Two faculty members have been selected for this year’s Pegasus Professor Award, UCF’s highest faculty honor.
Both honorees have been recognized nationally and internationally for excellence in their disciplines and are accomplished researchers, teachers and administrators. Honorees are selected by the president and provost and each receives $5,000.
While their research may be in two drastically different areas — quantum physics and crisis communications — they both possess the same qualities that make them worthy of this prestigious award.
Meet the 2022 Pegasus Professors:
Enrique Del Barco
Associate Dean of Research, Facilities
College of Sciences
Fun fact: He quit studying in college to join a heavy metal band as a guitarist.
Enrique Del Barco used his allowance money to buy scientific journals growing up in Spain. He was fascinated by quantum mechanics from an early age and knew he wanted to be a physicist. Although his path seems straight, he did waver for one passion: guitar.
“People would be surprised to know I stopped studying for five years to play in a heavy metal rock band,” Del Barco says. “My father did not take it well. I had to leave his house and work really hard, and that’s when I realized I didn’t want to work, I wanted to study so I could play for the rest of my life.”
His passion for music remains — he still plays guitar daily — and his dream of becoming a quantum physicist became reality. He relocated his young family to New York City from Spain for a postdoctoral position at New York University. He credits his wife with surviving in a small Manhattan apartment with an infant and a toddler. Neither of them knew English well, and he says those first few years were challenging. But they paid off.
Del Barco has brought more than $11 million in external research funds since he joined UCF in 2005. He has published over 90 research papers and is known as an international leader in his field.
“We put a molecule in between two electrodes and pass currents through it and see how the current behaves, then we explore functionality that comes from the quantum mechanical behavior from these molecules for use in things like switches,” he says. “We are working on a molecule that learns behaviors like a neuron in your brain.”
A skilled researcher, Del Barco is equally beloved by his students. Including a graduate student who recently convinced him to officiate his wedding in Mexico. Del Barco says he has always tried to make complicated subjects fun by performing magic tricks in the classroom.
“I hope people remember that I was a nice guy and that I focused on the wellbeing of the group,” he says. “That was one of the things my mom taught me. If you want to be well, everyone around you also has to be well. I put a lot of energy into that.”
Professor, Nicholson School of Communication and Media
Associate Director of Graduate Studies, Research and Creative Activity
Fun fact: He was a collegiate gymnast who can still walk on his hands.
“The right words at the right time can save lives,” says Sellnow.
Those are the words he’s built his career on.
Sellnow is an international leader on risk and crisis communication. He is amongst the top 10 most-cited scholars in his field and has published seven books and over 100 articles. Sellnow has secured more than $1 million in external grants since coming to UCF in 2015. He was called by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to help in the anthrax crisis shortly after 9/11. His career spans industry and academia.
So how did he establish such a prestigious strategic communications career? He credits his parents as the driving force behind his success. Sellnow grew up in a family of hardworking journalists, with two parents who are first-generation college students. He says they worked extremely hard and instilled a respect for higher education in him and his siblings.
“I did start out in journalism, and I became so concerned about what I saw as a journalist,” he says. “I was seeing some communities and organizations did better in crisis and some did worse, and I wanted to understand why, and it led me down the academic path.”
His academic path also led him to his wife and fellow researcher and professor — Deanna Sellnow. Together they’ve traveled the world, mentored a countless number of students, created UCF’s first strategic communications Ph.D. program and become grandparents.
“I tell students to find something they are really passionate about, and if they do that, they will have the energy and commitment to focus on pushing borders and making a difference,” he says.
Sellnow says he’s hopeful that people will remember how he made them feel. But there’s one thing many students will remember and that’s his office. He’s collected a number of bobble heads and other trinkets over the years that have given his space a warm and inviting feel. As a former collegiate gymnast, he also has a habit of asking others to take photos of himself doing handstands in various places — including Millican Hall.
“I just hope that when my students are around me, they have felt supported, educated and encouraged,” he says.