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Congratulations Chancellor’s Award Recipients

A number of Arts and Sciences faculty, staff, and students were honored last month at the Chancellor’s Awards Banquet.

Extraordinary Academic Achievement

Extraordinary Academic Achievement honors are awarded to undergraduates who exhibit extraordinary scholarship.

College of Arts and Sciences Students

  • Victoria Banks
  • Natalie Blocher
  • Erica Davis
  • Desiree Dube
  • Caroline Duer
  • Blake Erickson
  • Megan Faust
  • David Housewright
  • Adam LaClair
  • Cheyanne Leonardo
  • Rachael MacLean
  • Zachery Markland
  • Ryan McDonald
  • Allison Poget
  • Taylor Thomas
  • Louis Varriano

Extraordinary Campus Leadership and Service

The Extraordinary Campus Leadership and Service awards recognize graduating students who are extraordinary campus leaders for their significant service to others.

Thomas Carpenter

Through his college career, Thomas Carpenter has been an engaged student leader. He joined the Central Program Council as a freshman and eventually served as president, seeing the organization through significant positive changes. He has been involved in the Student Government Association and the Student Life Council, and he is the vice president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an organization he founded. This past summer, Carpenter interned in the Tennessee office of US Representative Steve Cohen. He is a classics major with a political science minor from Collierville, Tennessee.

Maria Martinez

Maria Martinez emigrated from Columbia to Greenville, Tennessee as a child. She is a modern foreign language and literatures major with a concentration in Hispanic studies and a minor in Portuguese. She served with the Center for Leadership and Service as an Emerging Leader. She has also been an Alternative Break trip leader, a senior intern, and a student assistant. Her commitment to diversity was evident when she helped create opportunities for student to work within the Hispanic community during Alternative Break. She is “the first to volunteer help and the last to seek recognition,” according to her recommenders.

Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry’s recommenders stress his integrity and ability to inspire others with his positive attitude and willingness to learn. For much of his career at UT, he has served in the Center for Leadership and Service as an Ignite team leader and Ignite Summit student director. He also helped to found the Spark Leadership Team to identify more leadership opportunities at UT. A biology major with concentrations in biochemistry and in cellular and molecular biology, he has a nearly perfect GPA. He is from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Extraordinary Community Service Award – Students and Student Organizations

The Extraordinary Community Service award honors students and student organizations that exhibit the Volunteer spirit in the community.

Xylina Marshall

Xylina Marshall comes from Newport, Arkansas. She is a Leadership and Service Ambassador who participated in UT’s Alternative Break program every year she’s been at UT, working to help a different community each time. She is also an Honors Program Ambassador and mentor, helping incoming students make the transition to UT, and a Leadership Knoxville Scholar. An Italian major with a concentration in world business, she has maintained a nearly perfect grade point average. According to her recommender, “the university is better thanks to her leadership.”

Bhumika Patel

Bhumika Patel, a therapeutic recreation major with a minor in psychology, is a native of Morristown, Tennessee. She has a strong record of service on behalf of the disabled. She has worked with disabled children as a camp counselor for three years and devoted hundreds of hours of her time volunteering for local pediatric hospitals, clinics, therapeutic recreation facilities, and nursing homes. She also helped to found UT’s first Therapeutic Recreation Student Association and currently serves as its co-president. She is fluent in five languages, including American Sign Language.

Extraordinary Professional Promise

Extraordinary Professional Promise honors are awarded to undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate professional promise in teaching, research or other contributions.

Arts and Sciences Students

  • Logan Bacon
  • Arkadipta Bakshi
  • Jason Bane
  • Natalie Christine Blocher
  • Jacob Brannum
  • Sheridan Brewer
  • Megan Carl
  • Robert Cremins
  • Siobhan Drury
  • Desiree Dube
  • Blake Erickson
  • Ghaneshwar Gautam
  • Blaine Heffron
  • Steven Higgins
  • Kristen Holbrook
  • Lavina Horner
  • Jasmine Johnson
  • Andrew Lallier
  • Christopher Loa
  • Zachery Markland
  • Joel Mazer
  • Kathryn McBride
  • Erin Nance
  • Jerika Norona
  • Haley Osborn
  • Jasmeen Pantleay
  • Jeremy Pearson
  • Samuel Rosolina
  • Grace Rotz
  • Josh Sander
  • Sahba Seddighi
  • Jessica Shultz
  • Ryan Sinclair
  • Nicholas Sirica
  • Michael Stephanides
  • Louis Varriano
  • Da Yang
  • Erika Youngquist
  • Heather Zapor

Graduate Student Teaching Award

The Graduate Student Teaching Award honors graduate student excellence in instruction

Kali Mobley

Kali Mobley is a doctoral candidate in rhetoric, writing, and linguistics. Her excellent teaching reviews have prompted her more experienced colleagues to take their own notes about tips to improve their courses. She works to create community in the classroom and presents ideas so that they are accessible to all levels. She was appointed assistant director of the Writing Center and tutor trainer for first-year graduate students, a position the department entrusts to their best tutors and teachers.

