College of Sciences Welcomes New Pegasus Professor and Honors Reach for the Stars Recipient


Two College of Sciences professors were among those honored Wednesday for their dedication to teaching UCF students and their innovation in the classroom.

Josh Colwell, Ph.D., was one of four new Pegasus Professors, the highest academic honor a professor can receive at the university. Tim Hawthorne, Ph.D., received the Reach for the Stars award, which recognizes early career professionals with highly successful research and creative activity with a national impact. Here are their profiles:

Josh Colwell

Department of Physics, Florida Space Institute, College of Sciences

Josh Colwell has been interested in space exploration and science since he was a child. His mother likes to joke that he was bit by the space bug when she was eight months pregnant and saw the launch of Gemini 1. His career started in research, but after 17 years at the University of Colorado he came to UCF to pursue his passion for teaching.

“One of my goals is to make science, physics and astronomy more accessible to people,” he says. “I love seeing that light bulb moment with students. I’m always looking for new ways to make complicated subject matters relatable and understandable.”

While Colwell loves his students, he’s also known for conducting experiments in what’s sometimes called the vomit comet — a plane that descends rapidly to create weightless conditions. Has he thrown up? Too often to count, but many of his students have fared better on the plane.

His research works to uncover the story of the solar system and the formation of habitable planets like Earth throughout the galaxy. Colwell has been involved in multiple NASA missions, most notably the Cassini mission that orbited Saturn 13 years sending back views of the ringed planet and its dozens of moons never seen before. He also hosts a podcast, Walkabout the Galaxy, which he calls “accidentally educational.”

His advice to students is simple: “Take advantage of the resources at UCF. Go see your teachers. They want to be asked questions, and they want to help you understand so you can succeed.”

The other Pegasus Professors are:

Naim Kapucu, Director, School of Public Administration, College of Community Innovation and Education

Tison Pugh, Professor, Department of English, College of Arts and Humanities

Martine Vanryckeghem, Professor, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, College of Health Professions and Sciences

Also, honored Wednesday at the Founders’ Day Convocation was Hawthorne:

(Photo by Austin Warren)

Hawthorne combines his academic expertise about geography and geographic information systems (the technology on cell phones that helps you find things when you get lost) to bring information together in a new way. By using GIS and other technologies to collect and assess information, patterns not easily seen become apparent and can be used to make decisions that impact communities.

Including the community is what sets Hawthorne’s work apart. In 2015, Hawthorne established a now internationally recognized and award-winning research organization called Citizen Science GIS.

The group of UCF and international collaborators brings together undergraduate and graduate students, everyday folks and scientists with tech including GIS and drones to collect data for a variety of projects. For example, the group spent 20 days in Belize mapping nearly 150 of its islands, which are home to one of the largest reef systems in the world. The goal was to provide information to Belize that the country could use to protect and conserve one of the world’s most vulnerable island environments. The organization’s success led to NSF funding and this summer Hawthorne’s team is again offering a NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates program based at UCF and with fieldwork in Belize.

Hawthorne understands that getting people passionate about science starts early, so he’s also embarked on another project —in support of his role as Florida State Geography Steward with National Geographic. As steward he works with National Geographic staff, government staff, teachers, parents, business leaders and other stakeholders to enhance K-12 geography education and research in Florida and the United States.

Hawthorne will soon be rolling out the nation’s first GeoBus. The 40-foot bus will include a mobile citizen science laboratory focused on maps, apps and drones that will visit K-12 schools in Florida.

“In today’s challenging times, science is more important than ever,” Hawthorne says. “Yet, members of the general public are rightfully skeptical that science is too often disconnected from society. As scientists, we have a responsibility to make our work more accessible and understandable to society. Our work demonstrates the possibilities of what can happen when a large, diverse team of people work together focused on public scholarship that is inclusive of and responsive to community members.”

The other recipients are:

Pamela Wisniewski, College of Engineering and Computer Science
Megan Nikels, College of Community Innovation and Education, College of Medicine



Comments are closed.