Professors earn recognition as University Scholars

Communications professor Ned O’Gorman poses for a professional headshot. O’Gorman is one of five professors recently recognized as University Scholars.

Photo Courtesy of Ned O’Gorman

Communications professor Ned O’Gorman poses for a professional headshot. O’Gorman is one of five professors recently recognized as University Scholars.

By Sana Madhavan, Staff Writer

Five professors on campus have been recognized as University Scholars for their outstanding achievements in scholarship, research, service and teaching. With this award, the distinguished faculty were also awarded grants to further their academic career and positive contributions at the University. 

Meghan Burke, Special Education Professor

Throughout her academic career, Burke has focused on advocacy for families of individuals with disabilities and disability policy. She conducted research developing and testing interventions to educate and empower families with children who have disabilities to access services.

She also established the Volunteer Advocacy Project, a 36 hour training program for parents to advocate for their own children with disabilities but also for other families. 

“I’m just really proud of creating something that seems to be effective in families helping not only their own children but also helping other families,” Burke said. “And also it’s something that can be implemented in the community and doesn’t have to be done by a researcher.”

Being named a University Scholar is an honor to her and a step towards her future research goals. 

“I’ve been really humbled by this award from the university,” Burke said. 

Ryan Dilger, Animal Sciences Professor

Dilger takes an interdisciplinary approach to his research and academic career. Digler is a part of the Division of Nutritional Sciences, the Neuroscience program, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the Beckman Center Institute for Genomic Biology. 

Within his research stretching into neuroscience, health and nutrition, he studies the microbiota gut brain axis which is how bacteria influences the major organ of the gastrointestinal tract and its interactions with the brain. His translation pig model in his lab has implications that stretch far beyond domestic species and has many multifaceted interactions. 

“My training as an interdisciplinary scientist is what’s brought me to this place as a University Scholar where I’m able to kind of showcase the research, the teaching and the extension outreach to the public,” Dilger said. “Illinois allows us to kind of express all those different components, and to be named University scholar, it’s just quite an honor to be so and it’s just a proud moment.”

Christopher Freeburg, English Professor

Freeburg is known for his academic career and publications in African American literature and culture. 

“It just means a lot to come from a summer research opportunities program for minority students that was designed to kind of promote opportunities to do research to being a full professor here, and a University Scholar,” Freeburg said. “It’s a journey that was challenging but exciting and I feel very grateful that I was able to not only achieve it, but also be recognized for it.”

He currently mentors students through research projects, providing them the opportunities that got him recognized. 

“Part of the idea of working closely with students is helping them to have some confidence about the possibilities of being a professor in the future,” he said.

Through his publications, Freeburg sheds light on his academic interests and contributes to the collective understanding of Black culture.

“I’ve never seen a book about Black culture that was aimed toward a broader audience, but at the same time it still grappled with and dealt with real intellectual issues and controversies and questions that people seem to be fascinated with,” Freeburg said.

Ned O’Gorman, Communications Professor

O’Gorman has multifaceted focuses in rhetoric, political theory, media studies and history. He also applies his interest in political theory as it relates to mass communication in society to his latest publication, Politics for Everybody: Reading Hannah Arendt. 

Through his platform as an editor for The Journal for the History of Rhetoric, he pursues political and public discourse further. 

“I get everything as an editor for that journal,” O’Gorman said. “From essays on Plato, the Greek philosopher Plato, to, you know, white supremacist discourse in 21st century America. So it’s a very broad journal, but the common theme is public discourse and the vitality of that public discourse.”

With all his progress in scholarship, publications and teaching, he is honored to be recognized by the University. 

“The kind of research I do is solitary and so I spend a lot of my time by myself working, and so for my work to get recognized by the University in this way and publicly recognized, it’s not only an honor it feels like an affirmation of the work that I’ve done today,” O’Gorman said.

Rachel Whitaker, Microbiology Professor

Whitaker’s scholarship and research focuses on analyzing the evolution of microbes and viruses in natural environments as opposed to clinical settings. 

Whitaker expressed appreciation for how the University values women in science. She also said she is grateful for the dedicated members of the University and surrounding communities.

“I am privileged to work with dedicated, passionate and engaged teams of students, staff, community member, and faculty,” Whitaker said in an email. “Together we embrace education, research and service with our whole selves, and believe in doing impactful, collaborative science that is accessible to everyone. The University Scholar recognition shows that approach is valued at University of Illinois.

[email protected]