Announcing the recipients of the 2023 Presidential Faculty Excellence Awards


George Mason University President Gregory Washington has announced the recipients of the 2023 Presidential Awards for Faculty Excellence, honoring 12 Mason faculty members for their work on behalf of the university, students, and the broader community.

This is the seventh year for the Presidential Awards for Faculty Excellence, selected by a review committee that includes prior award winners and university senior leaders. Recipients will be honored at a reception May 11.

The awards honor faculty with up to six years of service, six to 12 years of service, and more than 12 years of service.

“Our faculty continue to make extraordinary contributions in all fields and at all levels,” Mason President Gregory Washington said. “The awards are a way to honor faculty for their outstanding work in teaching, research, scholarship, social impact, and diversity and inclusion. The honorees exemplify the caliber of faculty we have here at the largest and most diverse public university in Virginia.”

The John Toups Presidential Medal for Excellence in Teaching is presented to a faculty member whose teaching inspires and stimulates students in the finest tradition of higher education.

The Beck Family Presidential Medal for Excellence in Research recognizes extraordinary contributions by members of the Mason faculty to consequential research of high impact. The award is presented annually to a Mason faculty member whose research represents groundbreaking advances in their field.

The United Bank Presidential Medal for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion recognizes extraordinary contributions in teaching, research, scholarship, creative works or service that directly advances diversity and inclusion inside and outside the Mason community.

The Earle C. Williams Presidential Medal for Excellence in Social Impact is presented to a faculty member in any discipline who makes extraordinary efforts to use their scholarship to solve real-world problems.

The complete list of 2023 honorees is below. See prior recipients for 2017-2022.


Faculty Excellence in Teaching

Anya Evmenova is wearing a yellow top and a starfish necklace and is shown in front of a window

The John Toups Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Teaching:

Anya S. Evmenova is a professor in the Division of Special Education and disAbility Research in the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD). She specializes in accessible instruction methods grounded in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) with application in face-to-face, hybrid, and online environments.

Evmenova is an exceptionally prolific advisor to doctoral students and has gone to great lengths to involve graduate students in her research projects and publications. She has also raised more than $14 million in federal grants to support her research, which focuses on the use of assistive technology in the instruction and cognitive development of diverse learners. Her research projects include professional development oppor­tunities for teachers, caregivers, students, or individuals with disabilities to enhance their use of technology.

Evmenova has conducted workshops for teachers in numerous countries to transform their inclusive education practices for students with disabilities. At Mason, she has helped develop and conduct the Online Teach­ing Initiative to prepare CEHD faculty for effective online teaching. She serves as one of CEHD’s coordinators of digital learning and the associate director for the Global Online Teacher Education Center. She has received the Teaching Excellence Award for Technology-Enhanced Teaching (2016) and the inaugural Online Teaching Excellence Award (2018).


Gwendolyn Lewis Is standing outside in a light peach top and white blazer

Gwendolyn (Wendy) Lewis is an instructional associate professor in the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience (IPN) in the College of Science. Lewis joined IPN when it was created in 2016 and was the first teaching-focused faculty member dedicated solely to the program. She has served as the undergraduate coor­dinator for IPN since 2018, overseeing the program’s growth and expansion and playing a lead role in the development of the program’s curriculum.

Lewis has helped position the neuroscience program as a leader in innovative course design by promoting the development of Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs). In Lewis’s research course, the Zebrafish Neurodevelopment Labora­tory, students design and carry out novel research projects to investigate the nervous system in zebrafish and present their work at internal and external symposiums. Through this course, which is part of the Mason Impact+ program and Research and Scholarship Intensive, Lewis has increased the access and availability of undergraduate research experiences, mentoring more than 100 students on dozens of research projects since 2017.


Courtney Wooten is wearing an emerald green short-sleeved top

Courtney Adams Wooten is associate chair for writing program administration and an assistant professor in the English Depart­ment in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS). She joined Mason in 2018 and regularly teaches general education composition courses as well as graduate courses in composition pedagogy.

Wooten has worked on projects such as a linguistic justice and contract grading working groups. She has also col­laborated with other faculty members on various projects that received two Mason Curriculum Impact Grants, a Stearns Center Anti-Racist and Inclusive Teaching (ARIT) Grant, and a national Conference on College Composition and Communication Research Initiative Grant.

