A young researcher from the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine has received top honors for scientific excellence.
Maria Urso will receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, or PECASE, at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. She will also go on a White House tour and meet President Barack Obama as part of the whirlwind honors of this award.
Urso will be among nearly 100 other budding scientists and engineers who receive this year’s award based on scientific merit, as well as involvement in the community.
The PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.
“Discoveries in science and technology not only strengthen our economy, they inspire us as a people,” Obama said. “The impressive accomplishments of today’s awardees so early in their careers promise even greater advances in the years ahead.”
Urso, who has worked in U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine’s, or USARIEM’s, Military Performance Division at Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., since 2006, received the award for her scientific contributions in the area of cellular mechanisms of musculoskeletal injury and repair and for her service to both military and civilian communities.
“Getting this award is the greatest thing to happen to me,” Urso said. “To be recognized for the work you are doing, the work you plan to do and the contributions you have made to the community. There is no greater honor at this point in my career. I still cannot grasp the fact that I was selected.”
After receiving a bachelor of science and a master of science in kinesiology from the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, R.I., in 1997 and 2000, Urso followed that up with a doctor of philosophy in kinesiology from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass., in 2006. Urso was then commissioned and served four years in the Army as a captain at USARIEM and has stayed on as a civilian since 2010.
Her work at USARIEM includes conducting basic science research in skeletal muscle cell signaling physiology. Her focus is on the discovery and evaluation of novel therapeutics in mitigating skeletal muscle injury in response-damaging exercise, ischemia reperfusion (use of tourniquets and surgical procedures) and blunt-force trauma and blast injury.
Urso is involved in mentoring and serving the community. Her lengthy list of community outreach includes co-chair of the American College of Sports Medicine Cellular and Molecular Biology Interest group, a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, program committee member for the American College of Sports Medicine and committee member for the Women in Physiology group of the American Physiological Society.
An avid teacher, Urso also serves as a mentor for two full-time Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education students in her laboratory, is a research adviser for a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and volunteers to speak several times a semester at various universities to students about career opportunities in research.
With all that, Urso still has the energy to run marathons. She is a member of the All-Army Women’s Marathon team and competed with the team for three years. She will compete again this year as a Reservist.
Her vast service to both the military and civilian communities and drive for scientific excellence led to her nomination for this award, first by her boss, then the institution, both to whom she is very grateful.
“Without the continued support, encouragement, trust, resources and opportunities given to me by everyone at USARIEM, not one accomplishment on my vitae would have been possible,” Urso said. “The prestige associated with this award puts USARIEM on the same ground as other research and academic institutions that are at the forefront of innovative scientific discovery.”
USARIEM provides solutions to optimize warfighter health and performance through medical research. USARIEM is recognized by many DOD organizations as the trusted leader in medical research for warfighter health and performance.
As for Urso, she plans to keep reaching for the stars.
“I am working on three exciting projects right now that range from product development for muscle injury diagnostics to therapeutic interventions to minimize muscle injury and facilitate time to recovery,” Urso said. “I plan to keep up the innovation and pace of this research so that we can reduce costs to the military and provide important musculoskeletal treatment measures.”
By Kelly Sullivan, USARIEM Public Affairs
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