, she participates in events like the Hispanic Heritage Festival and the Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition Super Saturday. She believes in educating the community on their rights and responsibilities as taxpayers while spreading awareness of the clinic’s services. Mitchell is active on campus in the Delta Project Committee, Law School Admissions Committee, Assessment Committee, Faculty Development Committee, and the UA Little Rock Sustainability Committee.  

In the upper right photo, the 2019 Faculty Excellence Award winners include Jin Wook Lee (left) for teaching, Mariya Khodakovskaya (midde) for research and creative endeavors, and Alicia Mitchell (right) for public service. Photo by Benjamin Krain.