President, provost surprise two profs with UND’s highest academic honor

Glenda Lindseth, Julia Zhao earn Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorships

It’s not easy to pull the wool over the eyes of a UND professor, but that’s exactly what colleagues had to do to surprise Glenda Lindseth with the University’s highest academic honor, the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship.

It took three weeks of planning, a fake budget meeting on research, a secret text message to the provost’s office, a pretend brown-bag luncheon and another SOS call for her “help — but they did it. They pulled it off.

“It was kind of a convoluted lie but, hopefully, we’re all forgiven,” said Maridee Shogren, clinical professor and interim dean at the College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines, with a laugh. “We wanted to make this special for Glenda. She’s wonderful and so deserving of this award. She really epitomizes a true mentor to all of our colleagues in all three departments.”

A faculty member for nearly 40 years, Lindseth — the former director and former associate dean of Nursing Research at CNPD — was one of just two UND professors to get the surprise knock on their door Monday from UND President Andy Armacost and Provost Eric Link. The other was Chemistry Professor Julia Zhao of UND’s College of Arts & Sciences.

UND Provost Eric Link (left) and President Andy Armacost (right) congratulate longtime College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines Professor Glenda Lindseth on Monday after surprising her with the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship, the University’s highest academic honor. The room in front of them was filled with friends and colleagues who had schemed to keep the surprise a secret for weeks. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Taken by surprise

Neither professor had a clue what was up when the president and provost popped in early Monday afternoon with a small news crew in tow.

“Hello, it’s great to be here. We’re just out for a walk on this beautiful day,” Armacost said with a smile, as well as sarcasm at least as thick as the ice left by the previous day’s storm. “I just decided to swing by because I have a meeting later this week with an important group of faculty members. They’re known as the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors, and we figured we would add one to that group … what do you say?”

“I say we should do that … Glenda?” Link answered as the room, all eyes on Lindseth, erupted into applause.

“Oh my gosh, this is a great honor,” Lindseth said. “I can’t believe you made it through all of this (stormy weather) to come over this afternoon.”

“It’s our honor to be here to honor you,” Armacost said as he invited her to join them at the front of the room, where Link shared some glowing remarks taken from a thick pile of recommendation letters.

From one colleague, he read: “Research is a central aspect of her career as a scientific investigator, educator and service provider at UND. She has and continues to be successful in obtaining grants and research topics related to the effects of nutrition and diet on performance outcomes.

Glenda Lindseth

“With degrees and background supporting a unique combination of nursing, nutrition and behavioral sciences, Lindseth has obtained millions of research dollars from highly competitive sources such as the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense.”

She also formed an interdisciplinary research team to obtain funding to build the Northern Plains Center for Behavioral Research, the letter writer stated. Well-known nationwide, she was the first nurse to earn the coveted Planning Grant for Behavioral Research Translation.

Said another letter, “Her achievements undoubtedly place her among the best U.S. researchers in her field. And over the years, she’s evolved as a UND ambassador on the global stage.”

And from a third letter: “Our UND community is a better place to learn and grow professionally because of Dr. Glenda Lindseth. I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this great honor.”

With that came a standing ovation from the crowd of colleagues. Moments later, Armacost invited her to receive an official medallion and honors at Spring Commencement on May 14, “if your schedule permits,” to which Lindseth quickly quipped, “Oh, my schedule will permit me,” and the room broke out in more applause and laughter.

The president then presented Lindseth with a presidential coin showing the Eternal Flame and words from the alma mater: “We raise our grateful song.”

“This is just a small way to say thank you for all that you’ve done for the University, for your students and for your colleagues,” Armacost said. “We’re honored to present this honor to you.”

“Thank you. This means so much to me,” Lindseth said. “It’s just an honor to be with everybody today. I can’t believe all these people showed up. They came for a (brown bag) presentation, and they’re probably more shocked than I am. I’m truly grateful.”

Longtime UND Chemistry Professor Julia Zhao of UND’s College of Arts & Sciences raises her arms in jubilation after she learned in a surprise visit from the president and provost Monday that she had been recognized with UND’s highest academic honor. The pop-in visit happened while she was conducting a chemistry class, and her students erupted in cheers and applause. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Round II in Abbott

As friends and colleagues surrounded Lindseth with personal congratulations, the presidential entourage crossed campus to surprise the next unsuspecting winner in Abbott Hall.

That’s where they crashed Professor Zhao’s chemistry class in session.

“We just heard there was an awesome lecture going on, and we thought we’d invite ourselves to sit down and listen,” Armacost said. “Students, you have to realize the most distinctive honor for a faculty member on our campus is an award called the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship … and we’re here to congratulate you on your selection, Dr. Zhao.”

Julia Zhao

“Ohhhh, thank  you,” Zhao said as her class broke out in exuberant applause.

Link said the award goes to only professors who’ve made significant achievements in research, teaching and service and who’ve also had acclaim or national recognition for their work inside and outside the classroom.

And, of course, there were more words of praise to be shared from the 35 pages that colleagues had submitted on Zhao’s behalf.

Since 2004, Zhao has developed as a preeminent expert in nanoparticles and nanomaterials, he said. She has published more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles, several invited book chapters and a book on the topic. She’s also presented her work at conferences worldwide.

From one letter, Link read: “She leads one of the largest and strongest research groups in our department, serving as a role model to her students. Moreover, she’s shown a commitment to securing the University’s intellectual property rights, while licensing her technology through eight approved patents and two patents pending.”

And from another: “Her positive influence on others extends far beyond the individual level of her laboratory team and collaborators through her service and outreach efforts. … She’s a tireless advocate for underrepresented groups and STEM disciplines, continually looking for ways to reach out and connect effectively with others.

“Her Sunday Academy and virtual learning videos have helped her build relationships among North Dakota’s tribal college student communities. She gives freely of her time and encourages her students to participate as well, firmly modeling the importance of building greater understanding across cultures and languages.”

UND President Andy Armacost presents Chemistry Professor Julia Zhao with a special presidential coin showing the Eternal Flame and the words “We raise our grateful song” from the alma mater.  Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Students in the classroom seconded those thoughts.

“I really appreciate Dr. Zhao being here,” senior Jackson Hopfauf said. “She’s a great person to be around. She’s always excited to teach, and she’s always happy to see our involvement in our research, our papers and everything that goes with it.”

Senior Lincoln Kranz added: “She’s super encouraging. I think that’s the most important thing. She’s not a hard critic but a very encouraging critic, and that’s really beneficial to most students.”

Armacost presented Zhao with the presidential coin and also invited her to Spring Commencement to receive official honors on stage.

Only about 80 faculty members have earned the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship since its inception. As the University’s highest academic honor, it was established with an endowment gift from the late UND benefactor Chester Fritz (1892-1983).

Each year, revenue from the endowment provides cash stipends to one or more full-time UND faculty members, who thereafter may use the title Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor.