High-achieving faculty, staff honored at annual awards ceremony

Jen Schiff, associate professor in WCU’s Department of Political Science and Public Affairs, is recipient of the highest teaching honor presented by the university, the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award.


The achievements of Western Carolina University’s faculty and staff were celebrated Friday (April 21) during a ceremony recognizing outstanding teaching, scholarship and service.

The annual Faculty and Staff Excellence Awards program for the 2016-17 academic year was presided over by WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher and Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar. Speakers included Brian Railsback, incoming chair of the Faculty Senate, and Chris Parrish, chair of the Staff Senate.

Teaching award recipients recognized during the event included Jen Schiff, associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs, who received WCU’s Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award, and Julie Johnson-Busbin, professor in the School of Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Sport Management, and Hospitality and Tourism, who is WCU’s winner of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching. Johnson-Busbin will receive her award during WCU’s undergraduate commencement that begins at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 6.

WCU staff members honored for the top quality of their work are Mark Haskett, university photographer in the Office of Communications and Public Relations, Star Staff Award; David Rathbone, facilities maintenance technician in the Department of Facilities Management, Bright Idea Staff Award; Donna Reynolds, executive assistant in the Division of Student Affairs, Judy H. Dowell Outstanding Support Staff Award; and Carol Burton, associate provost for undergraduate studies in the Division of Academic Affairs, Paul A. Reid Distinguished Service Award for Administrative Staff.

Teaching, scholarship and service honors presented to faculty members included Bruce Frazier, Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music in the School of Music, Paul A. Reid Distinguished Service Award for Faculty; Vittal Anantatmula, professor in the School of Economics, Management and Project Management, University Scholar Award; Aubrey Ray, instructor in the School of Teaching and Learning, Excellence in Teaching Liberal Studies Award; Channa De Silva, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics, Innovative Scholarship Award; and Kelly Kelley, associate professor in the School of Teaching and Learning, and co-director of the University Participant Program, Excellence in Community Engagement Award.

Other honors went to Joe Lakatos, Elingburg Distinguished Professor of Business Innovation, Student-Nominated Faculty of the Year Award (formerly known as the “Last Lecture Award”); and the Office of Counseling and Psychological Services, winner of the Support Program of Excellence Award.

Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Belcher presented the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award to Jen Schiff and related to the audience that Schiff uses a NATO simulation experience to allow students to role play as negotiators for nations whose politics and perceptions they might not share. “Her students then research the nation, determining the challenges and how best to represent that nation at a bargaining table,” Belcher said.

“As a result, students grow to understand how difficult arriving at mutually beneficial solutions can be and why doing so requires much more nuanced views of the world than the ones with which they may have begun,” he said. “Dr. Schiff’s attention to her students learning to be global citizens, as well as successful students, has earned her this year’s Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award.”

Star Staff Award

Throughout his nearly 30-year career at WCU, Mark Haskett, recipient of the Star Staff Award, has demonstrated a passion for WCU and its students and staff that is “virtually unparalleled,” Belcher said in presenting the honor.

“Mark does not see his role as university photographer as one that limits his ability to get involved and to serve in multiple capacities,” Belcher said. “Indeed, he parlays the knowledge he acquires and the exposure he receives in that role to facilitate and enhance other aspects of the university. He is an often-sought-after source for all things WCU, and he is an exemplar among the staff at WCU.”

Bright Idea Staff Award

As he presented the Bright Idea Staff Award to David Rathbone, Belcher explained to the audience that Rathbone’s idea saved money for the university while also improving safety for the paint crew.

“In the past, the department discarded old or bad paint in heavy 55-gallon barrels,” Belcher said. “The barrel disposal fee was approximately $6 a gallon, costing the department $2,000-plus a year. Utilizing David’s idea, the department now pours old paint in drying bins with sawdust, allowing the paint to dry out. The process enables them to discard the old paint in the trash free of cost. Not only has David’s idea been cost-saving to the department, but it also prevents employee injuries from the removal of cumbersome 55-gallon barrels.”

Judy H. Dowell Outstanding Support Staff Award

Donna Reynold, recipient of the Judy H. Dowell Outstanding Support Staff Award, “is a proud WCU alum and serves the Division of Student Affairs and WCU in a manner that demonstrates her remarkable dependability, cooperative spirit, loyalty to the university and overall effectiveness with a consistent level of excellence,” Belcher said in presenting the honor.

“Donna is one of the go-to people for troubleshooting the issues that pop up in Student Affairs,” he said. “She has supported the Division of Student Affairs and has helped countless students when they called or walked into the Student Affairs office. Donna does all of this with an amazing attitude, a quick laugh and a consistent level of professionalism.”

Paul A. Reid Distinguished Service Award for Administrative Staff

Belcher presented the Paul A. Reid Distinguished Service Award for Administrative Staff to Carol Burton and read comments from several of the award nominations. “‘I have had the pleasure of knowing hundreds of top administrators. From that list of mentors and supporters, Dr. Carol Burton is by far the most supportive and most appreciative. She has changed my life for the better and has modeled the way as a leader on our campus,’” Belcher read.

