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Experts in child development, research design, molecular biology honored with KU research achievement awards

Tue, 12/10/2019

LAWRENCE – What environmental factors influence language learning in young children? How can research design and data analysis help evaluate and improve education delivery? What can the evolution of immunity genes in fruit flies teach us about disease resistance?

Three University of Kansas researchers grappling with these questions have been named recipients of the Steven F. Warren Research Achievement Award and the KU Research Staff and Postdoctoral Achievement Awards.

The honors are given annually to recognize outstanding unclassified academic staff, unclassified professional staff and postdoctoral fellows whose research has significantly influenced their fields and expanded intellectual or societal insights. This year’s recipients are:

  • Dale Walker, associate research professor and scientist, Juniper Gardens Children’s Project, Life Span Institute, recipient of the Steven F. Warren Research Achievement Award
  • Jie Chen, psychometrician, Achievement & Assessment Institute, recipient of the KU Research Staff Achievement Award
  • Tom Hill, postdoctoral researcher, Rob Unckless Lab, Department of Molecular Biosciences, recipient of the KU Research Postdoctoral Achievement Award

The three will be recognized at an April 22, 2020, ceremony featuring remarks from Chancellor Douglas A. Girod.

The Steven F. Warren Research Achievement Award was established in 2006 to honor unclassified academic staff researchers. Winners receive $10,000 in research funds. The KU Research Staff and Postdoctoral Achievement Awards were established in 2018. Honorees receive $5,000 to be used for approved research or professional development activities.

More about this year’s winners:

Dale Walker

Dale Walker has made significant contributions to the collective understanding of how early environmental experiences affect language learning in young children and how to effectively intervene to improve children’s developmental outcomes. As a principal investigator at the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project – a center within KU’s Life Span Institute – she works primarily with children and families living in poverty in Wyandotte County and nationally. Walker has received 39 externally funded grants totaling more than $18 million from federal, state and private agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education, the Health Resources & Services Administration, and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund. Those projects have benefited thousands of children and families and supported more than 50 graduate research assistants and 22 postdoctoral fellows. Walker has published in peer-reviewed journals, including Child Development, Journal of Early Intervention, and Early Childhood Research Quarterly. She also has published in journals and presented at conferences designed to help bridge the “research-to-practice” gap, ensuring knowledge translation for parents and caregivers. Walker holds a doctorate in developmental and child psychology and a master’s in human development from the University of Kansas. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Scripps College.

Jie Chen

Jie Chen is a quantitative research expert, designing research methods and analyzing data in the service of delivering the best possible education to children. She contributes to KU research in education and special education, consulting with everyone from graduate students to veteran faculty members. In her role as a statistician for the Center for Montessori Research within the Achievement & Assessment Institute, Chen is developing measures, data collection and analysis, and preparation of presentations and articles. In response to the fact that the term “Montessori” is not legally protected and no widely accepted tool exists to capture the variety of  practices claiming to be Montessori, Chen and colleagues are examining an instrument to assess Montessori instruction at the early childhood and elementary levels. Chen holds a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Kansas, a master’s in international and comparative education from East China Normal University, and a bachelor’s in English language, literature and education from Northwest Normal University.

Tom Hill

Tom Hill is advancing understanding of the forces that drive immune evolution. Using Drosophila, commonly known as fruit flies, as a biomedical model, Hill studies how DNA viruses infect a host and how the host’s immune system responds. His work will ultimately shed light on immune response to DNA viral infection in humans. Hill has published six papers in journals such as Molecular Biology and Evolution, Journal of Virology, and Infection, Genetics and Evolution. He has presented his work at national and international meetings and has received numerous awards, including the best postdoc talk award at the Midwest Population Genetics Conference in 2019. Known for innovative approaches, Hill developed a genomics software package that uses machine learning to analyze variations in genetic sequences. He earned a doctorate in evolution and population genetics from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna and a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Reading in England.



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