Faculty, staff receive 2023 awards for excellence
April 28, 2023
On March 29, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences honored a number of its faculty and staff members with awards for excellence at a College virtual ceremony. On April 17, an in-person reception at the Peggy Lee Hahn Garden Pavilion was held, where the winners received their awards. Dean Laura Belmonte welcomed the winners and award recipients Ashley Shew, Cora Olson, and Edward Polanco spoke about their work.
Three faculty members received the Excellence in Advising Award: Carolyn Ballard, academic and career advisor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science; Annie Hesp, assistant professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern and Classical languages and Literatures; and Ashley Shew, associate professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society.
Carolyn Ballard teaches HD 1984, First Year Experience, while also advising majors and minors within the department. The testimonies for current and former students are quite impressive. One student wrote: “Her academic advising is far more than simple advice. [She] provided me with reassurance in the future I have chosen, comfort in the knowledge of new semesters, and encouragement in making my college experience truly my own.” Another student wrote that she is “kind, approachable, loving, appreciative, invested, strong, and the list goes on.”
Professor Annie Hesp advises students in the Spanish language program in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures. Her activities include advising the chapter of the National Collegiate Hispanic Honor Society, serving as senior fellow for the Honors College, and directing the VT Camino study-abroad program. In the words of a former student, “[Dr. Hesp] has always encouraged me to dream big and to follow those dreams. To look at all of the paths, to challenge myself and not just take the comfortable path or the one that makes the most immediate sense. That is what [Dr. Hesp] does: She helps students first discover their dreams, and then she helps to make those dreams a reality.”
Dr. Ashley Shew mentors doctoral students in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society as well as advising students in the Disability Studies program. Over the past two years, Dr. Shew has guided nine Ph.D. students to complete their degrees as chair or member of dissertation committees. Current and former advisees testify to the remarkable impact of Professor Shew on their scholarly trajectory, professional development, and personal success. One former advisee, now in a tenure track faculty position, stated that “Professor Shew’s careful attention to the interests and needs of her advisees is evident in how she crafts community and networking opportunities… to help us prepare for crucial moments in our careers.” Dr. Shew is also recognized by the Graduate School as the Outstanding Graduate Mentor in the College of LIberal Arts and Human Sciences.
The Staff Employee of the Year Award went to Paul Overfelt, computer specialist in the School of Education.
Paul Overfelt has been a computer support specialist in the School of Education for six years. Paul was described as extremely pleasant and working with humor, humility, and generosity. One faculty member offered this praise: “One of the things I most appreciate about Paul is his patience and kind demeanor. He explains things in a manner that does not use a lot of technical jargon but [is] more practitioner-based to ensure a deep level of understanding and equipping us with the tools needed for the future.” Another faculty member echoed this praise: “Paul's positive attitude, wealth of knowledge, and easy-going personality puts faculty and staff at ease when facing technology issues.”
The Land Grant Scholar Award went to Matthew Fullen, assistant professor in the School of Education.
The Land Grant Scholar Award was awarded to Matthew Fullen, assistant professor in the School of Education. This award was made possible by the Dean Jerry A. and Ruth Anne Niles Fund for Faculty Excellence. Its purpose is to honor the vision and tireless work of Dean Niles to the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and to the field of education, and to recognize Ruth Anne Niles, his wife, for her support of his work and the college. Dr. Fullen’s work on mental health and well-being of older adults has provided timely and necessary interventions into public debates about health care spending and policies. His work has shaped public policy with the implementation of Medicare changes that will allow recipients greater access to mental health care. Dr. Fullen’s statement, that “it has been a privilege to be at the center of this community-engaged scholarship,” confirms that he is a deserving recipient of the Land Grant Scholar Award.
The recipients of the Outreach and International Initiatives Award were Sweta Baniya, an assistant professor in the Department of English; and James Hawdon, director of the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention, and a professor in the Department of Sociology.
Dr. Sweta Baniya has been recognized for her commitment to teaching students in the English Department about the real world implications of using technical communication for social justice. The recipient of a digital justice seed grant from the American Council of Learned Societies, Dr. Baniya has collaborated with colleagues in the Center for Refugee, Migration, and Displacement Studies to promote understanding of the international implications of inequities in technology. The Center Director, Dr. Katrina Powell, wrote that “Dr. Baniya’s engagement work is making an impact across disciplines and continents, highlighting the ways that social justice in technical communication has significant impact across the globe. Her outreach and service efforts, together with her scholarship, position her well as an important voice in technical communication as we continue the social justice turn and focus on academic research intersections with community engagement.”
