Biology, Education, Pharmacy Faculty Recognized for Research, Teaching Excellence

May 9, 2021

This Commencement season, three members of the St. John Fisher College faculty were named recipients of the College’s most prestigious scholarship and teaching honors.

Dr. Fernando Ontiveros, associate professor of biology, received the Trustees’ Award for Distinguished Scholarly Achievement. The Award for Teaching Excellence at the undergraduate level was given to Dr. Katrina Arndt, professor of inclusive education in the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education. Dr. Kobi Nathan, associate professor in the Wegmans School of Pharmacy, was given the Award for Teaching Excellence at the graduate level. Each faculty member was recognized during their respective Commencement ceremonies.

The Trustees’ Award for Distinguished Scholarly Achievement is the highest honor that the Board of Trustees can bestow on a faculty member, second only to an honorary degree. It is given to full-time faculty members in recognition of outstanding scholarly work, ranging from writing books and articles, to presenting papers at professional conferences.

Dr. Fernando Ontiveros, associate professor of biology, received the Trustees’ Award for Distinguished Scholarly Achievement.

Since joining the Biology Department in 2012, Ontiveros has directed independent research projects with more than two dozen students at Fisher and this summer he will be one of four investigators nationwide that will pilot the National Geographic STEM Field Assistants program, which provides mentorship and research opportunities for students from underrepresented minorities.

Ontiveros has been awarded several grants to support research in the fields of bioengineering and microbiology, which include funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Geographic Society. The grants have been instrumental in providing opportunities for his students to conduct award-winning research projects both at Fisher and with collaborators at research universities, in particular the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology.

One of the projects in his laboratory is the development of a novel methodology for the fabrication of microfluidic devices, which allows for the manipulation of biological fluids at the microscale. The new platform has the advantages of being inexpensive and amenable to use in a wide range of settings, from the classroom to research laboratories in academia and industry.

Because of the potential benefits of this technology in low resource environments, Ontiveros was selected by the Fulbright Specialist Program to be a roster member from 2018 to 2023. His microfluidics work has led to the publication of three peer-reviewed papers in the last three years, the filing of a provisional patent, and several invitations to present his work in the United States and México.

After a short summer visit to the University of Notre Dame in 2017 to demonstrate the use and applications of his devices, the College of Engineering at Notre Dame funded a visiting professorship for Ontiveros the following summer. In 2019, he returned during his sabbatical leave, this time with two Fisher students to conduct summer research at the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

In 2020, he and his collaborators at the University of Rochester received funds from the NSF to develop a COVID-19 microfluidics sensor, a project that is still underway.

Ontiveros holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the National University of México, and a doctoral degree in immunology from the University of Rochester.  From 2008 to 2012, he conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the University of Rochester.

The Awards for Teaching Excellence are chosen by students, and are given annually to full-time faculty members for outstanding work in the classroom. Award recipients must demonstrate thorough knowledge of their subject matter, solid preparation for class, clear and effective communication, and genuine enthusiasm for their job.

During the ceremony, Dr. Katrina Arndt, a professor of inclusive education, was given the Award for Teaching Excellence at the undergraduate level.

Arndt is professor of inclusive education, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in teacher preparation including schools, ability and learning, assessment, classroom management, and educational technology.

She is the co-author of Teaching Everyone: An Introduction to Inclusive Education (2011) and Picture Inclusion! (2019). She has an extensive teaching background in special education in urban and suburban classrooms. Her research interests and consulting work focus on inclusive practices in schooling.

Students say that Arndt goes above and beyond in the classroom, portraying an expertise in her field that directly reflects her teaching. “Not only does she teach important and useful teaching methods for education majors, but she implements them into her own classroom as well. She values understanding of a topic over how well a student can take a test, and she is flexible in allowing her students to demonstrate what we know in ways that work for them,” wrote one student nominator.

An advocate for education reform that supports inclusive practices for all students, another nominator wrote that Arndt’s “inclusiveness and the sense of community makes every student feel important; she regularly tells us that all of our voices matter. She is respectful of all identities, backgrounds, and beliefs, and encourages thoughtful discussion to explain our ideas to our peers.”

The nomination went on to say that Arndt is the “perfect candidate for this award, because she is what makes a classroom feel like a family, and makes Fisher feel like home.”

During the ceremony, Dr. Kobi Nathan, an associate professor in the School, was given the Award for Teaching Excellence at the graduate level.

Nathan ’12 is a member of the third cohort of students that graduated from the Wegmans School of Pharmacy. After pharmacy school, he went on to complete his post-graduate pharmacy residency at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse and in 2013, returned to the Wegmans School of Pharmacy to serve as a faculty member.

At the College, he teaches pharmacy students about geriatric pharmacotherapy, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. He also co-coordinates and teaches Communication and Counseling Skills, a required course for second-year pharmacy students. In addition, he practices at Monroe Community Hospital and serves as the clinical pharmacist for the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Division of Geriatrics and Aging while serving in several administrative and faculty roles within the Office of Medical Administration.

One student nominator said Nathan “models the definition of excellence in teaching as his dedication to his students and his passion for the teaching-learning enterprise is exemplary. His knowledge of pharmaceutical practices as related to the field of geriatrics is unparalleled as reflected in the strong academic performance of his students.”

As a Board Certified geriatric pharmacy specialist and certified dementia practitioner, Nathan works closely with and serves older adults and caregivers dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias. He is a proud member of the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) and actively serves on its Public Education Committee, having been just re-appointed to a second three-year term. Among the 395 Fellows appointed since the Founding of AGS in 1942, Nathan is only one of nine pharmacists to have earned fellowship status.

In a letter nominating Nathan for the teaching award, one student wrote: “It is my belief that the role of a teacher is to embody the mission of St. John Fisher College, by leading as an example, and instilling these values in his or her students. I have been fortunate enough to spend time with a teacher who has proven to be an exemplary embodiment of intellectual, professional, and civic integrity. This teacher is Dr. Kobi Nathan.”