Faculty, staff receive 2022 awards for excellence
May 9, 2022
The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences honored a number of its faculty and staff members with awards for excellence during a virtual ceremony and an intimate in-person reception at the Peggy Lee Hahn Garden Pavilion, where the winners received the awards. The events were held on April 20.
Two faculty members received the Excellence in Advising Award — Victoria Lael, director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Human Development and Family Science, and Jordan MacKenzie, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy.
Lael’s nomination noted that she “provides accurate, impactful advising to students,” leading the entire department toward “a greater focus on holistic, student-centered advising.”
A statement from a student confirms the effectiveness of this approach to advising. “Ms. Lael is a passionate, empathetic, and organized adviser and teacher. She is very professional and thoughtful, and she encouraged me to take the time to figure out what I wanted to do.”
MacKenzie, also recognized by the Graduate School as the Outstanding Graduate Mentor in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, chaired 17 master’s thesis committees, and participated on committees for another 17 students. A student states, “she is someone who really just wants to see her students succeed, even after they graduate.”
Elisabeth Austin, associate professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, and Rebecca Hester, assistant professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society, were awarded the Diversity Award.
Austin’s nomination focused on her development and improvement of the course Spanish 3564, Community through Service. In the words of the nominator, Austin “has transformed Virginia Tech’s engagement with Latinx and Hispanic culture and identifying communities both on and off campus. Demonstrated by her scholarship, teaching, and community outreach, she is truly exceptional in her efforts to promote diversity in and out of the classroom.”
Hester’s nomination described her work as “programmatic and expansive; she is a true agent of change in curricula and pedagogy centered on important issues, and on outreach to newcomer communities. Hester’s support of diversity reflects a deep commitment and is thoroughly integrated across teaching, service, and research. She thus serves as an excellent model of what diversity work can be at the university.”
The Land Grant Scholar Award was awarded to Donna Sedgwick, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology. Sedgwick created the First Steps Network, which brings regional representatives into dialogue with scholars and students and results in practical steps to improve community services.
Her nomination stated that her “commitment to active, long-term engagement with community partners has directly benefited families and been a model for collaborative efforts addressing other regional challenges.”
The recipients of the Outreach and International Initiatives Award were Ragheda Nassereddine, founder and director of the VT-Oman study abroad program for the Arabic language and advanced instructor in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, and Katalin Parti, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology.
A colleague states that the “VT-Oman [program] has immensely helped our students enhance their linguistic and cultural competency. Nassereddine epitomizes VT’s commitment to service and genuinely enjoys contributing to campus life in a way that further enhances VT's international profile.”
According to her nominator, “Dr. Parti has assembled an original, extensive, and influential research record across multiple disciplines on cyberbullying, sexual violence and sexting, cyber criminology, and digital sociology. Her well- established scholarly record has placed her in a respectable international position with a visibly distinct presence in European and American academia.”
Four faculty members received the Excellence in Research and Creative Scholarship Award: Scotty Hardwig, assistant professor in the School of Performing Arts; Kwame Harrison, professor of Sociology and Edward S. Diggs Professor in Humanities in the Department of Sociology; Tonisha Lane, assistant professor in the School of Education; and Sonja Schmid, associate professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society.
As stated in the nomination letter, Hardwig “is a truly interdisciplinary thinker, an innovative and dedicated educator, and is widely recognized as a groundbreaking dance artist, choreographer, performer, and experimental media maker. His work with motion capture, projection design, experimental sound design, and hybrid forms of choreography are truly innovative, and push the boundaries of his field.”
In the last decade, Harrison has authored two books, including "Hip Hop Underground," and edited another book, "Race in the Marketplace." Also, he has written numerous articles and chapters, with 15 publications appearing in just the last three years. The nomination letter from the department confirms the breadth of Harrison’s scholarly activities across “anthropology, sociology, Black (Africana) studies, popular music studies, and critical race marketing.”
Lane’s nomination letter stated that “Dr. Lane’s work is powerful. She approaches her research with intellectual acumen and sensitivity.” She “is a successful, committed, and productive scholar who has and will continue to add to the academic field and broader community in incisive ways that not only raise questions but also offer solutions.”
The nominating letter from her departmental colleagues praises both the scope and quality of her scholarship. “Professor Schmid possesses an unmatched reputation as a critical, innovative, and thoughtful interlocutor on issues of nuclear policy and planning, and her research plays a vital role in international dialogues involving nuclear energy and policy and takes part in policy-making and emergency and risk planning.”
The Staff Employee of the Year Award went to Blake Smith (The Amazing Blake Smith!), who is IT specialist in the departments of Religion and Culture, Science, Technology, and Society, and Sociology.
Smith’s nomination was enthusiastically endorsed by all three chairs. Professor Jennifer Johnson wrote that Smith is “always willing to help” and a “tremendous asset.” Professor Saul Halfon praised him as “much beloved” and “consistently professional and personable.”
Professor Matthew Gabriele wrote that “Blake Smith builds relationships both internally and externally, he does his work well and is highly innovative in finding ways to improve, and consistently goes above and beyond his stated job responsibilities. I can think of no other staff member more deserving.”
Honorable mentions for the Staff Employee of the Year Award went to Samantha Brodie, coordinator of student services in the Department of Sociology, and LaRhonda Kellison, IT technician in the School of Performing Arts.
Lastly, six faculty members received the Certificate of Teaching Excellence Award: Gena Chandler, associate professor in the Department of English; Carolyn Commer, assistant professor in the Department of English; Kirsten Rutsala, collegiate assistant professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures; Hannah Wildman Short, advanced instructor in the Department of Philosophy; Heidi Williams, collegiate assistant professor in the Department of Sociology; and Tingting Zhao, assistant professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures.
Hannah Shinault, advanced instructor in the School of Communication, served as chair of the Honors and Awards Committee.
Committee members included Gregory Galford, assistant professor in the Department of Apparel, Housing, and Resource Management; Carmen Giménez Smith, professor in the Department of English; Fei Gu, assistant professor in the School of Education; Sylvester Johnson, professor in the Department of Religion and Culture and Director of the Center for Humanities; Gregory Justice, associate professor in the School of Performing Arts; Colonel Gregory Lowe, professor of Aerospace Studies and commander of Virginia Tech’s Air Force ROTC; Philip Olsen, associate professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society; and Paula Marie Seniors, associate professor in the Department of Sociology.