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6 named Outstanding Junior Faculty

Assistant professors in the fields of biology, statistics, folklore and ethnomusicology, speech and language, developmental psychology, and information systems will receive the 2023 Indiana University Bloomington Outstanding Junior Faculty Award.

The award identifies promising tenure-track faculty who have not yet been awarded tenure and provides resources to further develop their research programs or creative activity. It is sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. Recipients are:

  • Xindan Wang, Department of Biology, College of Arts and Sciences.
  • Amanda Mejia, Department of Statistics, College of Arts and Sciences.
  • Brandon Barker, Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, College of Arts and Sciences.
  • Brielle Stark, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences.
  • Sagar Samtani, Kelley School of Business.
  • Tennisha Riley, IU School of Education.

Each will receive a $15,000 grant to support future research. A reception will be held in their honor at a later date.

“I am thrilled that the campus is able to recognize and support the excellent research of these award recipients,” said Eliza Pavalko, acting vice provost for faculty and academic affairs. “Selecting just six Outstanding Junior Faculty from the many extraordinary nominees was challenging for the committee, but these awardees stand out for the excellence, originality and impact of their research.”

Xindan Wang. Xindan Wang

Wang is a molecular microbiologist, geneticist, and cell biologist who has studied chromosome architecture and dynamics in bacteria. Her lab has continued to propel novel discoveries on the mechanisms by which cells orchestrate chromosomal replication with faithful distribution to progeny cells. Wang uses a systems-level approach to map chromosome structure and high-end fluorescence microscopy to track protein and DNA movement in a variety of bacterial species, from bacteria that have a single circular chromosome, to species that have multiple chromosomes and plasmids.

Wang teaches Honors Molecular Biology with combined lecture and lab components, which teach students broad concepts in molecular biology as well as guide students through a research project in the semester. She has served on the Microbiology Graduate Recruitment Committee, the Microbiology Graduate Admissions Committee, the Department of Biology Planning Committee, and has managed the annual one-day retreat for the Section of Microbiology for four years.

Wang joined IU’s Department of Biology as an assistant professor in 2017, after her postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School. Wang earned a D. Phil from the University of Oxford. She has received extensive funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and NASA in support of her research.

Amanda Mejia Amanda Mejia

Mejia earned her Ph.D. in biostatistics in 2016 from Johns Hopkins University. Shortly thereafter, she joined IU’s Department of Statistics. She is interested in the development of statistical methods for the analysis of brain imaging data. The vision of her research program is to use functional magnetic resonance imaging data to advance the study and treatment of brain diseases and disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Mejia holds three extramural research grants. One of these is an R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health, the most prestigious and competitive award available from the National Institutes of Health for principal investigators working in their own lab, and the other is an award from the National Institute of Aging. She has steadily published papers while in rank and is a sought-after speaker. She is also a founding instructor for an NIH-funded annual intensive training course in Advanced Statistical Methods in Neuroimaging and Genetics.

Her undergraduate teaching lies in two main areas: applied linear models and statistics for life sciences. She is a faculty member in three interdisciplinary graduate programs: the Cognitive Science Program, the Program in Data Science and the Program in Neuroscience.

Brandon Barker Brandon Barker

Barker received his Ph.D. in English with concentrations in folkloristics, linguistics, and cognitive poetic approaches to literature from the University of Louisiana. In 2013, he joined IU’s Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology as a visiting lecturer and then was promoted to assistant professor in 2020.

His work focuses on the convergence of two kinds of empirical data: that closely aligned with the humanities, such as data collected in the field via folkloristic, sociolinguistic and ethnographic methods, and extant textual data in archives and published literature; as well as such data arising from the experimental laboratories of cognitive scientists, psychologists and others.

Barker has published two books (one as co-author, one as editor), the former of which won the American Folklore Society’s Opie Prize for the best book on children’s folklore. He has also written 12 peer-reviewed articles — 10 published, one in press and one under review — and three book chapters: two published and one under review.

He is director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and works closely with the undergraduate student organization. He is affiliated faculty with IU’s Cognitive Science Program and has been asked by the associate dean for undergraduate education to serve on the College of Arts and Sciences Education requirement review committee.

Barker is editor of the Children’s Folklore Review journal and an editorial associate for the Journal of Folklore Research Reviews. He has mentored and supervised 27 associate instructors, four of them winners of the departmental Henry Glassie Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching.

