Dean Joe Newton and Association of Former Students Director of Development Nic Taunton '07 (right) pose with 2014 Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement College-Level Award in Teaching winners (from left) Steven E. Wheeler, assistant professor of chemistry; Lucas Macri, associate professor of physics and astronomy; Peter Howard, professor of mathematics; and Keith A. Maggert, associate professor of biology.


Eleven faculty, staff and students within the Texas A&M University College of Science were recognized for recent outstanding accomplishments by Dean H. Joseph Newton at the college's annual Faculty-Staff Meeting and Awards Presentation Wednesday (Oct. 29).

The ceremony, which honors college award recipients and serves as a forum for new faculty and staff introductions, was held in the Stephen W. Hawking Auditorium inside the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy.

Dr. Peter B. Howard (mathematics), Dr. Lucas Macri (physics and astronomy), Dr. Keith A. Maggert (biology) and Dr. Steven E. Wheeler (chemistry) were honored as recipients of The Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement College-Level Awards in Teaching for 2014 for their commitment to education and contributions to their respective disciplines. Each honoree was awarded a framed certificate commemorating the occasion and a $2,000 check from The Association.

Dr. David E. Bergbreiter (chemistry) and Emily Rose (biology) were honored with the college's inaugural Undergraduate Research Mentoring Awards. Established in 2014, the award recognizes faculty members and graduate students for their dedication, enthusiasm, accomplishments, and contributions in mentoring undergraduate researchers. Each received a $500 check and a plaque of appreciation.

Staff members Ethelyn Mejia, William Merka and Bonnie Stephen were presented with 2014 Outstanding Staff Achievement Awards. Established in 1995, the award commends the dedication, enthusiasm and accomplishments of staff throughout the college. Each received a plaque and a $500 check, also funded by The Association.

Mejia, an administrative assistant in the Department of Chemistry with six years of service to the college, is a 2007 masters of statistics graduate of Texas A&M. She is responsible for all management-related tasks for two large, continuously growing research groups -- those of Distinguished Professors of Chemistry Marcetta and Donald Darensbourg. Beyond managing the day-to-day affairs for 20-plus research group members, Mejia tackles a laundry list of related to-dos, including undergraduate examination preparation, website maintenance, travel arrangements, grant proposal submission and administration, and manuscript preparation and publishing. Regarding the latter, although Mejia is a statistician by training, the Darensbourgs "sometimes accuse her of being a chemist, because she can produce graphical structures and drawings of molecules in three dimensions using up-to-date software programs with which we and our students would have problems!" She also mentors new administrative assistants and assists in myriad ways throughout the department, including as assistant to the chair of the inorganic division and as safety coordinator for the fourth floor of the '59 Wing of the Chemistry Building.

Merka, a research instrumentation specialist in the Department of Chemistry with 29 years of service to the college, handles day-to-day management for the scientific glassblowing facility, serving not only the chemistry department but also the entire Texas A&M campus. Considering the department alone has more than 200 laboratories, 50 tenured/tenure-track faculty, 300-plus graduate students, 80 staff members and more than 100 research scientists, Merka is one busy, in-demand man. He works closely with instructional and research personnel in the design and construction of glass and quartz scientific apparatus and new systems for specific applications and experiments. As one colleague puts it, "I have never heard Bill say, 'Sorry, I cannot make this; it is too complicated.'" One such project with Dr. Ed Fry in the Department of Physics and Astronomy even resulted in a patent for which Merka is an inventor. For the past 15 years, he has been an active member of the American Scientific Glass Blowing Society, serving for the last three as Southwest Program Chair. Each fall since 2002, he has hosted glassblowing shop demonstrations for Chemistry Open House, inspiring untold generations of future scientists (if not glass blowers) with marbles and his knowledge of the general ins and outs of his ancient art.

Stephen, a program assistant in the Dean's Office with nearly 14 years of service to the college, handles all administrative and managerial tasks within the Educational Outreach and Women's Programs Office, which hosts no fewer than nine related events each year to increase awareness of and interest in STEM-related subjects and careers. Such programs require an amazing amount of preparation, coordination and long hours, including weekends. Stephen regularly communicates with hundreds of Texas schools, teachers and students, completes all required informational and registration forms, schedules event venues and presenters, obtains event supplies, and sets up as well as cleans up after actual events while taking care of hundreds of details in between. By virtue of her position and its function, Stephen is the face of Texas A&M Science for thousands of people year in and year out, and that impression is long-lasting, as evidenced by support letters from teachers and former Women In Science and Engineering members who fondly remember her super-human efforts and ever-present smile throughout the process. As one Texas Science Olympiad coach said, "Bonnie has helped us every step of the way with encouragement and extraordinary patience. Each year, she has answered who knows how many questions via phone and email for us. When I think that she does this for more than 200 teams for this one program, it's really an amazing achievement."

Seniors Callie Cheatham and Charles "Max" Shannon each received the John B. Beckham Award in Science. Established in 1983 through the Texas A&M Foundation by friends and family of John B. Beckham in recognition of his 36 years of educational service to Texas A&M, the Beckham Award honors undergraduate students who go above and beyond to uphold the university's standards for achievement, integrity, and academic and extracurricular leadership. Winners each receive $1,000 and a commemorative medallion.

Cheatham, a chemistry major and member of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, maintains a cumulative 3.88 GPA and has been recognized with the Distinguished Student Award, the First Year Undergraduate Chemistry Award, the Outstanding Achievement in Organic Chemistry Award, the Bruce Goodrich Sophomore Leadership Award and the Department of Chemistry Achievement Award. Within the Corps, she has served as scholastics sergeant, squad leader and chaplain. She also is an executive student board member for Texas A&M's undergraduate student research journal Explorations .

Shannon, a physics major minoring in mathematics, maintains a cumulative 3.83 GPA and has been recognized as a Mechanics Scholar and Dean's List member. In addition, he is an Eagle Scout. Shannon, who serves as Chief Operating Officer for the Memorial Student Center Council, also helped establish an Oxfam Hunger Banquet at Texas A&M. In addition, he was a staff member for a past Costa Rica service learning trip.

In addition to the award winners, Newton recognized Dean's Office members and introduced Faculty and Staff Interaction Teams (FASIT) members within the departments, while heads of each of the college's five departments (Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy, and Statistics) also introduced their respective new faculty. Newton then delivered a State of the College address to conclude the ceremony.

A reception honoring all award winners and new faculty and staff was held following the presentation in foyer of the Mitchell Institute.

Click here to see additional photographs from the event.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Research Matters

    (From left:) Chemist David E. Bergbreiter and biology graduate student Emily Rose, pictured with Dean Newton, earned the college's inaugural Undergraduate Research Mentoring Awards, established earlier this year to recognize the important investment both faculty and graduate students make in the future of scientific research.

  • Superior Staff

    The Department of Chemistry's Ethelyn Mejia (left) and William Merka (second from left) and the Dean's Office's Bonnie Stephen (second from right) received congratulations from Dean Newton (right) for their diligent work in their respective units with the college's highest awards for staff in 2014.

  • Best and Brightest

    Callie Cheatham (left) and Charles "Max" Shannon (right) were celebrated by Dean Newton (center) for their academic achievements with John B. Beckham Awards honoring the college's top two seniors for 2014.

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