Another nominator wrote that “‘Carol’s service contributions to WCU over the last 25 years have been monumental, and she shows no signs of slowing down. She values the advancement of our people, our institution and higher education as a whole. In short, she is an example to be modeled,’” Belcher said.

Paul A. Reid Distinguished Service Award for Faculty

Belcher said that Bruce Frazier, recipient of the Paul A. Reid Distinguished Service Award for Faculty, brought his experience as an award-winning Hollywood score composer and music technology expert to campus when he joined the faculty in 1998, and that Frazier has expanded his teaching role far beyond the expectations of his professorship.

“When WCU needed music for important promotional productions, he was there,” Belcher said. “When the Eastern Band of the Cherokee wanted the first studio recording of the tribe’s new anthem, he was there. When WCU’s series of national award-winning radio shows needed a composer, arranger and conductor for hours of original music, Bruce was there. Above all, when his students need personal guidance, extra hours in the lab or endless rehearsal to get things right, Bruce has always been there with his patience, intelligence, enthusiasm and boundless creativity.”

University Scholar Award

Vittal Anantatmula serves as director of WCU’s Master of Project Management Program, and his scholarship in that field is “prolific and impactful,” with Anantatmula producing seven books, 36 journal articles and eight book chapters since joining the faculty in 2005, Belcher said in presenting the University Scholar Award.

Anantatmula serves as global guest professor at Keio University in Japan, and his scholarship is highly prized at international meetings, Belcher said. “Vittal’s references note that in addition to his ‘incredible number of publications in many facets of project management, Vittal is a dedicated worker, caring colleague and perfect gentleman,’” Belcher said.

Excellence in Teaching Liberal Studies Award

Morrison-Shetlar presented the Excellence in Teaching Liberal Studies Award to Aubrey Ray. “Ms. Ray’s innovative approach to teaching health and wellness to students hinges on her ability to connect her discipline in a real and meaningful way to students,” Morrison-Shetlar said.

“Aubrey fosters students’ knowledge of self-care and practical application of the principles of health and wellness through her dynamic in and out of class assignments. She has quickly become an exemplar among our faculty, and I am pleased to present her with this award,” she said.

Innovative Scholarship Award

Morrison-Shetlar said Channa De Silva, recipient of the Innovative Scholarship Award, conducts important research involving the use of nanobiotechnology to detect cancer cells and evaluate bacterial resistant properties for clinical applications.

“His graduate and undergraduate students assist him in performing this research,” Morrison-Shetlar said. “This collaboration, in turn, allows his students the opportunity to gain research and laboratory skills and leads them to becoming co-authors in peer-reviewed journals. His research has the potential to change all of our lives now and in the future.”

Excellence in Community Engagement Award

 In her work with WCU’s University Participant Program, a living-and-learning experience for college-age adults with intellectual disabilities, Kelly Kelley, winner of the Excellence in Community Engagement Award, “has engaged hundreds of volunteers in heart- and hands-on learning that has a greater purpose, meaning and goal,” Morrison-Shetlar said.

“Dr. Kelley’s community engagement primarily focuses on exploration of adult services and advocate strategies with families and educators for the transition of youth with disabilities in order to have more inclusive opportunities in their lives,” Morrison-Shetlar said. “The key is not the community on whom she does research, but with whom she does research.”

Student-Nominated Faculty of the Year Award

Morrison-Shetlar related to the audience that the Student-Nominated Faculty of the Year Award is given annually to a faculty member who exhibits passion and excellence in teaching and that WCU’s Student Government Association will host a ceremony in the fall, the Last Lecture, to allow the award recipient to present the lecture the faculty member imagines delivering if it was his or her last one. The award is the only student-nominated faculty award on campus, she said.

This year’s recipient, Joe Lakatos, was chosen to receive the award “because the student body felt that his teaching style and motivation warranted recognition,” Morrison-Shetlar said. “Many students said that he motivated them throughout their courses, and his encouragement and passion helped them learn material. One student even said that he was able to define a major because of what he learned in class.”

Program of Excellence Award

Kim Gorman, director for WCU’s Office of Counseling and Psychological Services, accepted the Program of Excellence Award from Belcher on behalf of the office’s staff. Counseling and Psychological Services provides services that empower students to engage in and be successful in a full range of academic, social and cultural endeavors through fostering psychological wellness.

Belcher said the award comes with $10,000 for the office to use during the next academic year. “Thank you for what you do, and congratulations,” he said.


Scholarly Development Assignment Program

Recipients and their projects:

Laura DeWald, professor in the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources, will work collaboratively with U.S. Forest Service geneticists on a large-scale southern tree species conservation plan, improve knowledge of tree genetic diversity and disease resistance associated with climate change, and analyze how much genetic material is necessary to conserve a tree species.

Cyndy Hughes, associate professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, will begin research and write a book, “Minorities, Crime and Social Policy,” interacting with criminologists in the field of race and crime in the U.S. and South Africa and engaging in field collection of narratives presented by both indigenous people and the ruling class in the U.S. and abroad.

Jon Jicha, professor in the School of Art and Design, will serve as an artist-in-residence in Delhi, India, and produce work that explores the complex nature of subjective spaces to expand transcultural knowledge as an educator and also enhance opportunities for student study-abroad partnerships.

