Council Names Two JMU Profs Among 2013’s Outstanding Faculty

Posted: January 26, 2013

HARRISONBURG — Two James Madison University professors are among 12 educators who were awarded a 2013 Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
Olga Pierrakos, associate professor of engineering, and Laura Taalman, professor of mathematics and statistics, won the award based on their excellence in teaching, research, knowledge integration and public service.
JMU was the only university to have two professors make the list.
“A lot of universities submit nominees for this award and we’re lucky when we can get one person for the award, so we’re really honored this year,” Taalman said. “It’s certainly a special thing.”
This is the 27th year of the award, which is the highest honor given by the state for college and university educators, according to SCHEV. Since its inception in 1987, 316 faculty have received the award.
This year, colleges and universities submitted 109 nominees for consideration.
Pierrakos, who received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate from Virginia Tech, came to JMU in 2008 to help found the School of Engineering. She is involved in biomedical engineering, sustainable energy systems and engineering education research, among other topics.
Her work as an educator and scholar has been aided by National Science Foundation grants totaling more than $1.5 million.
“[The award] is much bigger than any one person,” Pierrakos said in a press release from JMU. “It is recognition of JMU as an innovative institution that fosters true scholars, not just in teaching, but across many domains.”
Taalman, who has an undergraduate degree in mathematics from the University of Chicago, came to JMU in 2000 from an instructional position at Duke University, where she also received her master’s and doctorate.
She has spoken at more than 40 events across the country on open mathematical research questions about Sudoku puzzles, and is one of the directors of the annual Shenandoah Undergraduate Mathematics and Statistics Conference.
Taalman has published research articles about singular algebraic geometry, knot theory and the mathematics of games and puzzles and several books, including “Taking Sudoku Seriously” and “Integrated Calculus.”
Taalman and Pierrakos will receive an engraved award and a $5,000 check from the Dominion Foundation, which operates under Dominion Resources, at a Feb. 12 reception in Richmond.
Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or

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