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UCF leads the state and ranks sixth in the nation for the number of National Science Foundation CAREER Award recipients in 2019.

As of July 22, UCF confirmed 12 awards. In Florida, a total of 41 awards have been given so far, including seven to University of Florida and five at Florida Atlantic University. Nationally, UCF ranked sixth while the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ranked first with 21 awards.

The College of Engineering and Computer Science represent seven of the 12 awards, which ranks it alongside UF.

The CAREER awards are among the most prestigious in the nation and include funding. Recognizing early-career professionals with promising research, the awards are part of the NSF’s Early Career Development Program and are given to recipients who have the potential to serve as academic role models and lead their respective fields. The awards are distributed over several months, with this month marks the last UCF award for the cycle.

“The awards recognize what we’ve long known. We have talented faculty with a pioneering spirit and a drive to make an impact on the world,” says Elizabeth Klonoff, vice president for Research and dean of the College of Graduate Studies. “This year’s success also demonstrates the power of investing in people. I want to thank our Associate Vice President for Research and Scholarship Debra Reinhart and Faculty Fellow Saiful Khondaker for their work. They created a robust program that supported our faculty applying for these awards. The results speak for themselves.”

For the past several years, UCF has seen the number of its CAREER awards increase, garnering more than 34 awards in the past 10 years. The process is highly competitive with thousands of scientists and engineers nationwide vying for the award.

This year the awards to UCF translate into more than $4 million for faculty to continue researching topics that range from energy to cybersecurity. This year’s recipients are:

From the College of Engineering and Computer Science:

From the College of Sciences

Last year, Reinhart and Khondaker pitched an idea. How about creating a tailored program that would help faculty interested in applying for the award? If they could reach applicants early enough and mentor them along the way, they argued, the quality of the proposals would increase and lead to better success.

Khondaker, a physics professor and a 2008 NSF CAREER grant recipient, led the initiative with the help of more than 38 past CAREER winners and senior faculty including the department chairs. The group provided mentoring, multiple rounds of feedback and tips about writing the proposals. Some faculty members also took advantage of other programs offered by the Office of Research during their proposal writing process.

“During the course of this mentoring program, I spoke to a lot of our researchers and was impressed with their ideas,” Khondaker says. “The close one-on-one mentoring, feedback and critical reviews helped turn their best ideas to reality. It was a team effort, but the awards themselves are a result of the quality and dedication of the faculty who applied.”

Many faculty members say it was difficult making time for the program with all their other commitments from teaching to conducting research, but in the end, it was worth it.

“The most useful part of the program was the critical reviews, which helped identify the parts of my proposal that the reviewers could use as reasons for rejection,” says Akihiro Kushima, an assistant professor in the Advanced Materials Processing and Analysis Center at UCF. “Eliminating these flaws in the proposal gave me confidence that the proposal would be accepted.”

Physics Assistant Professor Xiaofeng Feng concurs.

“I participated in the mentoring program because Dr. Saiful Khondaker is motivating,” Feng says. “The many detailed comments and suggestions he provided were very helpful. I would encourage junior faculty to participate in this program, because I feel like it contributed to my success.”