Presidential Research Fellows Awarded $25,000 Each to Further Their Projects

Tenured professors are experts in mental health, inclusive STEM education, machine learning, and music

Six headshots of award winners in two rows of three

Six San Diego State University faculty members were selected as Presidential Research Fellows. Each fellow received $25,000 to further support their research, scholarship and creative activities.

This is the third year that the Division of Research and Innovation and Division of Academic Affairs co-sponsored this recognition of mid-career faculty. Deans from each academic college nominated faculty members based on both the intellectual merit of their work as well as the broader impacts of their scholarship. Vice President for Research and Innovation Hala Madanat and Interim Vice Provost Bill Tong reviewed all of the nominations and made recommendations to President Adela de la Torre, who had final say over the selection of the fellows.

College of Education - Felisha Herrera Villarreal

Felisha Herrera-Villarreal Headshot

The award recognizes Felisha Herrera Villarreal and her team’s work at the Research & Equity Scholarship Institute (RES-ISTE). RES-ISTE focuses on the P-20 trajectories of racially minoritized or underrepresented students and examines the contexts that either support them or perpetuate challenges.

“When I began this work as a STEM education researcher 15-plus years ago, we talked a lot about broadening participation in STEM, but the field did not fully acknowledge the importance of these access points within the most diverse institutions,” Herrera Villarreal said.

Herrera Villarreal serves as director of the RES-ISTE, which has secured more than $14 million in federal funding for large-scale research projects, many at the forefront of a growing national emphasis on Hispanic-Serving Institutions and their role in diversifying STEM fields.

“The innovation in our work is enhanced through a collective mentorship model that is reciprocal.” Herrera Villarreal said. “We value everyone’s perspectives and contributions. They are deeply engaged in the community and on-campus, ensuring that the scholarship is student-centered and rooted in the experiences of the populations we serve.”

RES-ISTE is co-led by post-doctoral scholar Victoria Rodriguez-Operana, and has provided paid research opportunities for six postdoctoral research fellows, 15 graduate students and eight undergraduates.


College of Education - Kelsey Dickson

Kelsey Dickson Headshot

Schools have become a de facto provider of a wide umbrella of services, including those for mental health. Unfortunately, research has shown schools tend not to be proactive about thinking through the supports they provide, and whether these supports are feasible to use or sufficiently meet the needs of their students.

"If I didn't work really closely with community members and the people that are on the front lines, I would not know what the needs are. And I wouldn't know, like, for example, that finding a tool that's relevant across disorders is so needed,” Kelsey Dickson said.

Her work focuses on ensuring research-informed mental and behavioral health programs and tools end up being used in community service settings, such as schools and community health clinics, to adequately support young people and families. She also works to train providers in mental health settings using an intervention that is broadly appropriate for a wide range of needs, including anxiety, ADHD, autism, depression and more.

She said she was honored to be recognized among colleagues in the College of Education that are also doing challenging yet important work outside of the university.

“In our college, many of us are doing a lot of very strongly community-partnered work. We always like to say that our labs are in the community,” Dickson said.

College of Health and Human Services - Emily Schmied

Emily Schmied Headshot

An alumna of the SDSU-UC San Diego joint doctoral program in public health, Emily Schmied has led numerous Department of Defense-funded research studies designed to promote resilience among military service members. With expertise in suicide and chronic disease prevention, she is passionate about reducing stigma around mental health, particularly in military communities.

"I was thrilled to learn of the University's formal acknowledgement of my team's efforts to promote mental health and prevent suicide in the military community. San Diego is home to millions of service members, veterans, and their families, and so it is important that we at SDSU honor and support them,” Schmied said.

She plans to use the award funds to continue to hire students who are dedicated to mental health and suicide prevention research.

College of Professional Studies & Fine Arts - Texu Kim

Texu Kim headshot

Texu Kim is recognized as an influential international composer due to his playful works reflecting fusions of Eastern and Western cultures.  He has had over 50 compositions commissioned by ensembles and musicians all over the world. His commissioned piece ‘Spin-Flip’ has been performed by numerous major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, San Diego Symphony, Juilliard Orchestra, the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, and the San Francisco Symphony.

Another recently commissioned composition, ‘Flow and Composition’ for solo piano, was commissioned by pianist Soyeon Kate Lee, a faculty member at the Juilliard School. ‘Flow and Composition’ reflects the interlacing of Western music and Asian culture in Dr. Kim’s music. The piece is constructed of diverse shapes of sonified dots, strokes, and lines – shapes that are fundamental patterns in Asian calligraphy. It also embraces the idea of employing the natural flow of energy, which is one of the prominent virtues in ancient Asian culture and is still pervasive in modern South Korea.

Kim’s composition work significantly advances the international musical field and impacts public interest in cutting edge global music, evidenced by numerous commissions, recordings, and high-profile performances of his work.

College of Sciences - Uduak George

Uduak George headshot

Recently promoted to associate professor in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics, Uduak George combines computational modeling with artificial intelligence and machine learning to gain deeper insights into the processes that drive biological development and impact health conditions.

“This recognition and funding is a humbling acknowledgement that excellence is not an endpoint but a continuous journey of growth and achievement,” George said.

She has applied her expertise in mathematical models to understand branching patterns in lungs, breast tissue and other organs. George was also designated as an AIM-AHEAD Fellow by the National Institutes of Health and, with collaborators at SDSU, is establishing a Cancer Health Equity and AI Research Lab.

Fowler College of Business - Kaveh Abhari

Kaveh Abhari headshot

Kaveh Abhari is a professor of management information systems. Through his Digital Innovation Lab, he and his students examine and enhance digital technologies to increase equitable access to entrepreneurship, innovation and STEM learning. 

As the Zahn Professor of Creativity and Innovation, Abhari works closely with underrepresented entrepreneurs as well as SDSU community members in the ZIP Launchpad preparing to launch startup companies.


Sarah White, Suzanne Finch, Michael Klitzing, Lizbeth Price, and Bryana Quintana contributed to this article.