Brielle Stark Brielle Stark

Stark, who received her Ph.D. in Clinical Neuroscience from University of Cambridge as a Gates Trust Scholar, joined the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at IU Bloomington in 2018. Dr. Stark is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Linguistics, core faculty in the Program in Neuroscience, and affiliated faculty with the Cognitive Science Program. She uses her interdisciplinary background in clinical neuroscience, psychology and language sciences to study language and communication in post-stroke aphasia, a disorder in which an individual loses the ability to comprehend and/or express language.

Stark’s research improves assessment and analysis of communication in aphasia by examining the understudied phenomenon of multimodal, natural speech. She is the co-founder of an international working group, FOQUSAphasia, which brings together experts to improve the research evidence on spoken discourse specific to aphasia.

She has written 27 peer-reviewed articles; 24 of them have been published in rank, and she is first author on eight of them. One of her early articles (Stark and Warburton, 2018) already has >100 citations. She has successfully secured federal funding. Stark’s research, teaching and mentorship were recognized when she was named one of four Distinguished Aphasia Scholars USA by the Tavistock Trust Foundation in 2021. She was also named an Outstanding Mentor in 2021 by IU’s Center for Women & Technology and awarded a Trustees Teaching Award in 2021 from IU.

Sagar Samtani. Sagar Samtani

Samtani joined the Kelley School of Business as an Assistant Professor of Information Systems and a Grant Thornton Scholar in the Department of Operations and Decision Technologies in 2020. He received his Ph.D. in Management Information Systems with a minor in Cognitive Science from the University of Arizona, where he served as a CyberCorps Scholarship-for-Service (SFS) Fellow in the Artificial Intelligence Lab.

Samtani’s work is advancing the frontiers of research and practice regarding how to keep our data private and out of the hands of cybercriminals. His research seeks to address this national and international challenge through pioneering approaches to cyber threat intelligence, using artificial intelligence to sift through voluminous data in the Dark Web, vulnerability scans, and social media and signal where risks are most likely so firms can focus on effective prevention. Dr. Samtani has also contributed significantly to developing artificial intelligence techniques to analyze sensor signal data to for mental health, daily living recognition, and fall risk assessment applications.

Since earning his Ph.D., he has been the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on eight grants from the National Science Foundation and private sources totaling over $4.3M. He has received funding from the National Science Foundation’s major cybersecurity programs, including Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace, Cybersecurity Innovation for Cyberinfrastructure, and CyberCorps SFS. He directs a research lab at the Kelley School of Business focused on developing artificial intelligence techniques for cybersecurity and mental health applications. The lab is highly interdisciplinary, with faculty members, research scientists, and graduate students from information systems, computer science, informatics, and public health. Three doctoral students have selected him to chair their dissertation committees. Dr. Samtani is a prolific researcher; he has published over 65 journal, conference, and workshop articles in prestigious information systems, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence venues. His research efforts have earned him prestigious awards in his field, including the ACM SIGMIS Doctoral Dissertation Award, AIS Early Career Award, multiple best-paper awards, and induction into the NSF/CISA CyberCorps SFS Hall of Fame in 2022 (only academic with this distinction).

In his first two years at IU, Samtani taught four courses, including a graduate “AI for Cybersecurity” course via IU’s edX partnership for the Master of Science in Information Technology Management and a Business Data Programming course in the Business Analytics Co-Major at the Kelley School. He won the IU Trustees Teaching Award in 2023 and was named as a Top 50 Undergraduate Professor in 2022 by Poets and Quants. Samtani has participated in the ODT Curriculum Committee, serves on IU’s High-Performance Computing Advisory Committee, and serves on multiple executive advisory councils for major Information Technology entities, including CompTIA. He serves as an Associate Editor on multiple editorial boards for specialty journals in information systems and cybersecurity. He has co-founded multiple workshops on topics related to artificial intelligence and cybersecurity at top data mining and data analytics conferences.

Tennisha Riley. Tennisha Riley

Riley received her Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at IU’s Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity. She joined the School of Education’s Department of Counseling and Education Psychology with an appointment in human development as an assistant professor in 2020.

Riley’s multi-method research seeks to understanding the emotional development of Black adolescents, examining how social context (family, friends, school) influences emotion expression, emotion regulation and decisions to engage in both risk-related and prosocial behaviors. In 2021, Riley published six peer-reviewed journal articles. She has a strong track record for attracting both internal and external funding.

In recognition of her achievements in racial justice work, she was recently awarded the IU School of Education’s Award for Outstanding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Achievements. Riley also integrates her research with community advocacy and mentors local youth to help them advocate for their social justice goals.