College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture announces outstanding students, faculty and staff

Updated April 28, 2022. 

The University of Maine College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture honored 26 undergraduate students for academic excellence, as well as nine graduate students, four faculty members, and four staff members at its annual Celebration of Excellence on April 20.

NOTE: Click on the image to watch a recording of the presentation.

Faculty and staff award winners:

Leonard Kass, Ph.D.: Outstanding Public Service Award

Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at the School of Biology and Ecology

A photo of Leonard Kass

As a researcher, Kass explores how sensory systems influence the brain, nervous system, and ultimately, animal behavior. Since he joined the University of Maine in 1985, he has integrated himself into the diffuse business of running a public research university—from advising student clubs to serving on the Faculty Senate—to create a thriving working and learning environment for all.

Kass is a founding member of RiSE Advocate and Ally, a group designed to foster conversation among male colleagues around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Kass has served on nearly every standing committee at the School of Biology and Ecology and the Faculty Senate. He also served as senate president and chaired the New England Association of Schools and Colleges re-accreditation process in 2009, leading a successful dialogue between faculty and administrators. 

Off campus, Kass is a dedicated ambassador of science. He volunteers extensively with the Upward Bound Math and Science Summer Program, as a judge at the Maine State Science Fair, and as a presenter at the Maine Science Festival. He is also a faculty representative to the National Honors Society in Biology.

His research has garnered grants from leading agencies, including the National Science Foundation and National Institute of Health. As an educator, Kass has been recognized for his innovative approach to STEM education, earning support from the U.S. Department of Education and UMaine’s Outstanding Teaching Award. For more than 40 years, he has taught more than 500 pre-health profession students annually, and made essential contributions to one of UMaine’s most popular minors—neurobiology.

Visit Kass’ biography to learn more.

Lenard W. Kaye, D.S.W., Ph.D.: Outstanding Public Service Award

Professor at the School of Social Work
Director at the Center on Aging

A photo of Lenard Kaye.

Lenard Kaye has advanced the field of healthcare and aging at the School of Social Work and the University of Maine since 2001. 

He has published approximately 200 journal articles and book chapters, and 17 books on specialized topics in aging including social isolation, home health care, productive aging, rural practice, family caregiving, controversial issues in aging, support groups for older women, and congregate housing. He is a co-principal investigator of The Mayer-Rothschild Foundation Designation of Excellence in Person-Centered Long-Term Care and the Lead Evaluator of AgingME, Maine’s Geriatrics Workforce Development Project. He managed a series of John Hartford Foundation-funded gerontological social work education programs at the University of Maine. Dr. Kaye served on the National Advisory Committee for Rural Health and Human Services of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, as well as the advisory boards of a wide range of national and local health and human service programs serving older adults. He is a Past President of both the Maine and New York State Gerontological Societies. 

He was nominated by School of Social Work Director Sandra Butler, colleagues, and community partners. In her letter of recommendation, Butler says Kaye has elevated issues faced by older adults in Maine. “Dr. Kaye has devoted his professional career to educating practitioners and the public regarding the needs and experiences of older adults and, in the last two decades, to developing programming to positively impact the lives of thousands of older adults in Maine,” she says.

Visit Kaye’s biography to learn more.

Kate Ruskin, Ph.D.: Outstanding Teaching Award

Lecturer and Undergraduate Coordinator at the Ecology and Environmental Sciences program

A photo of Kate Ruskin teach a class on the Orono Bog Boardwalk.

From general education lectures, to field research intensives, Kate Ruskin grounds Ecology and Environmental Sciences students in reality. 

“I think we’re asking a great deal of their generation to be stewards of our planet, and I feel the least I can do is work hard to prepare them for the job,” says Ruskin, who joined UMaine’s faculty after earning her Ph.D. from the Ecology and Environmental Sciences program in 2015.  

Ruskin challenges and coaches students through the problems and limited resources they will likely encounter when they practice science in the real world. Her model for field research courses garnered national attention, earning her a Second Century Stewardship Fellowship and invitations to speak to the National Park Service, National Center for Science and Civic Engagement and the American Association on the Advancement of Science.

