The 2020 President’s Award recipients, who receive a $2,500 cash award and a plaque, include the following.

President’s Award for Research Excellence: Established Faculty (tie)

  • Raluca Simons, Ph.D., professor of psychology and director of the Disaster Mental Health Institute
  • Jeffrey Simons, Ph.D., professor of psychology

President’s Award for Research Excellence: Early-Mid Career Faculty

  • Bess Vlaisavljevich, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry

President’s Award for Research Innovation & Entrepreneurship

  • Zhenqiang (Rick) Wang, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry

President’s Award for Research Creativity

  • Tracelyn Gesteland, D.M.A., professor of voice/opera

“It is an honor to recognize Raluca Simons, Jeffrey Simon, Bess Vlaisavljevich, Rick Wang and Tracelyn Gesteland with the President’s Research Awards,” said USD President Sheila K. Gestring. “The university is grateful for their dedication and service to their students, to their field of research and to the state of South Dakota.”

Candidates were reviewed based on past and current research accomplishments, including criteria such as publications, presentations, successful grantsmanship, peer reviewer experience, maintenance of an active graduate or undergraduate program and being conferred other competitive research awards. The Innovation & Entrepreneurship award further required that the winner demonstrate innovative thinking or research findings that had promising commercial potential, as well as a concept that had progressed beyond the theoretical stage to the applied stage.

Raluca Simons and Jeffrey Simons were jointly awarded the President’s Award for Research Excellence, Established Faculty, for their collaborative and integrative efforts in studying at-risk populations, including those affected by trauma in early childhood or combat. Raluca is an expert in emotion, effects of traumatic stress, child maltreatment and veteran’s mental health. Jeffrey’s research focuses on substance abuse, and he is an expert in advanced statistical modeling approaches and theoretical models of self-regulation. One of their earliest collaborations resulted in the Distress Tolerance Scale, a tool widely used in both clinical and research contexts. They have pioneered the use of smartphones and transdermal alcohol sensors to provide real-time assessment of behavior in the natural environment. Both have numerous publications in top journals, and they have devoted much of their time to supporting student research.

Bess Vlaisavljevich received the President’s Award for Research Excellence, Early-Mid Career. Vlaisavljevich has been at USD for three years, and in this short time, she has built a research program that brings national and international scientists together. She has published a career total of 48 peer-reviewed articles. Vlaisavljevich’s research approach uses multiple computational methods to understand complex systems in inorganic chemistry, f-element chemistry and materials science. She serves as a reviewer for the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the American Chemical Society’s Petroleum Research Fund. Vlaisavljevich is a senior investigator, principal investigator (PI) or co-PI on five successful grants from the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy currently totaling $1,126,849.

Zhenqiang (Rick) Wang was awarded the President’s Award for Research, Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Over the last 10 years at USD, Wang has established an innovative research program developing novel nanostructured materials and exploring their applications and commercialization in areas including clean energy, the environment and biomedicine. He and his team strive to take fundamental discoveries from the lab to find real-world applications to benefit the economy, the community and society. To date, their innovation and entrepreneurship efforts have led to a patent, numerous federal and state grants, and several local media reports. Wang’s team at USD invented a novel class of nanomolecules termed “metal-organic supercontainers (MOSCs),” that have the potential to serve as a therapeutic for meth overdose.

Tracelyn Gesteland, the Walter A. and Lucy Yoshioka Buhler Endowed Chair, received the President’s Award for Research Creativity. Gesteland has served as opera director of 23 full productions with student and professional casts across the country. Her work with the USD Opera has received national awards and recognition from the National Opera Association and The American Prize every year since 2011, making USD Opera one of the best collegiate programs in the nation. As a recitalist, Gesteland has performed throughout the United States either as a soloist or as half of the Gesteland-Smith Duo. The duo’s debut CD of sacred classical works, “Make a Joyful Noise,” was commercially released in December 2016 on Raven Recordings. Gesteland was selected for the 2020-2021 Knutson Distinguished Professor Award given by the USD College of Fine Arts in recognition of her contributions in research and creative activity. 

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