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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI Foundation presents four with Excellence Awards

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KINGSTON, R.I. -- September 20, 2006 -- Each year at the University of Rhode Island, the URI Foundation recognizes four outstanding members of the URI community. The four are nominated for their excellence by their peers and students in four categories: teaching, scholarly, administrative, and staff. A committee makes the final selections. This year’s excellence award winners were presented with a citation and a check for $1,000 during a reception on Sept. 14.

Each recipient is invited to march in URI’s commencement ceremony next May, walking with officials and dignitaries representing excellence within the URI community.

Recipients of the 2006 URI Foundation Excellence Award are:

Galen A. Johnson
2006 URI Foundation Teaching Excellence Award


Apparently Galen Johnson’s philosophy classes are contagious. According to a number of students, once you attend one of his classes you get a bug to enroll in others. Even after class has ended, numerous modern -day Platos can be seen following their Socratic teacher to continue their discussions.

Students catch their professor’s excitement for learning, which occurs on both sides of the classroom. It is fairly common, for example, to hear Johnson who lives in Kingston exclaim “wow” when a student makes a particularly impressive comment.

The homework he assigns, one student reports, makes her want to read more, discuss it with her classmates, and think about it long after the course has ended.

For wowing everyone at the University, Galen Johnson received the 2006 URI Foundation Teaching Excellence Award.

Thomas N. Mather
2006 URI Foundation Scholarly Excellence Award


Tom Mather of Wakefield--also known as “Tick Man” --thinks beyond the tweezers. The entomologist uses an arsenal of weapons in his campaign to take the bite out of Lyme disease and other diseases ticks transmit.

He enlists others in the battle: microbiologists, behavioral psychologists, other entomologists, molecular biologists, public health officials, and engineers.

Mather and his team have probably collected more deer ticks and tick spit than any other scientists in the world. It’s not a hobby; it’s a research focus. The drool contains bioactive proteins that could lead to a vaccine.

When not working on the cure, he’s working on disease prevention. Like a Johnny Appleseed, Mather goes from neighborhood to neighborhood spreading information on how to keep backyards clear of lurking vector-borne diseases.

For hitting the bull’s eye on tick research, the University presented Thomas N. Mather the 2006 URI Foundation Scholarly Excellence Award.

Denise K. Gorenski
2006 Staff Excellence Award


For the past 19 years, Denise Gorenski of Narragansett has been just the right prescription for pharmacy students who need a nudge, a course, or a cookie.

Students hang out in her office, telling her their problems and seeking her advice. This mother of four sons and surrogate mother of hundreds of pharmacy students will defend her brood when necessary. She once told a dean: “Don’t yell at him. He just broke up with his girlfriend.” The dean remained silent.

The office walls of this aptly-named specialist of student affairs are filled with wedding photos and baby pictures sent to her from her alumni “kids.” When visiting campus, pharmacy alumni generally stop at her office first.

For going well beyond her proscribed duties, Denise K. Gorenski was presented the 2006 URI Foundation Staff Excellence Award.

Elizabeth Connors
2006 Administrative Excellence Award


As clinic director for the Department of Communicative Disorders, Elizabeth “Billie” Connors of South Kingstown is always willing to lend an ear to a steady stream of students, colleagues, and clients.

Like an air traffic controller, she makes sure that students are on course and land in clinical placements matched to their interests and abilities.

She’s both an educator and an ambassador. She has expanded and enhanced the curriculum while broadening the University’s hearing and speech services to clients of all ages.

And she does everything with grace. That’s not the name of a co-worker, but a description of Connors’ modus operandi for the past two decades.

For showing the URI community how it can be done efficiently, effectively, and with a smile, URI presented Elizabeth Connors with the 2006 URI Foundation Administrative Excellence Award.