Renowned Glaucoma Researcher Receives Highest Faculty Award, Other Faculty Members Recognized for Excellence

One of the world’s foremost glaucoma researchers, Ronald S. Harwerth, is the recipient of the 2011 Esther Farfel Award, the highest distinction bestowed upon faculty by the University of Houston. Carrying with it a cash prize of $10,000, the Farfel Award is a symbol of overall career excellence. With the first award given in 1979, Harwerth is the 33rd recipient.

"I feel very honored to receive the Esther Farfel award in recognition of my career at UH," Harwerth said. "I am especially grateful to my colleagues and students for their support of my nomination."

Harwerth is internationally recognized as one of the most pre-eminent glaucoma researchers in optometry. In particular, he has tackled the difficulty of diagnosing glaucoma in its initial stages. In his landmark work, Harwerth pointed out the reason why the two basic tests for this disease do not always agree, with his findings explaining the different ways glaucoma presents itself. This significant work led to his standing among the world’s premier visual scientists.

“In addition to the enormous contributions he has made to the understanding of binocular vision, amblyopia and glaucoma, he also has conducted significant research in a number of other areas,” said professor Balwantray Chauhan from Dalhousie University in Canada. “A contribution in just one of these areas would constitute a significant lifetime achievement in research. The fact that Ron has furthered our understanding of knowledge in such diverse areas is a testament to his remarkable achievements.”

Professor Chris A. Johnson from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics said that Harwerth “has a wonderful ability to explain complicated issues in a manner that is readily understandable, and his work has both basic scientific merit, as well as direct clinical application. This demonstrates that he is one of those rare individuals who is highly proficient in translational research from the laboratory to the clinic.”

With a 50-year history at UH, Harwerth’s contributions to the university date back to the early 1960s, receiving his B.S. in 1962 and O.D. in 1964 from UH’s College of Optometry. In 1971, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston. Progressing from a clinical assistant at UH in 1963 up through the ranks to becoming a full professor in 1978, Harwerth became part of the inaugural group of UH’s John and Rebecca Moores Professors in 1997. He has been chair of the UH optometry college’s department of vision sciences since 2004.

“Dr. Harwerth’s exemplary dedication to the highest standards of scholarly activities and his no-nonsense approach to faculty responsibilities have played a fundamental role in establishing a culture of excellence in our college,” said Earl Smith, dean of the College of Optometry. “As a leader and role model within our faculty, Dr. Harwerth has contributed, more than any other individual, to the evolution of our college from basically a teaching institution into an internationally recognized center for excellence in vision research. He is absolutely committed to doing the right thing to advance science, our students and the college and is an ideal academic citizen.”

In another ringing endorsement, Dennis M. Levi, one of Harwerth’s first students who now is a professor and dean at the University of California-Berkeley, said, “What stands out for me is that he taught us the pure joy of research, the wonder of discovery and the dedication needed to succeed. He taught by example that research is not based on a sudden flash of inspiration, but on serious study, dedicated scholarship, hard work, insight and intuition. His superb mentorship was not just about research, but also carried over to being a good teacher, colleague and citizen.”

Lisa Merkl

UH also honored numerous other distinguished faculty members for teaching and research excellence, community engagement, advising and mentoring undergraduate researchers.


This five-year renewable award is given to faculty who are outstanding in teaching, research and service. The recipient is awarded a $10,000 annual stipend.
•    Dmitri Litvinov, electrical and computer engineering
•    David Mikics, English

Two awards at the associate professor rank and two awards at assistant professor rank are presented to those individuals who have established a growing record of outstanding research, scholarship or creative contributions. Each recipient receives a trophy and a $5,000 prize.
•    Russell E. Lewis, associate professor, clinical sciences and administration
•    Pradeep Sharma, associate professor, mechanical engineering
•    Zhu Han, assistant professor, electrical and computer engineering
•    Michelangelo Sabatino, assistant professor, architecture

Teaching Excellence
This award is given to faculty in recognition of outstanding achievement in teaching. Recipients are honored with a trophy and an $8,000 prize.
•    Betty Barr, associate professor, electrical and computer engineering
•    Harold Bedell, professor, optometry
•    Anadeli Bencomo, associate professor, Hispanic studies
•    Dusya Vera, associate professor, management
•    Betsy Cook Weber, professor, music

Provost’s Core

This award is given to faculty in recognition of outstanding teaching in the core curriculum. Recipients are honored with a trophy and an $8,000 prize.
•    Casey Dué Hackney, associate professor, modern and classical languages
•    Michael Murphy, associate professor, Earth and atmospheric sciences
•    Maria Soliño, associate professor, Hispanic studies


This award is given in recognition of outstanding teaching by faculty instructors, clinical faculty, research faculty, artist affiliates and lecturers. The recipient is honored with a trophy and an $8,000 prize.
•    Lisa Alastuey, clinical assistant professor, health and human performance
•    Simon Bott, instructional professor, chemistry
•    Martha Dunkelberger, assistant clinical professor, communication sciences and disorders
•    Philip Rogers, clinical assistant professor, decision and information sciences
•    Lindsay Schwarz, visiting assistant professor, pharmacological and pharmaceutical sciences

Community Engagement
This award is given to faculty who involve students in service to the community through service learning activities or community engagement projects. The recipient is honored with a trophy and an $8,000 prize.
•    Jaana Porra, associate professor, decision and information sciences
•    Susan Rogers, assistant professor, architecture

Graduate Teaching Assistant

This award is given to graduate students in recognition of outstanding teaching. The recipients are honored with a trophy and a $3,500 prize.
•    Elisabetta Gentile, economics
•    Cecilia Marrugo Puello, Hispanic studies

Group Teaching Awards
This award recognizes clusters of faculty in both formal and informal programs who demonstrate a strong commitment to teaching and student success, who have worked together collaboratively to improve student outcomes and who demonstrate effective and innovative teaching. One award is designated for a faculty group demonstrating longitudinal teaching excellence in an undergraduate core course or series of courses. The other award is for a faculty group demonstrating longitudinal teaching excellence in an undergraduate or graduate course or series of courses that show evidence of improved outcomes of student success and retention. Each teaching group is honored with a group trophy and a cash prize of $30,000.

Teaching Group Excellence in the Undergraduate Core
Educational Psychology
•    Andrea Burridge, visiting associate professor
•    Sharon Johnson, visiting assistant professor
•    Thomas Schanding, assistant professor
•    Shirley L.Yu, associate professor
•    Kim Zainfeld, academic adviser 2

Teaching Group Excellence in Improved Student Outcomes of Student Success
Information and Logistics Technology
•    David Ding, assistant professor
•    Jamison Kovach, assistant professor
•    Susan Miertschin, associate professor
•    Sharon Lund O’Neil, professor
•    Jerry Waite, professor

Career Award

This award is given to a tenured faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in teaching over the course of his or her career at UH. The recipient is honored with a trophy and a $12,000 prize.
•    Dan Wells, professor, biology and biochemistry

Distinguished Leadership in Teaching Excellence
This award is given to a tenured faculty member who has made sustained and significant contributions to education. The recipient is honored with a trophy and a prize of $25,000, divided into a $15,000 cash award and $10,000 in departmental support.
•    Frank Holt, professor, history

This award recognizes demonstrated excellence in mentoring undergraduate researchers and encourages mentoring relationships with undergraduate students. The recipient is honored with a trophy and a $5,000 prize.
•    Gangbing Song, professor, mechanical engineering

This award is given to a faculty member who demonstrates excellence in undergraduate academic advising. The recipient is honored with a plaque and a $1,000 prize.
•    Donna Stokes, associate professor, physics

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