Campus News

Gollnick, Srihari receive grad student mentoring award

By SUE WUETCHER

Published January 19, 2018

Paul Gollnick and Sargur Srihari are the recipients of the 2017-18 Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring Award, presented by the Graduate School to recognize UB faculty for their support and development of graduate students through their mentoring activities.

The award, established in 2012, is given annually to members of the graduate faculty who have demonstrated “truly outstanding and sustained support and development of graduate students from course completion through research and subsequent career placement.”

Gollnick, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, was nominated for the award by his department chair, Stephen J. Free, professor of biological sciences. Srihari, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, was nominated by Chunming Qiao, SUNY Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

Gollnick will be UB’s nominee for the Geoffrey Marshall Mentoring Award sponsored by the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools (NAGS). The Marshall award will be presented at NAGS’ annual meeting in April.

headshot of Paul Gollnick.

Paul Gollnick

In his letter nominating Gollnick for the award, Free wrote that he knew of “no one who better represents the mentoring qualities the award honors.”

He pointed in particular to the “breadth” of Gollnick’s mentoring of graduate students, “which has extended far beyond those conducting research under his tutelage.”

In addition to mentoring PhD and MS students conducting research in his laboratory, Gollnick works with graduate students in other research labs at UB, as well as students in the BIO MA program, Free noted.

Mentoring students in the BIO MA program “presents a unique set of unusual mentoring requirements,” Free wrote. Students enter this program to bolster their credentials for entry into a professional program, including medical and dental school, and the program is flexible in allowing students to work with a mentor to design a course curriculum and research project that is tailored to their individual goals. Gollnick, Free said, “has stepped far outside the comfortable boundaries of his own research expertise” to help students find research projects that may be very different from his own and courses that would be the most beneficial for their career goals.”

“In his service to the MA graduate students,” Free said, “Dr. Gollnick has excelled in the art of mentoring and helping students whose interests and goals are far afield from his research topic.”

He noted that numerous students submitted letters in support of Gollnick’s nomination for the award, and they “uniformly attest to the quality of mentoring they received.” Virtually all the students praised the excellent training Gollnick provided in presenting their research in a public forum and in writing research papers. One student in particular credited Gollnick with “changing the entire trajectory” of his career, Free wrote.

A UB faculty member since 1990, Gollnick studies gene expression, looking specifically at how DNA is converted to RNA through a process known as transcription that takes place inside cells. Transcription enables cells to create protein, and its proper function is critical to the life and survival of all organisms, ranging from viruses to animals and plants. Originally focused on bacteria, Gollnick has expanded his research to examine the process of transcription within the vaccinia virus, a pox virus that was used in the smallpox vaccines.

A prolific scholar, he has published more than 100 academic articles. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

headshot of Sargur Srihari.

Sargur Srihari

In his letter nominating Srihari for the mentoring award, Qiao praised the computer scientist for helping to build UB’s Department of Computer Science “with research that was popular with students and substantial research funding that he was able to obtain.”

Srihari, Qiao noted, has supervised 38 doctoral students and mentored more than 200 MS students during his tenure at UB.

Another colleague, Bharat Jayaraman, professor and former department chair, noted that Srihari “has put UB on the map of excellence in Artificial Intelligence research for his pioneering methods in automated hand-writing recognition.” Software developed by Srihari’s graduate students was successfully deployed in key post offices in Florida 20 years ago, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in savings to the U.S. Postal Service. “This is a powerful testimony to the guidance, mentorship and leadership that Professor Srihari provided for literally dozens of graduate students over many years,” Jayaraman said.

Both Qiao and Jayaraman pointed to the high level of success achieved by some of Srihari’s students, among them Robin Li, founder and CEO of Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google; Jonathan Hull, director of research at Ricoh Silicon Valley; Tin Kam Ho, who became a distinguished scientist at Lucent Bell Labs and is now at IBM working on the Watson project; and Venu Govindaraju, SUNY Distinguished Professor and vice president of research and economic development at UB — and a winner of last year’s Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring Award.

Several of Srihari’s former students wrote in support of his nomination, noting he encourages them “with the right mix of technical guidance, personal encouragement and careful monitoring.” Srihari, they said, “displays remarkable patience and constantly looks for ways to encourage his students’ professional and personal development.”

A UB faculty member since 1978, Srihari is founding director of the Center of Excellence for Document Analysis and Recognition (CEDAR), the first center of excellence to be designated by the U.S. Postal Service and the only one dedicated to handwriting recognition.

A distinguished scholar, he is a fellow of the International Association for pattern Recognition, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Institute of Electronics and Telecommunications Engineers, India.

Srihari has authored or co-authored more than 330 research papers, edited five books and holds seven U.S. patents, and his work has received more than 15,000 citations.

He also played a leading role in establishing the International Conference on Document Analysis and Recognition, the International Conference on Frontiers in Handwriting Recognition, and the International Workshop on Computational Forensics.