Lionhearted Leaders

They teach. They mentor. They impact.

And they bring a wealth of experience, engagement (and fun!) to the classroom. Each department picked one faculty member who has been outstanding this past year.

The Lionhearted Leaders Initiative recognizes the hard work and many contributions of members of the Purdue University Northwest faculty. 

Ge Jin headshot

Ge Jin

Professor, Computer Information Technology and Graphics

“I enjoy playing soccer with local friends from all over the world. As an introvert, I like to watch documentary series about the universe and science fiction movies. I also enjoy traveling with family and creating memories with my child.”

Jin is a prolific researcher. With his expertise in computer graphics, game development, cybersecurity, and grant writing, he has been involved in many federally funded projects, including an NSA-funded project in which he led a team of Computer Graphic Technology students to develop online cybersecurity education games for K-12 students.

Jin also secures grants from the NSF to host GenCyber summer camps here at PNW, enabling high school students to take an interest in and experience the growing field of cybersecurity.

Meet Ge Jin

Karen O'Brien headshot

Karen O'Brien

Clinical Associate Professor of Nursing

“I enjoy being outside doing yardwork! Planting new flowers, encouraging flowers to bloom, cutting grass, and trimming trees and bushes. I love the physical activity and the instant and delayed gratification of my work!”

Throughout her time at PNW, O’Brien has strengthened PNW by managing undergraduate programs before and during the pandemic, recruiting many part-time faculty that allow the college of Nursing to expand, mentoring new faculty to help expert clinicians transition to the academic environment, leading PNW’s prelicensure program while teaching, supporting high student retention rates, and setting up campus tours for prospective students.

Maged Mikhail

Maged Mikhail

Associate Professor of Mechatronics Engineering Technology

“I enjoy helping, challenging, motivating, and working with students in the area of automation, manufacturing, and robotics. I like to collaborate with industries and companies to help students find jobs.”

Robotics has been professor Mikhail’s passion for more than 15 years – building robots from scratch, designing robots for specific missions, programming robots to do many tasks, and solving sophisticated robotics problems. He enjoys teaching robotics and automation for advanced manufacturing.

Professor Mikhail’s research focuses on robotics, automation, and cybersecurity. He is well-known for enjoying spending time with students in and out of the classroom and likes to share his expertise, skills, and industry experience to improve their futures, especially when students secure jobs with competitive salaries in robotics and automation.

Meet Maged Mikhail

Robert Hallock headshot

Robert Hallock

Associate Professor of Psychology

“I enjoy hiking, camping, gardening, and I forage wild plants and mushrooms. I am fortunate that my daughter loves doing these things too, and we both volunteer at the Indiana Dunes State Park and Indiana Dunes Birding Festival.”

Hallock’s contributions to the strength of PNW’s Department of Psychology are broad, ranging from undergraduate research, grants, and mentoring to serving on the department’s curriculum committee to conduct major curriculum revision. Moreover, Hallock engages students with his classroom presence, and is even working to help bring psychology and learning phenomena to life through a laboratory in which students train goldfish.

Meet Robert Hallock

Nicolae Tarfulea headshot

Nicolae Tarfulea

Professor of Mathematics

“I really like traveling, especially road trips with my wife and son. I have lived in four different countries and visited many more. I also enjoy reading and watching documentaries about new discoveries. . .”

Tarfulea is known among students for having an enthusiasm about mathematics that is easily shared; he mentors students in undergraduate research. With this matched enthusiasm – especially in one of his favorite courses to teach, Computational Mathematics – student projects sometimes evolve into sponsored undergraduate and graduate grants, which he enjoys mentoring.

Currently, Tarfulea is researching the largely unexplored use of computational and visual tools on student success in college algebra to innovate the teaching and learning of college algebra.

Meet Nicolae Tarfulea

Yu Ouyang headshot

Yu Ouyang

Associate Professor of Political Science

“I love playing video games to relax! When possible, I try to budget some time to play on the computer in the evening. I also enjoy traveling to new places. Even a car drive through a new part of town energizes me!”

