College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences faculty and staff garner university honors
May 12, 2021
Virginia Tech has recognized nearly a dozen faculty and staff members in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences — along with a triple graduate of the college — with 2021 awards for excellence in teaching, outreach, research, and advising.
All three of the university’s Diggs Teaching Scholars Awards for 2021 went to faculty members in the college. Sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Diggs Teaching Scholars Awards are presented annually to Virginia Tech faculty members to recognize exceptional contributions to the teaching program and learning environment.
Monique Dufour, a collegiate assistant professor in the Department of History, was presented with the award for her innovation in teaching. She has facilitated more than 50 pedagogical workshops for university faculty and led over a dozen writing retreats at Duke University and Virginia Tech. Outside the classroom, she is known by her colleagues and students for exemplary advising and mentorship, guiding students through the university’s most competitive fellowships, including a Fralin Fellowship and three University Honors Odyssey Fellowships. Dufour received the 2018 Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award by the History Graduate Student Association.
Edward Gitre, an assistant professor of history, received the award for excellence in several areas. In 2017, he spearheaded the development of an interdisciplinary war and society history minor, which now enrolls 52 students. Gitre is also director of The American Soldier in World War II, a transdisciplinary digital project that has garnered two prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities grants. He has previously received the university’s XCaliber Award for his use of technology and high-impact student learning and received an honorable mention by the Center for Research Libraries for a Primary Source Award.
Shaily Patel, an assistant professor of early Christianity in the Department of Religion and Culture, received the award for her exemplary pedagogical efforts. After joining the department in 2017, she has taught a variety of courses from the 1000 to the 5000 levels. Her classes have covered a range of subjects, including the New Testament, the ancient Mediterranean world, demonology and exorcism, orthodoxy and heresy, and Jesus in the Early Christian context.
Several faculty members and one triple graduate of the college were honored with Alumni Awards for Excellence. Sponsored by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, these awards honor faculty and staff who exhibit excellence and dedication in their respective fields.
The Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence in Individual Achievement for 2021 went to Katrina Powell, director of the Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies and director of the Center for Rhetoric in Society. Powell, a professor in the Department of English, has been recognized by her colleagues and students for her work in sustained and innovative research and outreach projects. Since 2016, she has orchestrated community workshops for refugee and migrant communities and forged active partnerships with the Blacksburg Refugee Partnership, the Roanoke Refugee Partnership, and Commonwealth Catholic Charities. She received the college’s Excellence in Research Award in 2016, a Voice of Witness Fellowship in 2018, and the college’s Land Grant Scholar Award in 2019.
The late John Ryan, a long-time professor of sociology and a former chair of the Department of Sociology, was a member of the Virginia Tech Urban Computing Team, which won the Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence in Team Achievement for 2021. Leading the team is Naren Ramakrishnan, the Thomas L. Phillips Professor of Engineering in the Department of Computer Science. The Urban Computing Program is funded by a $2.9 million National Science Foundation Research Traineeship Grant.
The 2021 Alumni Award for Excellence in International Research went to Carol A. Mullen, a professor of educational leadership in the School of Education. A Fulbright Senior Scholar alumna who has conducted research in China, Canada, and Australia, she has authored or coauthored 28 books, including, most recently, Revealing Creativity: Exploration in Transnational Education Cultures; Canadian Indigenous Literature and Art; and Under Duress in Education? Her many career awards include the 2020 XCaliber Award for Excellence in Technology Assisted Teaching and Learning; the 2020 Excellence Award from the University of Toronto (the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Leaders and Legends Award); the 2019 Alumni Award for Excellence in Research from Virginia Tech; the 2017 Living Legend Award from the International Council of Professors of Educational Leadership; and the 2016 Jay D. Scribner Mentoring Award from the University Council for Educational Administration.
Daniel Newcomb, a three-time alumnus of the college, won the Alumni Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising. Newcomb — who earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Virginia Tech in 2013 and, four years later, both a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the School of Education and a master’s degree from the Department of History — has been the academic and career advisor for the Department of Engineering Education since 2017. Newcomb has been recognized for excellence in teaching and advising several times previously, including the Virginia Tech Advisor of the Month in 2018, the Virginia Tech Diversity Ally Award in 2019, and the Virginia Tech Career Champion in 2020.
Two faculty members in the college won the Presidential Principles of Community Award, which recognizes faculty and staff members who exemplify and promote a welcoming and inclusive environment in accordance with the university’s Principles of Community.
One of those winners was Brandy Faulkner, the Gloria D. Smith Professor of Black Studies at Virginia Tech and a collegiate assistant professor in the Department of Political Science. Faulkner has been at the forefront of many key initiatives to uplift underrepresented communities at Virginia Tech, collaborating with a wide range of organizations in advancing a culture of inclusion and forging meaningful relations between the university and the broader community. Notably, she has formed partnerships with Virginia Organizing, a community organization advancing social justice and building inclusive intercultural relations in the New River Valley and across the commonwealth.
Edward Anthony Polanco, an assistant professor of history, also won a Presidential Principles of Community Award. Polanco is dedicated to creating a community for minority students and to inviting faculty, staff, students, and members of the public to consider alternative ways of looking at shared histories. In his short tenure with Virginia Tech, he has reinvigorated department course offerings, with two new undergraduate courses and one graduate course on Latin American history. Outside the classroom, Polanco has organized a range of events, including celebrations of Día de los Muertos and Indigenous People’s Day.
Two staff members won a President’s Award for Excellence.
Brenda J. Husser, former office manager and chief academic advisor in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, received one for her exemplary job performance as an academic advisor. Husser was hired in 1992. She maintained and updated departmental personnel records for faculty and staff in Africana studies, American Indian studies, race and social policy, sociology, and women’s studies. She has also assisted faculty with the promotion and tenure process. Husser has previously been recognized for her dedication to her work as an advisor. In the past, she was named the college’s Staff Employee of the Year.
Nancy Nolen received the President’s Award for Excellence for her role as enrollment services assistant in the School of Education. Nolen started working at Virginia Tech in 1997 as a Graduate School staff member, where she remained until 2004 when she was hired into her current position. She manages several forms of student paperwork, including plans of study, change forms, withdrawal forms, exams, and applications for degrees for approximately 150 master’s and doctoral students.
Linda Fountaine, executive secretary senior in the Department of History, received the Staff Career Achievement Award, which is presented annually to individuals who distinguished themselves through exemplary performance and service during their university career. Nominees must have worked a minimum of 10 years at Virginia Tech and have retired the previous year.
Fountaine joined the Department of History in 1988 as a graduate secretary and backup to the undergraduate secretary. For the next 32 years, she performed a diverse, ever-changing, and expanding range of duties. In 1992, she was promoted to head secretary, taking responsibility for coordinating details related to job searches, onboarding new faculty, supervising work study students, coordinating undergraduate awards and scholarships, and answering questions and complaints. Supervisors and co-workers note that she performed all assignments effectively, efficiently, and cheerfully. Fountaine has been described as “the glue that held things together through times of crisis and disruption.” She performed the often-invisible work that set up faculty, students, and other staff for many successes over the years.
“It’s no surprise to me that faculty and staff members in our college won all of these awards,” said Laura Belmonte, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “They exemplify our fierce commitment to student success, exceptional teaching, community engagement, and groundbreaking research. We congratulate these wonderful colleagues and thank them for their varied and critically important contributions.”
For a complete listing of the university awards, visit the 2021 Faculty/Staff Award Recipients page.