Wooten served on the Council of Writing Program Administrators Executive Board, and has edited many books and collections, in addition to publishing arti­cles and book chapters about writing pro­gram administration and writing pedagogy. She has also served on the Mason Core Committee and the Faculty Senate Task Force on Reimagining Faculty Roles and Rewards.

Faculty Excellence in Research

Giorgio Ascoli is wearing a blue button up shirt

The Beck Family Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Research: Giorgio A. Ascoli is a University Professor in the Bioengineer­ing Department in the College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) and Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience (IPN) in the College of Science. He joined the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at Mason in 1997 and is also founder and director of the Center for Neural Informatics, Structures, and Plasticity, a transdisciplinary research group.

Ascoli is founding editor of the journal Neuroinformatics and has contributed to the establishment of the fields of computa­tional neuroanatomy and neuroinformatics. His laboratory investigates brain struc­ture, activity, and function from the cellular to the circuit level. In the long term, Ascoli seeks to create large-scale, anatomically plausible neural networks to model entire portions of a mammalian brain.

Ascoli received the 2012 Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. He was elected an American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering Fellow in 2022 and won the National Institutes of Health and Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology DataWorks!Challenge Distinguished Achievement Award in 2023. His 2015 book Trees of the Brain, Roots of the Mind was pub­lished by MIT Press.


Justin Gest is showin in a navy sportcoat, blue tie and button up shirt

Justin Gest is an associate professor of policy and government at the Schar School of Poli­cy and Government. He studies immigration and the politics of demographic change. He is the author of six books and a coeditor of the Oxford University Press book series, Oxford Studies in Migra­tion and Citizenship.

Gest has written peer-re­viewed articles in a variety of journals and has provided reporting or commentary for ABC, BBC, CBC, CNN, the Guardian, Los Angeles Times, NPR, the New York Times, Politico, Reuters, Vox, and the Washington Post.

In 2013, Gest received the Star Family Prize for Student Advising and, in 2014, he received the Joseph R. Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize. These awards are Harvard University’s highest for student advising and faculty teaching, respectively. He has also earned the 2020 George Mason University Teaching Excellence Award. He has served as a consultant to various government agencies and civil society organizations.


Evan Lowder is wearing a bright pink blazer and black top and wears glasses

Evan Marie Lowder, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society in CHSS, researches strategies to reduce jus­tice system contact and improve behavioral health outcomes among adults in the justice system or at risk of justice system involvement. Her work seeks to elevate decarceral strategies that promote individuals’ risk management and their connections to needed services in the community. She is also interested in understanding what drives disparate outcomes in the legal system, particularly for Black individuals.

Since joining Mason in 2019, Lowder has received more than $1 million in funding from local, state, and national organizations to study early in­tervention strategies that connect justice-in­volved individuals to community-based treatment, facilitate release from pretrial de­tention, and improve community outcomes. Her research routinely involves collabora­tion with professionals in local community organizations, jails, pretrial services, courts, and community corrections. At Mason, she directs the Early Justice Strategies Lab, which trains undergraduate and graduate students in applied research methods.



Yan is wearing glasses, a dark sportcoat and blue button up shirt

Zhisheng Yan, an assistant professor in the Department of Information Sciences and Technology in CEC and a member of Mason’s Center for Secure Information Systems, develops immersive multimedia systems such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) for use in everyday life. Yan has launched a research program that replaces smartphones with smart headwear to enable immersive computing at scale. For this innovative research, he has received both the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award and Computer and Information Science and En­gineering Research Initiation Initiative Award.

Yan has chaired the Technical Program Committee for four international conferences and codirected the Review Committee of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Multimedia Communications Technical Committee. His services and leadership have been recog­nized with an IEEE Transactions on Multimedia Outstanding Reviewer Award, an IEEE SmartWorld Congress Outstanding Service Award, and an IEEE Cybermatics Congress Outstanding Leadership Award.


Faculty Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion

Richard Craig wears rimless glasses and a button down shirt

United Bank Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion: Richard T. Craig, an associate professor in Department of Communication and director of the MA in Communication Program in CHSS, began his career at Mason as a Preparing Future Faculty Fellow in 2009. Upon receiving his PhD from Howard University in 2011, he was appointed to a tenure-track position. He earned tenure and promotion to associ­ate professor in 2017 and has served as the director of the Communication MA Program since that time.

