Junior Faculty Scholar Award recipients for 2018: De Schutter and Konkolewicz

By Susan Meikle and Margo Kissell, university news and communications

Miami University Junior Faculty Scholar Awards have been presented to Bob De Schutter and Dominik Konkolewicz.

Junior Faculty Scholar Awards honor faculty who have demonstrated great potential in research or artistry and have achieved significant standing in their fields. Candidates for the award must have received their highest degree no more than eight years before the time of nomination.

Bob De Schutter, C. Michael Armstrong Assistant Professor of Applied Game Design, received the Junior Faculty Scholar Award for sustained excellence in business, education and social sciences.

de-schutter-teachDe Schutter's unique role in the College of Education, Health and Society (EHS) is to advance the shared interests of EHS and the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies (AIMS) with respect to games and learning. He is also a research fellow with Scripps Gerontology Center.

De Schutter “is quickly becoming one of the world’s foremost experts in games and learning for aging populations,” co-nominators wrote. (Check out his TEDxMiami talk on “How games are changing the way we age.”).

His creative endeavors and scholarship are simply outstanding and on par with the finest professional work, another nominator wrote.

De Schutter brings together his research and teaching expertise in his games. He designed and developed one of the first gamified online learning management systems (called Gradequest).

He has contributed to the design of 13 games (such as the therapeutic game Kung Fu Kitchen and multigenerational Blast From the Past) and is currently close to releasing the indie game Brukel.

Brukel, an interactive game that recreates the narrative of a reminiscing elderly female WWII survivor, demonstrates his excellence,” wrote his nominators. The game, based on the experiences of his grandmother (born in the Brukel farmhouse), intends to sensitize players about the impact of war on the lives of innocent bystanders.

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Image from De Schutter's game Brukel (top), based on pictures of the original Brukel farmhouse in Belgium (bottom). 

“Creating video games is a daunting task. Big game developers like Bungie, Ubisoft and Treyarch have budgets reaching into the millions, as well as a staff of designers and programmers,” a nominator said. “Much of De Schutter’s work has been completed on his own with some help from undergraduate students. If De Schutter only produced Brukel, it would represent an outstanding creative achievement, gallery-worthy, and of the highest quality."

A nominator wrote that De Schutter has proven to be an excellent leader, teacher-scholar and an incredible asset to the AIMS faculty, “and put our program in the international spotlight with Princeton Review ranking us as one of the top 20 best games programs in the world.”

“That is remarkable because we don’t even offer a major in Games. (Miami offers a games minor).  This prestigious recognition is directly attributable to Dr. De Schutter's energy, ideas and oversight in producing quality student work, maintaining high levels of technical expertise and producing impactful scholarly and creative work.”

His service work, which focuses on developing and managing the EHS Engaging Technology Lab (ETL), has been far beyond that of a typical junior faculty member, nominators said.

Since he joined Miami in 2013, De Schutter has published 21 peer-reviewed papers, among other publications. His work has had more than 430 Google Scholar citations, which a nominator called a significant marker in the game studies field — especially for a junior faculty member who carries a full teaching load. 

His work has been supported by a combined $1.05 million in external and internal grants while at Miami.

He has been accepted to present at nearly every major games and learning conference in the world, including in 2016 and 2017 at the Game Developers Conference, a highly selective industry conference. His best talk was ranked 28th overall out of 384 presented.

He has served industry as an independent consultant, public speaker, developer and entrepreneur. He is a lifetime member of the International Game Developers Association, and founded and chaired the Gerontoludic Society as well as the Flemish chapter of the Digital Games Research Association.

De Schutter received his doctorate from KU Leuven, a research university in Belgium, in 2011. Prior to joining Miami he was a researcher and lead designer for the e-Media Lab of the KU Leuven.

Follow him on Twitter @bobdeschutter

Dominik Konkolewicz, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, received the Junior Faculty Scholar Award for a faculty member in applied and natural sciences

d-konkolewiczKonkolewicz is off to a “phenomenal start” in the department of chemistry and biochemistry. His productivity and trajectory at this stage of his career "are reminiscent of the very best faculty members that Miami University has ever had,” the department chair said.

Konkolewicz has established a robust research program in advanced polymers and is developing an outstanding reputation in his field.

He is a “star and epitomizes the ideal teacher/scholar at Miami,” a nominator said.

He was recently named a 2018 Young Investigator by the American Chemical Society-Polymer, Materials Science, and Engineering section —  awarded to “scientists and engineers who are emerging as leaders in the fields of synthesis, processing, characterization and physics of soft materials and their applications.”

He also received the 2018 Polymer Chemistry Emerging Investigator Award and the 2015 ChemComm Emerging Investigator Award. His talk at the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) national meeting last August was named Best Presentation of Session.

Since joining Miami in 2014, he has attracted $710,000 in external grants to support his research: $110,000 from the ACS Petroleum Research Fund and a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER award for $600,000.

Konkolewicz is only the sixth faculty member at Miami to receive a NSF CAREER grant. Read more about his NSF CAREER grant on the OARS blog.

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One of Konkolewicz's synthetic polymers (photo by Scott Kissell).

His research focuses on responsive, or “smart” materials. His group investigates dynamic materials such as elastomers that are self-healing, able to repair damage — for example, they heal after being cut in two. These kinds of materials are on the cutting edge of materials science, with many potential applications in systems that are damage prone or for which mechanical failure would be catastrophic, such as medical implants or airplane parts, a nominator said. But these materials tend to deform over time. 

“Dominik’s solution to this problem is to introduce two different reversible bonding motifs in his materials that operate on very different timescales. He has shown that a pair of independent quickly and slowly exchanging bonding networks will work synergistically to provide both healing and mechanical strength,” the nominator said.

“This is just one example of the creative approaches Dominik’s group takes to materials design.”

During his three and a half years at Miami Konkolewicz and his students have published more than 21 peer-reviewed publications in some of the top journals in his field.

As a testament to the effectiveness of his mentoring, 75 co-authorships on these publications are Miami undergraduate and graduate students. He has mentored or is currently mentoring seven doctoral students, two master’s degree students and 25 undergraduate researchers.

Konkolewicz received his doctorate from the University of Sydney, Australia in 2011 and was a Senior Research Chemist at Carnegie Mellon University from 2011-2014.

Follow him on Twitter @polykonkol