Scholar Athlete Awards

Scholar Athlete Awards honor students who excel exceptionally in both scholarship and athletics.

  • Caroline Duer

Top Collegiate Scholar Awards

The Top Collegiate Scholar Awards honor undergraduates who exhibit extraordinary scholarship.

Arts and Sciences Students

  • Aaron Gregory Baer
  • Natalie Christine Blocher
  • Erica Mechelle Davis
  • Lauren Elizabeth DeBusk
  • Desiree Renate Dube
  • Megan Lee Faust
  • Matthew Drury Frieling
  • Kelsey lyssa Fritz
  • Morgan Alexandra Higgins
  • Christina Namkyung Kihm
  • Anthony Cole Micetich
  • Madeline Shea Stark
  • Emily Browning Webb
  • Jacob Louis Wessels
  • Wesley Daniel Whisenant

Alexander Prize

The Alexander Prize is named for former UT president and now US Senator Lamar Alexander and his wife, Honey. It recognizes superior teaching and distinguished scholarship.

Geoff Greene

This year’s Alexander Prize recognizes the research and teaching of Geoff Greene, professor of experimental neutron physics and ORNL Fundamental Neutron Physics Group leader.

Greene’s scientific program at ORNL’s Fundamental Neutron Physics Beam is focused on the essential questions about the universe’s existence: what happened in the big bang, and why does matter behave in ways that defy understanding? Greene’s experiments test what scientists know about physics and aim to explain the asymmetrical structure of the universe.

He is a member of the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee, tasked with preparing the country for nuclear physics advances in the coming years. This committee advises the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

For his students, however, his most impressive feat has been taking the challenging senior-level course on quantum mechanics and, with his talent and enthusiasm, making it the most popular course in the department.

Alumni Outstanding Teacher Awards

Alumni Outstanding Teacher awards are bestowed by the UT Alumni Association to recognize teaching excellence.

Ronald Kalafsky

Ronald Kalafsky has worked to develop materials and projects in each of his courses that help students see why chosen concepts are relevant to their lives. Kalafsky is an associate professor and the director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Geology. His contributions to learning reach past the classroom. He contributes to the Haslam Scholars Program and created a First-Year Studies course, “Cities in the Cinema.” The head of the geography department wrote, “Dr. Kalafsky has shown leadership and vision that have helped modernize and improve our undergraduate program and curriculum. He led the faculty in a significant reevaluation, revision, and rebranding of geography courses and the development of five new concentrations for the geography bachelor’s degree.”

Elisabeth Schussler

Elisabeth Schussler believes meaningful learning has three components: thinking, reflection, and the ability to link concepts. Schussler is an associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the director of biology teaching and learning. She engages her students, even during large lecture classes, through her active teaching style. She is passionate about training graduate students to be the next generation of teachers. A colleague wrote, “Excellence in teaching can be indexed at a number of levels, from in-the-classroom success to developing a broad and long-term vision for a curriculum. Dr. Beth Schussler is a pioneer and leader at all levels. The University of Tennessee is lucky to have such a dedicated teacher, and teacher of teachers.”

Anthony Welch

Anthony Welch, associate professor of English, seeks ways to maintain relationships with his students outside the classroom. He has organized widely popular marathon oral readings and orchestrated a study abroad course in Stratford and London. Welch is a specialist in English Renaissance literature, particularly works written between 1500 and 1700. He brings a learned and engaging presence to the classroom. His students cherish his ability to make difficult texts and their rich historical contexts come to life in sophisticated and imaginative ways. A student wrote, “He brings a fresh, lively outlook to the material he teaches. He has a captivating voice, he does more work for the class than any other teacher I’ve ever had, and he makes slightly dry material very entertaining and extremely thought-provoking. I wish I could stay at UT another year just to take more classes with him.”

Excellence in Advising

Excellence in Advising is bestowed by the Office of the Chancellor and the Teaching Council of the Faculty Senate to honor outstanding work in advising.

Sekeenia Haynes

As administrator for the National Institutes for Health–funded Program for Excellence and Equity in Research, Sekeenia Haynes draws on inspiration from her own great teachers and mentors to help students underrepresented in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics succeed. Haynes’s ultimate goals as an advisor are to empower students and encourage them to pursue socially meaningful careers in science, education, and health. She helps to engage students by enlisting speakers from various departments and businesses to talk about their experiences. Students she advises are impressed with her level of commitment to their success.

Remus Nicoara

Remus Nicoara is an associate mathematics professor and director of the Math Honors program. Focusing on the goal of embracing diversity, he views advising as a reciprocal process, treating his advisees and mentees as colleagues no matter what level of study they have attained. One of his advisees has this to say: “I have learned from Dr. Nicoara that advice is not something that you take out of a can for the person in front of you, but is rather something that you construct for the person in front of you.” Nicoara exemplifies this personalized approach by taking the time to get to know students by learning from them how to better develop their competence, confidence, and sense of purpose.

Excellence in Teaching

Excellence in Teaching is bestowed by the Office of the Chancellor and the Teaching Council of the Faculty Senate to honor outstanding work in the classroom.

Heather Hirschfeld

Heather Hirschfeld’s student-centered teaching practice “grows out of the belief that original, creative insights about centuries-old texts are uniquely available to the students who populate [her] courses, both majors and nonmajors alike, and that [she has] much to learn from them.” Students praise Hirschfeld for her expertise in the field of Renaissance literature and for her contagious enthusiasm, which they feel plays a central role in making the sometimes difficult material accessible to them. One English major remarked that she “was inspired to try to match [Hirschfeld’s] intellect.”

Malissa Peery

Malissa Peery has spent the past few years working to redevelop the delivery of MATH 119, bringing it into alignment with her philosophy that “teaching involves motivating students to learn, making them responsible for their learning, giving them the tools they need to learn successfully, [and] delivering the course content in a way they can understand.” She now uses the flipped model, which has been very well received by students. She has shared her materials and methods with other instructors, influencing the learning of hundreds of students in MATH 119. Evaluators have been impressed by both the design of her questions and the high level of student concentration.

2016 Extraordinary Customer Service

The Extraordinary Customer Service award is given to a university employee who is consistently optimistic and serves students, faculty, staff, and campus visitors with great care.

Chrisanne Romeo

Chrisanne RomeoChrisanne Romeo has worked as an administrative specialist in the Department of Physics and Astronomy for five years, long enough to inspire many letters of appreciation from students. She’s described as warm and efficient. “She always cuts right through red tape like scissors through the ribbon of a grand opening,” writes one nominator. “I would say that if we were a family, she would be the mother,” said another grateful student. She helps to fill an enormous need within her department by helping students with emergency situations and providing accurate and timely information. She helps new students make the transition into the department and has even taken the time to give each student a gift bag for their birthday.

2016 Hardy Liston Jr. Symbol of Hope Award

The Hardy Liston Jr. Symbol of Hope Award goes to a faculty member, staff member, or friend of the university who demonstrates a commitment to diversity, multiculturalism, and appreciation of the differences in people and cultures on our campus.

Ernest Brothers

Ernest Brothers, associate dean of the Graduate School, is a tireless advocate for graduate students. He is passionate about recruiting, retaining, and graduating underrepresented students with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Brothers, who also serves as associate director of diversity enhancement for the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, established GeoMap, a tool that shares venue information and opportunities with departments seeking to recruit underrepresented students to UT.

He helped launch the Multicultural Graduate Student Organization, a group focused on building a community for students from diverse backgrounds.

As director of the Office of Graduate Training and Mentorship, Brothers has helped shape the mentoring culture at UT.

One nominator lauded his “distinctive mentoring style informed by his deep caring for graduate student success,” adding, “As I struggled to complete my dissertation … I regularly called on Dr. Brothers for his words of encouragement. I later found that many of my colleagues and friends did the same.”

2016 Jefferson Prize

The Jefferson Prize honors a tenured or tenure-track faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in research and creative activity.

Charles Sanft

Charles Sanft’s work is helping make UT a leader in the field of Chinese history. His research shows how imperial leaders used communication to win the allegiance and enlist the support of common people across a vast territory. Experts have described him as one of the most important young scholars working in the field of ancient Chinese history and note that many of his published articles have been transformative.