Mark Lord, professor in the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources, will further the development and assessment of course-based undergraduate research experiences and the use of undergraduate research fellows and conduct research to advance the understanding of groundwater and surface water interactions in headwater regions in alpine meadows in Nevada and the Southern Appalachians.

Jamie Vaske, associate professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, will strengthen partnerships with criminal justice agencies and engage in translational research and serve as a trainer and data analyst for the Colorado Department of Corrections for the Women’s Risk and Needs Assessment, and as a strategic planning analyst for the Department of Corrections in the Northeast.

John Whitmire, associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion, will study the J.R.R. Tolkien archives in the Oxford University and Marquette University libraries to produce a monograph on the ethical and religious elements in Tolkien’s work.

College of Arts and Sciences

Board of Governors College of Arts and Sciences Teaching Award – Joe Bill Matthews

College of Business

Board of Governors Creative and Innovative Teaching Award – Bruce Tyler

College of Education and Allied Professions

Board of Governors Award for Superior Teaching – Kelly Tracy and Andrew Bobilya

College of Engineering and Technology

Board of Governors Distinguished Teaching Award – Peter Tay

College of Health and Human Sciences

Board of Governors Innovative Teaching Award – Denise Wilfong

Hunter Library

Hunter Scholar Award – Katherine Mathews


Ten Years of Service

Jean Andrei, Vittal Anantatmula, Martin Anthony, Scott Barlowe, Matthew Bibens, Gina Biddix, Laura Bishop, Lauren Bishop, Geoff Cantrell, Michael Carpenter, Lisa Carter, Robert Carter, Diana Catley, Bobby Conner, Greg Crisp, Susan Fouts, Kevin Gabruk, Lisa Gaetano, Shelia Galloway, Bradley Glenn, Elizabeth Heffelfinger, Glenda Hensley, Kari Hensley, Paula Henson, Steven Honbarger, Carmen Huffman, Scott Huffman, Daniel Huss, Melissa Johnson, Thomas Johnson, Tony Johnson, Cheryl Johnston, Kelly Kelley, Brent Kinser, William Kreahling, Jeffrey Lawson, Karen Mason, Julie Mathis, Amy McKenzie, Curtis Monteith, Kellie Monteith, Sandy Neuenschwander, Kevin Oliver, Annette Parris, William Richmond, Phyllis Robertson, Joseph Savage, Amelia Schlott, Charles Spencer, Erin Tapley, Jennifer Thomas, Neil Torda, Blair Tormey, Lori Unruh, Melissa Wargo, Daniel Wendel, Barbara White, John Whitmire, Stephen Wilson, Stephen Wohlrab, Laura Wright and Paul Yanik.

Fifteen Years of Service

Brian Chamberlin, Christopher Dahlquist, Janina DeHart, Mark DeHart, Jeanne Dulworth, Randy Fox, Margaret Hensley, Patrick Hinkle, Akumba Jamir, Jill Lindsay, Elizabeth McRae, Shane Melton, Jerry Miller, Chesney Reich, Tracie Rice, Amy Rose, Michael Shuler, Karen Speights, Barbara Starnes, Richard Starnes, Mark Stoffan, Pirjo Swentzel and Tracy Zontek.

Twenty Years of Service

Mary Adams, David Burress, Michael Byers, Janet Cabe, Aaron Carter, Wiley Danner, Keith Dills, Donna Jones, Matthew Liddle, Mark Murphy and Valerie Schwiebert.

Twenty-Five Years of Service

Grace Allen, David Butcher, Mickey Cabe, Gael Graham, Brian Railsback, Ginger Seay, Benjamin Spell, Margaret Watson and Karen Woody.

Thirty-Plus Years of Service

Roseanna Belt, Jeffrey Davis, Andy Degrove, Jeff Hagberg, Tammy Haskett, Anthony Hickey, Ann Johnson, Kay Turpin, John West and Michael Wheatley.

Retiring Faculty and Staff

Lynn Ammons, Marsha Baker, Aaron Ball, Sandra Ballinger, Louis Barozzini, Donna Beck, Shirley Beck, Roseanna Belt, Jeff Bewsey, Nancy Brown, Mid Buchanan, Dale Buchanan, Jerry Cagle, John Clark, Bill Clarke, Debbie Coggins, Peg Connolly, Eva Cook, Renee Corbin, Wanda Crawford, Barbara Culp, Paul Davis, Andy Degrove, Cassandra Dickson, Charles Dickson, Anna Fariello, Steven Forst, George Frizzell, Jeff Hagberg, Suzon Hawley, Lynn Heinrichs, Kathleen Jorissen, Peter Johnson, Tony Johnson, Glen Kastrinos, Mary Ann Lochner, Paul Lormand, Carla Luker, Karen Lunnen, Cindy Magill, Galen May, Sylvia Pulte, Jeffrey Ray, Judy Robinson, Marvin Schade, Robert Strauss, Donald Taylor, Mary Watkins, Terry Welch, Reatha Wilkey and Danny Williamson.