Ruskin continually seeks to improve outcomes for students. A novel cross-listed course she designed asks graduate students to identify deficits they had as undergraduates, and then asks them to teach those skills. As graduate students developed their pedagogy, undergraduates learned skills recent alums know they need. 

She is also committed to developing the skills of her peers. Ruskin established an annual training session for the program’s advisors, who hold appointments across campus, improving their advising practice for students in their home units as well.

In her nomination letter, Professor Jasmine Saros said, “Dr. Ruskin’s teaching philosophy rests on empowering students to improve themselves. She works tirelessly to meet them where they are, help them identify their own goals, and design paths to achieve them.”

Visit Ruskin’s biography to learn more.

Robert T. Wheeler, Ph.D.: Outstanding Research Award

Associate Professor of Microbiology at the Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences

Portrait of Robert Wheeler

Robert Wheeler studies the primordial war between pathogens and their hosts to understand how these interactions influence disease and treatment. In the long term, Wheeler expects his research will identify new means to prevent and treat fungal infections.

Wheeler has published 44 peer-reviewed research articles and 60 invited presentations since he joined the Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences in 2008. He serves on the editorial board of three major journals in his field and contributes to many others. Wheeler has led or co-led procurement of $3.8 million from external sources, an additional $57,500 from internal sources, and more than $150,000 as the mentor for research students’ grants. He currently served as President and in other leadership positions of the Medical Mycology Society of the Americas, and has been an instrumental member of the American Society of Microbiology’s Candida and Candidiasis conference and the Zebrafish Disease Models Society.

Wheeler is also a valued, successful mentor of faculty and students alike. His research has been enabled by the twelve graduate students and more than 40 capstone and thesis students he has supervised, most of whom have gone on to successful careers in science and medicine. 

In a nomination letter she wrote with colleagues, Associate Professor Sally Molloy said, “I cannot emphasize enough the impact Rob has had on my success as a new faculty member at UMaine. His advice and support normalized my experience as a new faculty member and made me feel like I not only belong, but have valuable contributions to make to the UMaine and greater scientific community.”

Visit Wheeler’s biography to learn more.

Angela Rogers: Outstanding Staff Award

A portrait of Angela Rogers. Senior Finance and Budget Manager in the Dean’s Office

Angela Rogers has worked at UMaine for eight years. Prior to joining the dean’s office in 2016, she worked for Facilities Management. She was promoted to her current role in 2018. She was nominated by Associate Dean for Finance and Administration Susan Gallant and colleagues. In her letter of recommendation, Gallant says Rogers stands out for professional character and ability to improve processes in the college’s business and finance office. “Her reach is wide, and you could not have a better representative of the college. She is professional, respectful and responds to each contact quickly, providing expert advice and support. She is highly respected by all these contacts,” she says.

Elissa Ballman: Outstanding Staff Award

A photo of Elissa Ballman.
Elissa Ballman portrait 050322

Senior Research Associate at the School of Biology and Ecology

Elissa Ballman has supported entomology research at the School of Biology and Ecology for ten years. She has a master’s degree in entomology from U.C. Riverside, and was promoted to her current role in 2021. She was nominated by Allison Gardner, associate professor of arthropod vector biology, and Jessica Leahy, Henry W. Saunders Distinguished Professor in Forestry. “Elissa has mentored countless undergraduate and graduate students in lab and field settings, managed a large-scale citizen science project, published numerous papers as lead author or co-author, conducted extensive scientific outreach, and led the development of new research avenues in my lab,” Gardner says. “She is an extraordinary colleague with outstanding scientific and managerial abilities.”

Leah A Maxwell, LCSW: Outstanding Staff Award

A photo of Leah Maxwell.

Field Director at the School of Social Work

Leah Maxwell first joined the University of Maine’s School of Social Work as a student in 1998. There, she completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees followed by a two-year stint as a research associate at the Center on Aging. Maxwell practiced as a social worker from 2005 to 2017, returning to the school as an adjunct instructor starting in 2010, and full-time as M.S.W. Program Distance Coordinator in 2017.  She was promoted to her current role in 2020. She was nominated by Sandra Butler, director of the School of Social Work and colleagues. In her letter of recommendation, Butler said Maxwell stands out for her extraordinary leadership and service to UMaine and students. “She is responsible for all our social work students’ field preparation, arguably the most important part of their education,” she says.

Robin F. Arnold: Outstanding Staff Award

A portrait of Robin Arnold.

Administrative Account Specialist at the School of Social Work

Robin Arnold has worked at UMaine for 36 years, and with the School of Social Work since 2006. She has also worked for the School of Marine Sciences, Division of Lifelong Learning and Center on Aging. She received her bachelor of science in earth and climate sciences in 2011, and is currently completing her master’s degree. She was nominated by Sandra Butler, director of the School of Social Work and colleagues. In her letter of recommendation, Butler said Arnold is particularly outstanding in her commitment to service, including co-founding the University of Maine BlackBear Exchange. “Robin’s decades of service to the University, and her dedication to excellence and professionalism in her current position, make her a superb candidate for this award,” Butler says.

In addition to the award winners, the college also recognized the following outstanding faculty.

  • L. Brian Perkins, Ph.D.: Agriculture Award
    Research Assistant Professor of Food Science at the School of Food and Agriculture
  • Parinaz Rahimzadeh-Bajgiran, Ph.D.: G. Peirce and Florence Pitts Webber Award for Outstanding Research in Forest Resources
    Assistant Professor of Remote Sensing of Natural Resources at the School of Forest Resources
  • Jay Wason III, Ph.D.: G. Peirce and Florence Pitts Webber Award for Outstanding Forestry Teaching
    Assistant Professor of Forest Ecosystem Physiology at the School of Forest Resources



Student award winners

Anna K. Lane: Frank B. and Charles S. Bickford Memorial Prize

B.S. Biochemistry and Microbiology (Double major).
Adviser: Melody Neely, Ph.D.

Anna Lane of York, Maine has received numerous scholarships and awards for her academic achievements and contributions to research. Her capstone, which she conducted in collaboration with professor Melody Neely, investigated the effects of antifungals on Candida albicans in the presence of Group B Streptococcus, and the symbiotic relationship of the two organisms. In summer 2020, Lane interned with Lonza Biologics. On campus, she has been a peer tutor, teaching assistant and Maine Learning Assistant, and a member of University Singers and Renaissance. After graduation, Lane plans to pursue a career in the biochemistry field.

Jasmine Gregory: Wallace C. and Janet S. Dunham Prize


B.S. Ecology and Environmental Sciences
Adviser: Ivan J. Fernandez, Ph.D.

Jasmine Gregory of Winslow, Maine maintained a 4.0 grade point average through challenging advanced courses and dedicated her time to service and research that benefited the college and the state of Maine. In summer 2020, Gregory interned with the Holt Research Forest, and is currently a pathways intern with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. She will pursue a master’s degree in forest resources and will investigate the effects of a warming climate on soils and forestry in Aroostook County. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career where she can help make management of Maine’s natural resources more sustainable.

Amanda Sandberg: Outstanding International Student

A photo of Amanda Sandberg.B.S. Biochemistry, Pre-medical concentration
Adviser: Melissa Maginnis, Ph.D.

Amanda Sandberg of Skurup, Sweden is a member of the women’s soccer team and a scholar-athlete who has received numerous honors. In collaboration with professor Melissa Maginnis, Sandberg has been studying calcium signaling in JC Polyomavirus infection. In 2021, Sandberg participated in a summer scholar research internship at Stowers Institute for Medical Research, studying downstream open reading frames and post transcriptional regulation. On campus, she has been a peer tutor, teaching assistant and Maine Learning Assistant. Sandberg will pursue a master’s degree in microbiology at UMaine while playing her final season of eligibility. Following graduation, she plans to go to medical school or earn a Ph.D. in a biomedical field.

Gregory LeClair: Outstanding Service Award

M.S./Ph.D. Ecology and Environmental Sciences.
Advisers: Matthew Chatfield, Ph.D. and Michael Kinnison, Ph.D.