Dr. James Hawdon’s outreach and international work centers on his scholarship on violence, injustice, and hate, particularly in online communities. According to a faculty member at University of Turku, in Finland, Dr. Hawdon’s research has shaped the next generation of scholars exploring the roots and impacts of hate. In recognition of Dr. Hawdon’s impact, the University of Turku recently awarded him an honorary doctoral degree, thus confirming the quality and breadth of his accomplishments in outreach and international initiatives.
Three faculty members received the Excellence in Research and Creative Scholarship Award: Amy Azano, associate professor in the School of Education and founding director of the Center for Rural Education at Virginia Tech; Maaz Gardezi, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology; and Caroline Hornburg, and director of the Learning and Development Lab and assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science.
Dr. Amy Azano’s research on rural education has resulted in nearly 60 articles and book chapters, six books, numerous examples of public scholarship, more than $2 million in external funding, and many awards from professional and scholarly organizations. As Director of the new Center for Rural Education at Virginia Tech, Dr. Azano is quickly establishing a national reputation as a leader in this important research field.
Dr. Maaz Gardezi has established a remarkable record with grant funding, outreach, and scholarly productivity in his field of climate change, sustainability models, and emerging digital technologies in food and agricultural systems. Through the Technology-Environment-Society Lab and other activities, Dr. Gardezi is currently involved in a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier program, which is supporting research on responsible innovation for new and emerging technologies.
Dr. Caroline Hornburg is an expert on the question of how children understand key mathematical concepts, which is a topic of vital interest to child psychologists, teachers, and parents. In her research statement, Dr. Hornburg declared that she approaches the study of children’s cognitive development “with a passion for supporting mathematics learning and commitment to closing the opportunity gap.”
The Diversity Award was received by Edward Polanco, assistant professor in the Department of History; and Suchitra Samanta, associate professor in the Department of Sociology.
Dr. Edward Polanco has contributed to Indigenous, American Indian, and Latinx studies and programs at Virginia Tech. These contributions include new courses, such as Conquest and Colonialism in Latin American Cultures, Witchcraft and its Repressions, and Colonialism and Decolonization in Turtle Island and Abya Yala. Dr. Polanco is an active member of both the American Indian and Indigenous Alliance and the Hispanic and Latinx Caucus, and he helped lead Virginia Tech to recognize Indigenous People’s Day for the first time in fall 2019 and annual observations of Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations at El Centro. The university community is better because of Dr. Polanco’s commitment to diversity in all facets of instruction, community, and scholarship.
Dr. Suchitra Samanta’s active international work is in the fields of feminist activism, transnational gender equity, and climate change. Her contributions to diversity include creating courses on the Asian American Experience and Women in South Asia, extensive work with international students at Virginia Tech, and scholarly achievements in fields such as cultural anthropology and feminist studies. One of the support letters from a colleague in the Women’s and Gender Studies program declared: “A “diverse” classroom, for her, includes, beyond ethnic or sexual Identity, also exposure to and engagement with the widest possible range of lived experiences, and the transnational flows which structure those. Dr. Samanta achieves such objectives by carefully selecting course texts, inviting guest speakers, and in her pedagogy, requiring students to reflect on and grow from the challenges she has posed.”
Six faculty members received the Certificate of Teaching Excellence Award: Amaryah Armstrong, an assistant professor in the Department of Religion and Culture; Thomas Dearden, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology; Igrid Johnson, an advanced instructor in the Department of English; Cora Olson, a collegiate assistant professor in the Department of Science, Technology and Society; William Taggart, an instructor of Arabic in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures; and Megan Weaver, a collegiate assistant professor in the Department of English.
Hannah Shinault, Advanced Instructor in the School of Communication, served as chair of the Honors and Awards Committee.
Committee members included:
Breanna Ellington, Assistant Professor in the School of Education; Justin Horn, Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy ; Sylvester Johnson, Professor in the Department of Religion and Culture and Director of the Center for Humanities; Theodore Lim, Assistant Professor for Urban Affairs and Planning; Bruce McComiskey, Professor of Rhetoric and Writing in the English department; and Paulo Polanah, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology.