2006 CUR Fellows Award Recognizes Excellence in Undergraduate Research

The Council on Undergraduate Research announces its CUR Fellows Awards for 2006. The recipients are John Mateja, Director, Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activities Office/McNair Scholars Program, Murray State University and Nancy Mills, Professor of Chemistry, Trinity University. With these Fellows Awards, CUR celebrates individuals who exemplify the ideals of CUR. The awards will be presented at the 11th National CUR Conference at DePauw University in June, 2006. Each CUR Fellow will receive an award of $1000 and will present an inspiring talk about her/his research with undergraduates. The 2006 awards are sponsored by LI-COR Biosciences.

The CUR Fellows awards are presented biennially to CUR members who have developed nationally respected research programs involving undergraduates. Awardees have established outstanding records of obtaining funding for their work and for their students, and have published research findings with undergraduate coauthors. They reach out to students of all backgrounds, incorporate research activities into the courses they teach, and lead efforts to institutionalize research on their campuses and across the nation. In sum, they are leaders and role models for countless faculty and students.

The nominees for our award have many common personality traits. They are compassionate, nurturing mentors gifted in helping undergraduates develop their research talents and skills. Their students look to them not just as advisors, but also as trusted friends. They have an enormous impact on the careers of their students as they contribute to the body of human knowledge. CUR honors Drs. Mateja and Mills this year, but in recognizing them, we also recognize and encourage the many other faculty who are striving for the same goals.

The mission of the Council on Undergraduate Research is to support and promote high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research and scholarship. CUR believes that faculty members enhance their teaching and contribution to society by remaining active in research and by involving undergraduates in research. CUR provides information on the importance of undergraduate research to state legislatures, private foundations, government agencies, and the U.S. Congress.




Dr. John Mateja pursued his education in physics at the University of Notre Dame, receiving his B.S in 1972 and his Ph.D. in 1976. There, he began a career in experimental nuclear physics, investigating light heavy-ion reactions.

During this time, he also developed an interest of providing research experiences for undergraduates. At first, it was for his experience, turning a typical work-study appointment in the accelerator laboratory into an undergraduate research experience that resulted in his experiment being run on the accelerator. In graduate school, he started supervising undergraduates in the research lab, which eventually resulted in the publication of his first article with an undergraduate co-author. Dr. Mateja continued his work in experimental nuclear physics along with the supervision of undergraduates in a research setting during his post-doctoral appointment at Florida State University. He then joined the faculty at Tennessee Technological University. There, he developed one of the first research programs in the nation to involve physics undergraduates in research and one of a very small number of programs to be funded by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Division of Nuclear Physics. As one of his former students who is currently a university faculty member says, Dr. Mateja has "had a long and distinguished career working to better undergraduate education by involving undergraduates in research and to reinforce the connection between classroom teaching and laboratory experience."

In 1988, he joined the staff at Argonne National Laboratory, where he had oversight responsibility for all undergraduate, graduate student and faculty outreach programs. These programs placed approximately 700 participants in the research laboratories of Argonne staff annually (approximately 500 of these participants were undergraduates). He then joined the staff at DOE headquarters in 1994 to co-manage a new grant program to assist non-competitive states to become more grant competitive for federal research funding – all the while emphasizing the importance of undergraduate involvement in research and the development of research opportunities for undergraduates. He assumed the position of Dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology at Murray State University in 1998 and currently serves as the Director of Murray State’s Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity (URSA) office. As Dr. Mateja has done throughout his career, his mission at Murray State has been to promote undergraduate research and scholarly activity across the entire campus. Along with facilitating the acquisition of numerous individual and collaborative research awards, he established the URSA office thereby providing a mechanism in which to institutionalize research and other scholarly activity throughout campus, positioning Murray State to take a leadership role in undergraduate research within the state of Kentucky and the nation. For over 20 years, Dr. Mateja has been a leader at the national level in the movement to incorporate research and scholarship into the undergraduate educational experience. He has been the President of the Council on Undergraduate Research (as well as serving and chairing numerous CUR committees) and the Chair of the American Physical Society’s committee on Education. As one of his colleagues writes "It is evident through direct or indirect influence or academic lineage that John has started a small avalanche of undergraduate research programs. He has clearly put his mark on the undergraduate research community in physics and in many other scientific fields. … Perhaps one of John’s most important legacies to the community will be the influence he has had on those who are running excellent undergraduate research programs across the country. …".






Dr. Nancy Mills received her BA in chemistry and American studies at Grinnell College in 1972. She pursued her doctoral degree under the direction of Dr. Robert B. Bates at the University of Arizona and did postdoctoral work with Dr. P.Y. Johnson at Illinois Institute of Technology. Her first teaching position was at Carleton College. In the fall of 1979 Dr. Mills moved to Trinity University where she is, according to a colleague, "one of the most effective faculty members at Trinity in attracting students into research." This statement is backed up by the involvement of 160 undergraduates in her research group since 1979, with an average group size of 5 or 6 students during the school year and a "Mills dozen" in the summer. Dr. Mills provided a number of these students with research experiences early in their careers, with about one-third of them working in the research lab for two years or more. This ability to involve undergraduate students in her cutting-edge, extramurally-funded research on hydrocarbon dication chemistry is even more impressive when one considers the 35 undergraduate names that appear among the co-authors on her publications. Dr. Mills has summed up her philosophy about undergraduate research by saying, "The bedrock of what researchers do at undergraduate institutions is to demonstrate with our own students that research makes the most effective teaching."

In addition to making a very convincing demonstration of research as teaching, Dr. Mills has an important national presence in promoting undergraduate research. She has served as a CUR councilor for 12 years from 1990 to 2003. During her time as a CUR councilor, Dr. Mills served a term as the chair of the chemistry division. She has also chaired the membership, nominations, and outreach committees. One of the accomplishments that Dr. Mills is most proud of (and rightly so) is the organization and co-ordination of the Chemistry Mentor Network. This Mentor Network was the first of its kind in the CUR organization and led to several other divisions developing similar networks. She has also served as the co-organizer or organizer of two CUR Institutes aimed at mid-career faculty, one on "Issues of Mid-Career Faculty" and the other on "Vital Faculty-Issues after Tenure". Complementing her work with CUR, Dr. Mills has been actively involved with promoting undergraduate research at the National Science Foundation as well as at the American Chemical Society (ACS) on the ACS Committee on Professional Training and the canvassing committee for the ACS Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution.

Dr. Mills has many awards and honors to her name including: National Merit Finalist (1968), Sears Roebuck Foundation Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership Award (1990), Z. T. Scott Faculty Fellowship for Teaching and Service (1992), Camille and Henry Dreyfus Scholar/Fellow (1995), and the Piper Professor, State of Texas (1999). However, Dr. Mills accomplishments are best summed up by a colleague of hers who wrote, "Nancy Mills may be more of phenomenon than a faculty member. She takes a high energy, positive approach to all of her pursuits. Her passion for chemistry, research, and students is ever apparent. She is the consummate teacher-scholar. Seamlessly blending research with teaching, science with mentorship, countless students and faculty have benefited from her as a role model."


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