Gregory LeClair develops new DNA detection tools for finding rare species in the field and established the Maine Big Night: Amphibian Migration Monitoring program.





SuriyaPrakaash LakshmiBalasubramaniam: Edith M. Patch Outstanding Ph.D. Student Award

Ph.D. Food and Nutrition Sciences
Adviser: Denise Skonberg, Ph.D.

SuriyaPrakaash LakshmiBalasubramaniam evaluates how food compounds affect the bio-based films he would like to see replace plastic packaging, and how the films may improve shelf life of foods.



A photo of Logan Kline.Logan R. Kline: Outstanding Master’s Degree Student Award

M.S. Ecology and Environmental Sciences
Advisers: Cynthia Loftin, Ph.D. and Daniel Hayes, Ph.D.

Logan Kline uses remote sensing and artificial intelligence to monitor seabirds and explores new technology such as drones to improve conservation measures.




A photo of Jill Gardner.Jill B. Gardner: Jean A. and David A. Webb Outstanding Professional Master’s Degree Student Award

Master’s of Social Work
Adviser: Sandra Butler, Ph.D.

Jill Gardner supports some of society’s most vulnerable populations, those struggling with substance use disorders, as a student and an outreach volunteer.




A photo of Zoe Read.Zoe Read: George F. Dow Graduate Award

M.S. Forest Resources
Adviser: Shawn Fraver, Ph.D.

Zoe Read studies carbon dioxide emissions from woody debris to improve models of the forest carbon cycle.




A photo of Brittany Lynn Schappach.Brittany Lynn Schappach: Fred Griffee Memorial Award

M.S. Entomology
Adviser: Allison Gardner, Ph.D.

Brittany Schappach assesses how temperature variation affects tick mortality and land owner attitudes toward practices to reduce tick habitat.




A photo of Johanna HolmanJohanna M. Holman: Norris Charles Clements Graduate Student Award

M.S. Food Science and Human Nutrition
Adviser: Suzanne Ishaq, Ph.D.

Johanna Holman evaluates how dietary interventions with broccoli may treat inflammatory bowel disease.





A photo of Md Ikramul Hasan.Md Ikramul Hasan: Master’s Student Graduate Research Excellence Award

M.S. Forest Resources, Bioproducts Engineering concentration
Advisers: Mehdi Tajvidi, Ph.D. and Jinwu Wang, Ph.D.

Hasan develops new biobased packaging films from virgin and recycled wood fibers and studies the effect of drying methods on the performance.




A photo of Rafa Tasnim.Rafa Tasnim: Doctoral Student Graduate Research Excellence Award

Ph.D. Ecology and Environmental Sciences
Adviser: YongJiang Zhang, Ph.D.

Tasnim studies how wild blueberries respond to climate change and identifies practices to help farmers adapt.




In addition to the award winners, the college also recognized juniors and seniors with a cumulative 4.0 grade point average.

  • Abby Marie Lyons, Social Work
  • Alexandra Peary, Nursing
  • Bruce Wyatt, Economics
  • Caeli Connolly, Earth and Climate Sciences
  • Cameron Daly, Economics
  • Carolyn G. Ziegra, Forestry and Parks, Recreation and Tourism 
  • Elise Morphy, Biology
  • Ethan Varney, Biology
  • Eva White, Social Work
  • Grace Graham, Financial Economics, Accounting, and Finance
  • Ian Anthony Harden, Biochemistry
  • Jack Paul Lalime, Financial Economics and Finance
  • Jasmine Gregory, Ecology and Environmental Sciences
  • Kaitlin Liu, Biology
  • Kate Bragg, Nursing
  • Katelyn Paige Amero, Biochemistry and Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Kayla Raymond , Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Lauren Sabatino, Communication Sciences and Disorders
  • Matthew Martin, Ecology and Environmental Sciences
  • Mikayla Marie Baiguy, Animal and Veterinary Sciences
  • Nathan Jacobs, Biology
  • Sarah Foust, Molecular and Cellular Biology and Biochemistry
  • William Dunham, Financial Economics
  • Zoe Anna Pavlik, Ecology and Environmental Sciences and Wildlife Ecology