Known for going above and beyond with students, Professor Ouyang organizes many educational events and advises PNW’s nationally recognized chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha. Ouyang continues to conduct great research on the contemporary political scene and is coordinating PNW’s Civics Literacy Initiative.

Meet Yu Ouyang

Shoji Nakayama headshot

Shoji Nakayama

Associate Professor of Organizational Leadership and Supervision

“The protection of workers and properties is a significant part of every supervisor, manager, and organization’s responsibility, regardless of career field.”

Professor Nakayama’s commitment to worker and workplace safety is both within and outside of the walls of the classroom. Aside from transferring his knowledge to his students, he focuses on helping ensure that students will become successful professionals upon graduation.

Nakayama is known for maintaining industry contacts that result in helping students secure involvement with tangible experience such as industrial projects, professional seminars and workshops, and internships, which has also helped lead an increase in OLS-EHS enrollment.

Scott Bates headshot

Scott Bates

Nils K. Nelson Associate Professor of Biological Sciences

“I enjoy traveling and exploring new places. My research is very exploratory as well, and it is a great pleasure to bring new experiences to students.”

Professor Bates’ classes are known for their atmosphere in which students can thrive. Outside of the classroom, his research, supported through the CES Nelson Endowment, covers a broad array of foci, including biodiversity, bioinformatics, fungal ecology and taxonomy, microbial ecology, and microbiomes.

Bates has mentored numerous individuals in various research projects over the course of his academic career. Former mentees are pursuing advanced degrees and/or are gainfully employed in local molecular labs, international biotech companies, as well as metagenomic laboratories and institutes.

Meet Professor Bates

Kelly Vaughan

Kelly Vaughan

associate professor, school of education

“In my free time, I love to spend time with my family, read novels, learn new things, share meals with friends and explore the outdoors.”

Professor Vaughan sets goals and prioritizes her own development and praxis, which benefits and transfers into her planning and preparation for her courses, scholarly endeavors, and community engagement. Simultaneously kind and assertive, she demonstrates empathy and strength with teacher candidates and is ever-supporting of their efforts to grow and learn.

Vaughan loves teaching Media for Children. She states the value of such a course well: “Stories teach us about ourselves, our community, and our world.”

Meet Professor Vaughan

Pat Obi

Pat Obi

white lodging professor of finance, director of emba program

“Much of my time outside the classroom is spent at group mentoring sessions with young people. I like to inspire and encourage others to see their success to be inextricably linked with that of another person who looks up to them for guidance.”

As a long-serving student mentor, Professor Obi inspires and encourages students to become ready for the future. He currently is conducting research aimed at understanding how financial markets and the broader economy affect the performance of the tourism and hospitality industry. Obi also maintains an educational YouTube channel with over 15,000 subscribers that covers a great range of topics.

Meet Professor Obi

Robert Kramer

Robert Kramer

professor of physics

“I enjoy working with students and helping them obtain the maximum value from their
educational efforts. I also greatly enjoy doing research in energy related topics.

Professor Kramer is devoted to improving the rigor of his classes. He is particularly devoted to PHYS 330 Intermediate Electricity & Magnetism and has spent the last six years revamping it to ensure that students who complete the course will be successful after graduating.

Kramer also is the principal investigator on research that is focused on turning food waste into hydrogen as a fuel source. This research has shown remarkable early success, been awarded multiple patents, has garnered international attention, and is being expanded during his sabbatical this year.

Meet Professor Kramer

Khair Al Shamaileh

Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering

Between developing and teaching 11 courses key to the electric engineering curriculum, mentoring 25+ undergraduate and graduate students, and assisting the ECE Department in receiving ABET accreditation, Professor Al Shamaileh drives high-quality engineering education resulting in developing skills in students that are of national interest that leads to jobs in the industrial market or Ph.D. scholarships.

