Three Faculty Members Honored As University Distinguished Professors

DistProfAwardSpotlightThree Texas A&M University faculty members have been appointed as University Distinguished Professors. The title, which is bestowed in perpetuity, is among the highest honors awarded to Texas A&M faculty members.

The latest recipients are: Dr. Akhil Datta-Gupta, Regents Professor and holder of L. F. Peterson ʼ36 Endowed Chair in Petroleum Engineering in the Harold Vance Department of Petroleum Engineering, College of Engineering; Dr. Valen Johnson, professor and head of the Department of Statistics, College of Science; and Dr. Cheryl Lyn Walker, Robert A. Welch Professor and director of the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology

The 2016 University Distinguished Professor honorees join a select group of more than 85 current faculty members who hold the prestigious title. This designation denotes a faculty member who is pre-eminent in his or her field, has made at least one seminal contribution to the discipline, and whose work is central in any narrative of the field and is widely recognized to have changed the direction of scholarship in the field.

“University Distinguished Professors represent the highest level of achievement for our faculty,” said Dr. Karan L. Watson, provost and executive vice president. “They are recognized as pre-eminent scholars in their fields and their accomplishments are exemplified by seminal contributions to their respective disciplines. They demonstrate to the world the high quality of scholarship underway at Texas A&M University.”

Texas A&M President Michael K. Young and the Texas A&M Foundation will host a reception on April 27 recognizing the three new University Distinguished Professors and honoring all of the University Distinguished Professors.

Dr. Akhil Datta-Gupta,

Dr. Akhil Datta-Gupta,

Dr. Akhil Datta-Gupta, Regents Professor and holder of L. F. Peterson ʼ36 Endowed Chair in Petroleum Engineering, joined the faculty of the Texas A&M University College of Engineering in 1994. He earned his Ph.D. in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.  Before coming to Texas A&M, he worked for BP Exploration/Research and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Dr. Datta-Gupta was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering “for developing the theory and practice of streamline simulation for fluid flow in heterogeneous reservoirs.” Three-dimensional streamline simulation is widely considered as one of the major developments in petroleum reservoir modeling and performance forecasting in the last two decades. The technology has been rapidly assimilated by the industry for highly detailed flow simulation, reservoir management, geologic model calibration and uncertainty assessment. Several commercial reservoir simulators have been developed based on his streamline “time of flight” concept. Among his many awards, Dr. Datta-Gupta has received the Carll Award and the Uren Award, two of the top three technical awards given by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, and was elected to the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science. He has coauthored the textbook Streamline Simulation: Theory and Practice, which set forth the foundations of modern streamline simulation technology. His second book, Subsurface Fluid Flow and Imaging, is scheduled for publication by the Cambridge University Press in early 2016. Dr. Datta-Gupta is a registered professional engineer in the State of Texas and consults for oil and gas companies worldwide.

Dr. Valen Johnson

Dr. Valen Johnson

Dr. Valen Johnson, professor and head of the Department of Statistics, joined the faculty of the Texas A&M University College of Science in 2012.  He earned his Ph.D. in statistics from the University of Chicago. Before coming to Texas A&M, he held academic positions at Duke University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.  He was also on the staff at Los Alamos National Laboratory. During the past three decades, Dr. Johnson has analyzed comparative intelligences among non-human primates, probed grade inflation at American universities, examined the validity of student evaluations of teaching, and developed more effective tests for evaluating cancer drugs. He has developed models for the reliability of early stage rockets, the space shuttle, and the U.S. nuclear arsenal. In addition, he has used his statistical expertise to reinterpret the meaning of statistical significance and p-values, and has provided new insights into the sources of non-reproducibility of scientific research.  His current methodological research interests focus on problems related to Bayesian hypothesis testing, Bayesian variable selection in ultra-high dimensional spaces, and latent variable models for ordinal and rank data analyses. Among his honors, Dr. Johnson was named a Fellow of the American Statistical Association and a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society.  He is also an Elected Member in the International Statistics Institute.  He holds two patents and has published two books, Ordinal Data Models and Grade Inflation: A Crisis in College Education.

Cheryl Lyn Walker

Dr. Cheryl Lyn Walker

Dr. Cheryl Lyn Walker, Robert A. Welch Professor and director of the Institute of Biosciences and Technology, joined the faculty of Texas A&M Health Science Center in 2011.  She earned her Ph.D. in cell biology from the University of Texas Health Science Center, Southwestern Medical School.  Before coming to Texas A&M, she held academic positions at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University. She also was on the staff of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Dr. Walker is a distinguished molecular biologist, who has made seminal contributions to the understanding of the role of gene-environment interactions in human disease. These include: being the first to identify tumor suppressor genes as the target for chemical carcinogens; the development of an animal model for the most important gynecologic disease of women; the first to reveal a mechanism by which environmental exposures alter the epigenome to increase cancer risk; and most recently, the elucidation of a new pathway controlling peroxisome homeostasis.  She has been recognized with numerous awards including the Cozzarelli Prize in Biological Sciences from the National Academy of Sciences, as a Fellow of the Academy of Toxicological Sciences, as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and as an Outstanding Distinguished Scientist by the Texas A&M University Chapter of Sigma Xi.


Media contact: Lane Stephenson, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4662 or

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