CU honors six faculty as Distinguished Professors

Highest honor for educators recognizes exceptional research, teaching, service
By Staff

Six University of Colorado faculty members have been named 2014 Distinguished Professors, the most prestigious honor for faculty at the university.

Each year, the recognition goes to faculty members who demonstrate exemplary performance in research or creative work, a record of excellence in classroom teaching and supervision of individual learning, and outstanding service to the profession, university and its affiliates.

CU President Bruce D. Benson reviewed nominations from CU’s campuses; with the recommendation of a committee of Distinguished Professors, he forwarded the candidates’ names to the Board of Regents, which voted in favor of the nominees on Nov. 20 at the board’s meeting at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

The 2014 honorees are:

Daniel Baker, Ph.D., professor, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Science, University of Colorado Boulder. As director of LASP, one of the world’s premier space sciences organizations, for two decades, Professor Baker has ensured that hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students engage in hands-on research and learning unique to CU-Boulder. His scholarly publications have demonstrated great influence in the space sciences community, and his voice is highly respected in the development of space policy at the federal level. His research and management successes have earned him several awards nationally and at CU.

Kurt G. Beam, Ph.D., professor, Department of Physiology and Biophysics, School of Medicine, CU Anschutz Medical Campus. His research focuses on unlocking the mechanisms of electrical signals in nerve and muscle cells, as well as understanding mutations that hinder function and cause disease. Professor Beam’s work has shown significant influence, with one discovery contributing to the removal of a widely used antibacterial chemical from soaps and personal care products. His exemplary approach to discovery science, training and service benefit faculty and students across several departments, divisions, centers and programs at CU Anschutz. His scientific contributions have garnered him numerous awards, including election to the National Academy of Sciences.


Kris Gutiérrez, Ph.D., professor, Educational Psychology and Learning Sciences (EPSY), and Literacy, School of Education, CU-Boulder. Professor Gutiérrez is a member of the National Academy of Education and holds the Inaugural Provost’s Chair at CU-Boulder. Her groundbreaking interdisciplinary work on sociocultural theories of learning and their applications in literacy, bilingual education and science education is known nationally and internationally. Such praised research has led to the reorganization of classroom spaces to promote consequential learning and engagement for students from nondominant communities. She has received distinguished teaching and mentoring awards from UCLA and CU-Boulder, where she also earned her doctorate.

Leslie Leinwand, Ph.D., professor, Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, chief scientific officer for BioFrontiers Institute, CU-Boulder. Her research opens the door to the possibility of personalized treatment for heart disease. As an international leader in the study of the molecules involved in muscle contraction and their role in the development of heart disease and other muscle diseases, Professor Leinwand has shown that the mechanisms of heart disease differ between males and females and that the genetic risk of the disease is impacted by gender and diet. She maintains a strong commitment to teaching and training, and is influential nationally in the shaping of biomedical research policies and focus.


Daniel J. Scheeres, Ph.D., professor and A. Richard Seebass Endowed Chair in the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research, CU-Boulder. Professor Scheeres is an international leader in astrodynamics and celestial mechanics; he is currently the gravity science team lead for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, which focuses on collecting samples from an asteroid and returning them to Earth. Professor Scheeres has published extensively in the fields of astrodynamics, dynamical astronomy and celestial mechanics. He coordinates the Smead Fellows program, supporting outstanding junior faculty and doctoral students in aerospace engineering sciences at CU. A Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the American Astronautical Society, he has an asteroid named in his honor.


Thomas Wynn, Ph.D., professor of anthropology, College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, University of Colorado Colorado Springs. He is recognized as one of the founders of the field of cognitive archaeology, which studies the evolutionary development of cognition in humans and other primates through the lenses of psychology, anthropology and philosophy. Since 1977 as a faculty member at UCCS, Professor Wynn has distinguished himself in teaching, research and service, while also serving in several administrative posts. He is credited with establishing the UCCS archaeology curriculum and its first field course. He has published extensively and continues to teach.

Baker, Scheeres and Wynn were present at last month's Board of Regents meeting to be honored in person. Beam, Gutiérrez and Leinwand will be recognized and speak at a future meeting of the board.

With these six new designees, the number of CU Distinguished Professors is 79. The program was established in 1977.