Meet Professor Shamaileh

Mark Mabrito

Professor of English | Director of Computer Labs and Computer-Supported Writing

“I particularly enjoy working with students outside of the classroom, watching movies – especially documentaries – and whenever possible, wandering around the Gulf Coast.”

Professor Mabrito created and coordinates the Writing for Interactive Media Online Certificate Program and works diligently to ensure student success in his classes, of which are grounded in his teaching philosophy is centered around making real-world connections to the real world.

Meet Professor Mabrito

Hairong Zhao

Hairong Zhao

Professor of Computer Science

“I really like starting my day with a jog and a walk in nature. It gives me more energy and makes the rest of my day much more satisfying.”

Professor Zhao is known for high standards, attainable goals and being engaging in the classroom. Outside of it, she is accessible and resourceful, often providing learning opportunities for students.

Her favorite course is algorithms; she loves seeing students using creative approaches to problems or refining existing solutions. On the topic of algorithms, Zhao furthers computer science by conducting research focused on algorithm design in the area of scheduling.

Meet Professor Zhao

Christopher Belous

Chris Belous

Associate Professor | Director, Couple & Family Therapy

We all have a responsibility to be the best versions of ourselves. Sometimes we won’t succeed – and that’s O.K. So enjoy life and radically and unconditionally accept and support yourself… after all, if you don’t, who will?

Chris Belous not only engages in scholarly activity, as evidenced by 12 peer-reviewed journal articles, nine book contributions, five professional handbooks or manuals, and 30 national and 18 state conferences, but oversees the Couple and Family Therapy master’s program. His experience goes outside of the classroom as well – Belous oversees the Center for Couple & Family Therapy that proves invaluable and affordable therapy to the surrounding community.

Meet Professor Belous

Matthew Hanson

Matthew Hanson

Clinical Associate Professor of Marketing

Matt enjoys challenges and the ability to create opportunities. Whether through his students or consulting, he never says it can’t be done. He reminds us we just need to think differently.

Professor Hanson bolsters PNW’s goal of providing experiential learning for students, and he develops relationships with marketing companies to create work opportunities for students. He runs the Digital Marketing Competition & Summit, an international event with teams from five continents that gives undergraduate students a perfect opportunity to develop digital marketing strategies for real life clients.

Meet Professor Hanson

Ezra Mutai

Ezra Mutai

Assistant Professor of Foods and Nutrition

When I am not teaching or doing research, I enjoy spending time with my family. I like to hike the different trails in the region, watch sports and documentaries.

Ezra Mutai inspires his students to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to their daily lives.

Ezra is instrumental in continually improving the quality of research done in the White Lodging School of Tourism and Hospitality Management while pursuing his own research in bioactive food compounds, gut microbes, and dietary interventions for disease prevention. He also has obtained joint grants with colleagues from other schools and is an active participant in the Integrative Physiology and Health Sciences Center.

Meet Professor Mutai

Wubeshet Woldemariam

Wubeshet Woldermariam

Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering

In my free time, I like taking pictures of the natural and built environment. I also like playing piano and reading non-academic books.

Not only is Wubeshet a proven effective teacher who loves to teach transportation engineering courses, but he contributes to his field both through scholarly publications and student extracurriculars. Notably, he established the new Transportation and Project Management (TPM) student club.

Wubeshet is currently researching the condition of U.S. infrastructure at the state level.

Meet Professor Woldemariam

Erin Okamoto Protsman

Erin Okamoto Protsman

Lecturer of Communication and Creative Arts/Basic Course Coordinator

I enjoy the quietness of the early morning. Nothing makes me happier than sitting in stillness, reading the newspaper, and drinking a good cup of coffee before the day begins.

Erin is known for and loves teaching communication courses. From day one, she tells students, “By the end of the semester, you’ll see communication everywhere!” and loves when they share their “aha!” moments with her.

Outside of classes, Erin mentors graduate teaching assistants who help teach COM 114, one of PNW’s most ubiquitous general education courses, and is piloting new tools and platforms to improve the course.

Meet Professor Protsman

Congratulations to Our 2022-23 Honorees!