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University of Iowa News Release


April 14, 2009

Photo: The top student employees were honored April 9 by UI President Sally Mason.
First row, left to right:  UI President Sally Mason, Marcus Galante, Nathan Boettcher, Ross Johnson, Shauna Flesch and Cullen Garvey.
Second row, left to right: Dan Chizek, interim vice president, Tom Rocklin, Chris Dibbern

UI names Ross Johnson 2009 Student Employee of the Year

University of Iowa student Ross Johnson is a pretty handy guy.

Working with the UI College of Engineering's Virtual Soldier Research (VSR) Program, he has created a new skeletal structure model for the human hand. For these efforts, he has been named the UI Student Employee of the Year for 2009.

Johnson, of North Liberty, was selected from among 41 student employees nominated by their supervisors for special recognition. Annually, the UI employs approximately 8,000 students in hourly positions.

Johnson is a sophomore in the College of Engineering who works as an undergraduate research assistant for the UI College of Engineering's Center for Computer Aided Design and Virtual Soldier Research (VSR) program (

Johnson is one of 25 students and staff who work with the VSR program. VSR conducts basic and applied research for creating new technologies dealing with digital human modeling and simulation. The program is developing a digital model of a human being in order to test digital mockups of products and systems before they are built. The digital model, called SANTOS™, conducts human factors studies in design relevant to the training, production, and performance needs of real-world military, manufacturing, sports and other fields.

Johnson has been hard at work developing programming that replicates the skeletal structure of the human hand in order to to include the 27 bones and necessary joint movements of a real hand. See for more information.

"As a new undergraduate, he simply dreamt up an idea, developed the code for it, and implemented it with minimal supervision," said Tim Marler of the Center for Computer Aided Design, who nominated Johnson for the award. Johnson's contributions have made predicting hand postures a task that is now faster and more conducive to further development.

"With respect to creativity, independence and manageability, he is far beyond the level of any graduate student," said Marler. Johnson works hard in the lab demonstrating his work ethic and desire to learn, and he has shown experience that should be expected of someone in the graduate program," Marler said.

"Ross has not simply completed or added to a project or two. He has become an integral part of our lab. He is well-liked and well-respected on every level. The quality of his work is impeccable, and for a young student, his professionalism is impressive," said Marler.

Johnson also is well-published, as he has been an author on four conference and journal papers. A publication record like this is a task that is very rare for an undergraduate, said Marler.

The National Student Employment Association sponsors the National Student Employee of the Year competition and winners are announced in conjunction with National Student Employment Week, which runs from Sunday, April 12, through Saturday, April 18. Students are selected based on the following criteria: reliability, quality of work, initiative, professionalism and uniqueness of contribution.

"It's important to recognize the efforts of all student employees as they play a vital role in the achievement of the university's mission," said Cindy Seyfer, UI associate director of Student Financial Aid at the UI who will present the awards to the winners at their place of employment. "They bring a fresh perspective, new ideas and creative energy to the job."

In addition to the campus winner, six student employees were recognized for their work with certificates of distinction and appreciation. On Thursday, April 9, UI President Sally Mason and her husband, Ken, hosted a luncheon at their home for the student winners. The university encourages all units to participate in celebrating the efforts of their student hourly employees during National Student Employment Week.

A certificate of distinction was awarded to the following students, listed by hometown:

Waukee: Nathan Boettcher, an undergraduate pre-business major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who works as a programmer for University of Iowa Hospital and Clinic's Revenue Integrity.

Certificates of appreciation were awarded to the following students, listed by hometown:

Iowa City: Chris Dibbern, a student in the Graduate College working on a master's degree in computer science, is an application developer for ITS-Campus Technology Services.

Oxford: Marcus Galante, an undergraduate management major in the Henry B. Tippie College of Business, is in engineering support for UI Facilities Management.

Sioux City: Cullen Garvey, a student in the in the Graduate College studying urban and regional planning, is an office assistant for the Henry B. Tippie School of Management.

Toldeo: Daniel Chizek, an undergraduate electronic engineering major in the College of Engineering, is a computer assistant and application developer for the UI Department of Internal Medicine.


Libertyville: Shauna Flesch, an undergraduate communications studies major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is a resource room coordinator for the Office of Residence Life.

For more information on this award or the students recognized contact Seyfer at 319-335-1460.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Cynthia Seyfer, Student Financial Aid, 319-335-1460,; George McCrory, University of Iowa News Services, 319-384-0012,; Writer: Megan McIntyre