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Four WVU faculty selected as 2021-2022 Benedum Distinguished Scholars

Joel Beeson, Dana Coester, Christina Duncan and Jessica Hoover
Joel Beeson, Dana Coester, Christina Duncan and Jessica Hoover

Four exceptional faculty members at West Virginia University have been named 2021-2022 Benedum Distinguished Scholars in recognition of the high caliber of their research and scholarly activity. 

Honorees include: 

  • Joel Beeson, professor of journalism, and Dana Coester, professor of journalism, (co-recipients) in the Reed College of Media

  • Christina L. Duncan, professor of psychology in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

  • Jessica Hoover, associate professor of chemistry in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

The Benedum Distinguished Scholars awards, funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, are awarded annually to faculty engaged in “creative research” in as many as four categories: behavioral and social sciences, biosciences and health sciences, humanities and the arts, and physical sciences and technology. This year, exceptional scholars were identified in three of the four categories with one award jointly shared by two faculty members. 

“Once again, we have an outstanding group of scholars being recognized for their contributions to their fields,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed. “This year for the first time, there are two co-recipients of the Benedum Scholar award, which speaks to the importance of collaboration and the power of transdisciplinary research. But all of these scholars have had a remarkable impact on society, science and the greater community.”

Beeson and Coester are the co-recipients of the 2021-2022 Benedum Distinguished Scholar Award in the Humanities and the Arts. They are known for their years-long collaborative research and creative investigative work documenting the recruitment techniques of domestic white supremacist and extremist groups in Appalachia. Over the last five years as journalists and editors of the digital outlet 100 Days in Appalachia, Beeson, Coester and team members have produced National Murrow Award-winning reports on extremism. They also produced and directed a major feature-length documentary film, “Raised by Wolves,” which has received funding from the Democracy Fund’s Just and Inclusive Society program and the Ford Foundation’s Creativity and Free Expression program. 

Throughout their creative works investigating the digital habits of middle and high school youth and their exposure to extremism and harmful content in the digital ecosystem, Beeson and Coester have documented the risk of radicalization of Appalachian rural youth through social media and gaming platforms. The pair has provided three testimonies before Congressional committees, as well as multiple closed-door briefings to other researchers and reporters from NBC, The New York Times and other major media outlets. Beeson and Coester were selected as participants in the Social Science Research Council’s Media and Democracy Program Workshop on Extreme Right Radicalization Online: Platforms, Processes, Prevention. 

Duncan is recognized as the 2021-2022 Benedum Distinguished Scholar in Behavioral and Social Sciences for her significant contributions to the research in and practice of pediatric psychology. During her celebrated career at WVU, Duncan has become internationally and nationally recognized as a leading translational expert in family-based interventions that promote optimal outcomes and reduce the negative impact of chronic conditions on youth and their families. She has dedicated her career to understanding how best to support and promote self-management behaviors, adherence and positive psychosocial outcomes for children and families with asthma, cystic fibrosis and burn injuries. Duncan employs innovative, effective, patient- and family-centered strategies that help to improve patients’ understanding of and ability to follow treatment plans, ultimately minimizing their risk of medical complications and having a beneficial impact on their daily lives.

She has acquired over $5 million in external funding for this research and has 72 peer-reviewed and book chapter publications, including many in high-impact journals. Duncan was recently selected to serve as editor of one of the flagship pediatric psychology journals, Clinical Practice in Pediatric Psychology, and is on the editorial board of the other leading journal in this field, Journal of Pediatric Psychology. While at WVU, Duncan has provided clinical service to youth with a variety of health conditions and generated a long history of scholarship in improving clinical care. In addition, she has spent over 25 years educating the next generation of child psychologists on how to conduct applied, multidisciplinary research and effectively deliver evidence-based clinical care to patients and their families.

Hoover is honored as the 2021-2022 Benedum Distinguished Scholar in Physical Science and Technologies. She is recognized nationally and internationally for her significant discoveries in inorganic, organometallic and organic chemistry, specifically transition metal catalyzed reactions. By identifying the clear connection between reactivity and field effect, Hoover has discovered a new way for researchers to describe reactivity differences in organic reactions not readily explained using classical effects. She used this insight to expand the scope of copper catalyzed decarboxylative couplings of benzoic acids, which helps scientists shift away from very expensive noble metal catalysts and their toxic byproducts. Hoover has also established that silver additives form important intermediates in decarboxylative coupling reactions and found ways to replace them with oxygen gas – which is inexpensive, abundant and harmless – as an oxidant. Such advances are important because they uncover new principles that govern catalysis more broadly and allow the use of simple, readily available and inexpensive benzoic acids as coupling partners to access pharmaceutically relevant structures under conditions that are environmentally benign and economical. 

Hoover has been recognized with a Thieme Chemistry Journal Award and a MIRA (Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award) from the National Institutes of Health and was selected as a Kavli Fellow, a highly distinguished recognition from the National Academy of Sciences. She has received over $3 million dollars in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, has mentored more than 50 researchers and recently facilitated chemistry-inspired public art installations.

Each Benedum Distinguished Scholar will receive a $5,000 professional development honorarium. The Scholars Recipients will be recognized by President Gordon Gee and Provost Reed during a faculty and staff awards reception at Blaney House this month and will be featured in next year’s Benedum Distinguished Scholars Showcase. Details about the Showcase event will be shared at a later date in ENEWS.

Read more about these and other awards on the WVU Faculty website.