Four professors at the Cullen College of Engineering have been recognized for their exemplary work via the 2022 Faculty and Staff Awards, administered by the University of Houston's Office of the Provost.
Roberto Ballarini, Thomas and Laura Hsu Professor and Department Chairman of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was given the Global Award. Hanadi Rifai of the Civil Engineering Department was named to a Moores Professorship. Kirill Larin, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, earned one of three Undergraduate Research Mentoring Awards. Jeffrey Rimer, Abraham E. Dukler Professor in the William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, was granted the Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award.
The Global Award is given to tenured or tenure-track faculty who have demonstrated excellence in the promotion of globalization of teaching, research and/or service. In addition to his department chairman duties, Ballarini also serves as the director of the UH-Dalian Institute. The initiative is expected to lead to increased student enrollment, as well as a rich cultural exchange between the two institutions.
“I am lucky that for the past 37 years my job has allowed me to travel across the globe to teach and conduct collaborative research with colleagues and students in foreign academic institutions,” Ballarini said. “The friendships that developed as a result of my visits, which have been mostly in Europe and Asia, have been truly life-enriching. I am particularly happy to be currently leading the University of Houston-Dalian Maritime University Institute, an ambitious effort that in the steady-state will deliver our Civil, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering degrees to 1,200 students in China.”
He added, “I am convinced that extending the global reach and impact of an academic institution’s teaching and research paradigms through formal large-scale international collaborations offers promise for improving the human condition. This is because collaborative education-based initiatives, especially during turbulent political times, inevitably lead to friendships, mutual respect and understanding between those involved. In particular, the students will represent future leaders.”
Ballarini also praised the colleagues and support staff he works with regularly.
“The success of the Institute is the result of the efforts of the extraordinary administrative and teaching teams on our Main Campus and on the DMU campus. I would be remiss if I did not mention here the dedication and hard work of Dr. Alejandrina Campanella, the Associate Director of the Institute, and Dr. J.R. Rao, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs and Distance Learning.”
Rifai also serves as Associate Dean of Research and Facilities, as well as the director of the Environmental Engineering Graduate Program and the Hurricane Resilience Research Institute.
The Moores Professor’s Program was established to honor full-time tenured faculty who have achieved the rank of full professor at the University of Houston, and who have made outstanding contributions. The program encourages and supports continued excellence by providing funds for individual career development.
The Office of the Provost, in conjunction with the Office of Undergraduate Research and Major Awards, gives Undergraduate Research Mentor Awards to honor the dedicated practice of undergraduate mentorship and to encourage faculty to support that aspect of the university's mission.
Larin joined the Cullen College of Engineering in 2004. He is a Fellow in the Optical Society (OSA) and the Society of Photographic Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). From UH, he has previously won two Excellence in Research and Scholarship awards, as well as the Junior Faculty Research Award.
Rimer received the Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award, which recognizes a faculty member who has had outstanding success in mentoring graduate students. The award eligibility criteria is aligned with the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools (CSGS) Outstanding Mentor Award, so he is eligible for the CSGS regional competition in Fall 2022.
Rimer said he was honored to receive the award, because of the connection he has with his students.
"Receiving this award means a great deal to me," he said. "Serving as a mentor to graduate students is one of the most important responsibilities we have as faculty, to ensure that students receive the training and opportunities they need to be successful when they leave UH. I have been extremely fortunate to have so many wonderful students over the years, who have cultivated an atmosphere of collaboration and cooperation in our group that makes the work environment both fun and rewarding. Being a mentor is sincerely the best part of this job – it is both a privilege and honor to have even a small part in shaping the careers of graduate students at UH."
Rimer joined the University of Houston in 2009, after earning his doctorate at the University of Delaware and completing a postdoc at New York University. For the 2021-22 academic year, his research group had 31 affiliated members.