Staff: Jose Rojas

Facilities manager at the School of Biological Sciences for 20 years, Jose Rojas, probably knows more about the ins-and-outs of how labs operate than most principal investigators. Like the biology subjects U biologists examine—from cone snails to mitochondria, and from mammals to tiny round worms of C. elegans—Rojas’s work in retrofitting lab spaces requires prodding, perturbing and replicating.

Labs in the four biology buildings (Aline Skaggs [ASB], South Biology, Talmage Building and Life Sciences) are constantly in a state of flux: living organisms in their own right. With more tenure-line faculty/principal investigators than most academic units, Biology relies on Rojas and his team to be in a constant state of demolitions, bidding, implementing hazard waste abatements, and pricing and securing equipment like million-dollar microscopes, tanks, and cages, wind tunnels and centrifuges. Then there’s also that OTHER lab: BioKids, and NAEYC accredited, year-round Early Childhood Program located at the School in Building 44.

Rojas’ work also requires an artistic side, designing exhibits like the museum-grade cabinet that now houses the gene-targeting equipment Dr. Mario Capecchi used to do his foundational research in the School of Biological Sciences which led to the good scientist’s Nobel Prize. Currently Rojas is designing a display, “Biology Under Cover,” of selected journal covers over the decades by School faculty now memorialized in metal in the lobby of the Aline Wilmot Skaggs Building.

Rojas’ work also requires an artistic side, designing exhibits like the museum-grade cabinet that now houses the gene-targeting equipment Dr. Mario Capecchi used to do his foundational research in the School of Biological Sciences which led to the good scientist’s Nobel Prize. One of his last project was designing a display, “Biology Under Cover,” of selected journal covers over the decades by School faculty now memorialized in metal in the lobby of the Aline Wilmot Skaggs Building.

Rojas’ work has not gone unnoticed: in 2017 he received the prestigious District and University Staff Excellence Award in 2017. A native of Puerto Rico, he has made his home in Utah since 1983, but still returns to Florida and points beyond at least annually, bearing his signature bounty of local macaroons for the staff back at the U. He and his staff regularly host a BBQ on the roof of the South Biology building next to the expansive greenhouse.

Rojas could pretty much tell you everything that’s going on in there as well.

These are big, steel-toed boots to fill. At first blush you might wonder how an artist ended up as the new facilities manager here at the School of Biological Sciences. The job requires not only a thing for materials and construction, but a good dose of management and intuiting the quirky needs of faculty/principal investigators whose labs house everything from wind tunnels to million dollar microscopes; from mice to fruit flies; and plants to mammals. Never mind the anatomy lab: one of only two labs of its kind on campus, housing full cadavers.

Staff: James Muller

Staff Excellence Award


 

The College of Science is pleased to announce that James Muller has received an inaugural College of Science Staff Excellence Award in 2019. The Staff Excellence Awards were created this year to recognize the impactful contributions from staff in the College and will be an ongoing award in the future.

Jim is the Director of Chemistry’s Mass Spectroscopy Laboratory, and he oversaw construction of the Thatcher Chemistry Building for Biological and Biophysical Chemistry, and the Crocker Science Center. Both individuals have demonstrated an outstanding level of commitment to the educational and research missions of the College of Science for many years.

The College of Science has many truly wonderful staff who work tirelessly to assist students and faculty. Our sincerest thanks to this group for taking the initiative each day to make the College excellent in so many different ways!

 

Teaching Excellence

Kelly MacArthur, assistant chair and an instructor lecturer in the U’s Mathematics Department, has received two teaching awards from the U—the Career Services Faculty Recognition Award and the Excellence in Education Award. Both awards are given annually with students nominating faculty.

“An Amazing Teacher”

Career Services recognizes outstanding faculty who have made significant contributions to their students’ professional development in helping students find resources, guide their career paths, and realize their potential. Since 2005, the Latter-Day Saint Student Association has given the Excellence in Education Award.

“Kelly is an amazing teacher and role model,” said Shams Al-shawbaki in nominating MacArthur for the Career Services Faculty Recognition Award. “Not only is she great at her job and understands the responsibility behind what she does, but she shows passion and care towards her students. Kelly has affected me in positive ways in math as well as in my self-confidence and career at the University of Utah. We need more teachers like her.”

Aubrey Mercer, who nominated MacArthur for the Excellence in Education Award, was initially nervous about taking calculus as a freshman, but it turned out to be her favorite class. “Kelly creates such a welcoming environment,” said Mercer. “She really cares about our success.” Both students noted that MacArthur makes a point to learn the names of every student in her class—no small feat since MacArthur often teaches between 150-200 students each semester.

 Teaching Students to Fail

MacArthur said her teaching style has evolved over 25 years, especially during the last decade. Every day she writes the same sentence on the whiteboard: “This is a kind, inclusive, brave and failure-tolerant class.” She created the statement to encourage a sense of community and collaboration within the context of math class. “Failure tolerance is so important, and permission to fail often gets lost in math if students are only looking for the “right” answer,” said MacArthur. “It’s important to create an environment where students feel safe and free to make mistakes. My goal is to humanize the classroom and teach human beings. Teaching math is not the primary goal—it’s learning about my students and what speaks to them.”

In addition to teaching, MacArthur co-created and appears in the Math Department’s public lecture videos. She has developed math materials for elementary and secondary teachers; developed an online math course for non-STEM majors, organized the Math Department’s involvement in the Ndahoo’ah American Indian summer outreach project in the Mohave Valley on the Navaho Reservation; and created a math program for men and women at the Utah State Prison. She serves on the Math Education Committee and on the Undergraduate Mathematics Curriculum Committee. She is also chair of the U’s Senate Advisory Committee on Diversity, among other administrative positions.

MacArthur received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Arizona State University and a master’s in mathematics from the U. She is currently working on a Ph.D. in undergraduate mathematics education.

Staff: Mary Levine

Staff Excellence Award


 

The College of Science is pleased to announce that Mary Levine has received an inaugural College of Science Staff Excellence Award in 2019. The Staff Excellence Awards were created this year to recognize the impactful contributions from staff in the College and will be an ongoing award in the future.

Mary Levine joined the University of Utah 35 years ago, more than 20 years of this service being in the Department of Mathematics.  She is Assistant to the Chair of Mathematics, and provides administrative support to the faculty.

The College of Science has many truly wonderful staff who work tirelessly to assist students and faculty. Our sincerest thanks to this group for taking the initiative each day to make the College excellent in so many different ways!