In 2020–21, Craig was part of the faculty leadership team that planned the scale-up of the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) course that was approved to meet both Global Understanding and Social and Behavioral Sciences requirements for the Mason Core.

He has served as a member of the Just Society Task Force that worked with a subset of the Ma­son Core Committee and also served on the Quality Enhancement Plan Development Committee, which cre­ated the Transformative Education through Anti-Racist Community Engagement plan.

Currently, Craig is working to establish the Pop Culture Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access studies (IDEAs) Lab promoting and encouraging scholarship with a range of interest in pop culture.



Jonathan Auerbach is shown outside. He has a beard and mustache and is wearing a button up shirt

Jonathan Auerbach is an assistant professor in the Department of Statistics within CEC. His research covers topics at the intersection of statistics and public policy, including urban analytics, open data, and the collection, evaluation, and communication of official statistics.

The 2016 Public Understanding of Statistics Fellow and the 2020 Science Policy Fellow at the American Statistical Association, Auerbach has published research on pressing societal issues, such as the rise in middle-age mortality, the persistent gender gap in STEM, the security and accessibility of elections, and the quality of the Census. He is the principal investigator on a grant to study disparate health care outcomes arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, and a coprincipal investigator on a grant to study the state of United States’ data infrastructure.

Auerbach created a class unit in which students investigate the state of diversity and inclusion at Mason, as well as the use of campus water fountains and recycling bins.


Soundararajan is wearing a green button up shirt under a black sweater, and wears glasses.


Shvetha Soundararajan is an instructional associate professor in the Department of Comput­er Science in CEC. At Mason since 2016, she is a strong advocate for women in the fields of computing and engineering. She leads the Break Through Tech DC initiative at Mason, which seeks to increase the number of women graduating with computing degrees and pursuing technology careers. In this role, Soundararajan is primarily involved in curriculum innovations and community building efforts that help increase the number of women studying and majoring in computer science at Mason.

Her research interests include agile transformation, requirements engineering, software architecture, and computer science education. She strives to inspire her students to learn and appreciate computer science, explore new ideas, and articulate their thoughts well. She has taught both introductory and advanced courses in com­puter science and software engineering.


Faculty Excellence in Social Impact

R Christian Jones wears a blue sportcoat, light blue button-up shirt and blue tie

Earle C. Williams Presidential Medal for Faculty Excellence in Social Impact: R. Christian Jones is a professor of aquatic ecology in the College of Science’s Depart­ment of Environmental Science and Policy, which he cofounded in 2000 and led as its first chair. He is also founder and director of the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center (PEREC) at the Potomac Science Center.

Jones arrived at Mason in the fall of 1980 just as the doctoral program in environmental science and public policy was launched, and he served as the director of the program from 1992 to 1995. In 1984, Jones initiated the long-term ecological study of Gunston Cove. This study, which involves biology and environmental science and policy faculty and is partially funded by Fairfax County, has trained more than 100 graduate and undergraduate students, produced more than 20 PhD dissertations and MS theses, and won U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awards for Environmen­tal Excellence. The study is recognized as one of the nation’s longest-running aquatic ecology monitoring programs.

In the early 1990s, Jones and former Mason professor Don Kelso began their quest for an aquatic ecology lab. Their quest was fulfilled in 2018 when Mason opened the Potomac Science Center and PEREC, which currently houses the largest tidal freshwater research facility in the country.



Koper wears a dark sportcoat, blue button up shirt and a red tie with blue and white diagonal stripes

Christopher S. Koper is a professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Soci­ety in CHSS and the principal fellow of Mason’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy. He specializes in issues related to policing, firearms policy, program evaluation, and evidence-based policy and practice. Koper has conducted extensive research for the U.S. Department of Justice and worked with many criminal justice practitioners and policymakers locally, nationally, and globally on the development, implementation, and evaluation of policies and programs.

Koper’s studies on firearms policy and polic­ing have been cited extensively by policy­makers and the media and used by numer­ous police agencies in the United States and internationally. Koper is a fellow of the Acad­emy of Experimental Criminology, coeditor of Criminology & Public Policy, coauthor of the award-winning book Evidence-Based Policing: Translating Research into Practice, and a recipient of the Distinguished Scholar Award from the Division of Policing of the American Society of Criminology.