Professors recognized for leadership and research

Four faculty are named Richard and Margaret Romano Professorial Scholars
Bo Li (left) and Alexandra Harmon-Threatt
Bo Li (left) and Alexandra Harmon-Threatt (photos courtesy of the Department of Statistics and the Department of Entomology.)

Four professors in the College of LAS have been named Richard and Margaret Romano Professorial Scholars for their leadership and research.

Richard Romano (BS, ’54, chemical engineering) and his wife, Margaret, established the program, which provides faculty members with $25,000 per year for their work. This year’s scholars include:

Alison Bell, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior

Allison Bell’s research focuses on the nature and variance of humans through studying the behavioral variation of stickleback fish, a species whose social behavior, parental care, aggression, learning, and cognition resembles human beings.

Allison Bell (left) and Zhuo Wang
Alison Bell (left) and Zhuo Wang. (Photos courtesy of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior.)

She recently took lead of the Gene Networks in Neural & Developmental Plasticity research theme at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, where she collaborates with an interdisciplinary team of faculty to apply genomic technologies and computational analytical approaches to collected data. The award will be implemented towards enabling Bell’s lab to pursue new projects that are not funded by existing grants, explore new directions, and take more risks, she said.

“It is a great honor to be given this kind of recognition by my colleagues and peers who I respect very much,” she said. “And it's such a generous donation on the part of the Romano family to make this position available to faculty.”

Alexandra Harmon-Threatt, Department of Entomology 

As one of this year’s Richard and Margaret Romano Professorial Scholars, Alexandra Harmon-Threatt said that she is thankful to have been selected as a scholar and that the importance of ecology and conservation research is understood. 

A pollination ecologist, Harmon-Threatt said she will dedicate some of the funds to a high-risk, high-reward project that she has been working on for several years, but is difficult to fund. She said she also hopes to fund some underrepresented students in the lab.  

“It is nice to have the importance of that work validated,” she said. “On a more personal level, I am one of very few Black women in the sciences at Illinois and I hope it shows that diversity of perspectives is welcome and valued amongst both our students and faculty.”

Bo Li, Department of Statistics

Bo Li is the department chair in the Department of Statistics. Her research focuses on spatial and spatio-temporal statistics and environmental statistics concerning problems in climatology, atmospheric sciences, public health, forestry, and agriculture.

Li is currently supervising a group of graduate students in several of those research areas, and she said being named a Romano Professorial Scholar will help her to continue supporting that group. The award will also help to support computing resources, which Li states is a critical element of her research program.  

I sincerely appreciate the generous support that Dr. Romano and his family offered to me and the College of LAS,” Li said. “I will try my best to conduct quality research and foster graduate students to help the legacy of the Romano family live on in the College of LAS.”

Zhuo Wang, Department of Atmospheric Sciences

Zhuo Wang’s research interests are primarily in the fields of tropical meteorology and climate dynamics, including tropical cyclones, intraseasonal variability, tropical-extratropical interaction, subseasonal to seasonal prediction and predictability.

Zang’s main research objectives are to better understand the fundamental dynamics and physics governing atmospheric motions, and to improve the prediction skills. The award will contribute to Wang’s current research exploring the application of machine learning to subseasonal prediction of extreme weather and its possible application to infectious disease forecasting.

“The award will provide me and my students with important seed funding to explore those exciting research topics,” Wang said.

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Kimberly Belser, Samantha Boyle, and Kimberly Wilson