An associate professor of history, he has published Communication and Cooperation in Early Imperial China, a monograph with the SUNY Press Series on Chinese Philosophy and Culture. He currently is working on a second book, which addresses literacy in early China.

Sanft is a leader and mentor in the history department and has led workshops for colleagues on teaching techniques and new uses of technology. He is working to develop a study abroad experience for UT students who want to study in China.

One nominator wrote that Sanft “is not simply here to do his own work but to build something bigger that will serve his faculty colleagues, UT students, and the state of Tennessee, making our university a destination for the study of Chinese history and culture.”

2016 Jimmy and Ileen Cheek Graduate Student Medal of Excellence

The Jimmy and Ileen Cheek Graduate Student Medal of Excellence is awarded annually to an outstanding student currently pursuing a PhD who has completed at least four semesters of study.

Yacob Tekie

Yacob Tekie is pursuing a doctorate in counseling psychology and expects to graduate in December 2018. Originally from Eritrea, Tekie was accepted to UT in 2008 but could not begin his program at that time because authorities refused to allow him to leave the country.

After many unsuccessful attempts to escape from the East African nation of Eritrea, he finally arrived in Knoxville in 2012. In almost four years, Tekie has completed a master’s degree in psychology and expects to finish both a master’s in statistics and a graduate certificate in evaluation, statistics, and measurement in May 2017.

Tekie previously served as a psychology advanced practicum clinician at the UT Counseling Center and is now serving as a substance abuse counselor at the Cornerstone of Recovery treatment facility. Since 2013, he has served as a graduate teaching associate in psychology courses and has been invited to speak at graduate seminars and national conferences on topics of coping, resilience, and strategies for helping survivors of torture.

He is working with faculty in the College of Law Immigration Clinic as a social justice practicum intern to develop a combined service for refugees that meets both their legal and psychological needs. His career plans include combining academic research and teaching with applied work to perfect treatment techniques for trauma survivors and ways to deliver the treatments to underserved populations.

One nominator said that “in thirty-one years of faculty service, I have never worked with a student as courageous or determined as Yacob. He has an effervescent personality, positive outlook, and warmth that is instantly engaging and uplifting for everyone he meets.”

2016 LGBT Advocate Award

The LGBT Advocate Award recognizes a faculty member, staff member, or student who demonstrates a commitment to advancing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues on campus.

Leticia Flores

For Leticia Flores, helping LGBT individuals live healthier and happier lives has been a career-long commitment. Now, as interim director of the UT Psychology Clinic, she is working to make UT a more welcoming and nurturing place for LGBT students, faculty, and staff.

Since arriving in 2013, she has tried to train her doctoral students in clinical and counseling psychology how to provide culturally competent psychology services to their LGBT clients.

“But it is in the smaller day-to-day activities that Dr. Flores hopes to have the greatest impact,” her nominator noted. Flores routinely distributes materials to keep clinical students and supervisors abreast of LGBT issues and has helped make the clinic’s website a go-to information source for the LGBT community. She networks with others in the campus community who are deeply involved in LBGT issues and looks for opportunities to join forces to help current, past, and future students.

Flores is a board member for Positively Living, a Knoxville organization that helps men struggling to survive the challenges created by HIV/AIDS, homelessness, mental illness, addiction, and disabilities. She also serves on the advisory committee for Alcoa’s new LBGT community center.

2016 Macebearer

The Macebearer is the highest faculty honor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and is symbolic of the faculty’s commitment of service to students, to scholarship, and to society.

Soren Sorenson

Physics Professor Soren Sorenson is this year’s Macebearer.

He joined the faculty thirty-one years ago and has held a research affiliation with Oak Ridge National Laboratory for thirty-four years. An experimental nuclear physicist, he has published 240 refereed papers and has been cited more than 14,000 times.

Students describe Sorenson’s courses as “life changing” and his teaching skills as “mesmerizing” and “captivating.” Many acknowledge his gift for conveying the excitement and importance of scientific research in nontechnical terms.

As a researcher, he performed some of the first experiments at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Geneva. He was part of a team working at Brookhaven National Laboratory when a series of experiments led to the discovery of quark–gluon plasma (QGP).

He is coordinator of a consortium of twelve American universities and national laboratories involved in a large-scale experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and is leading an $11 million Department of Energy upgrade to the facility.

Sorenson served as head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy for twelve years. His leadership helped to grow enrollment and increase the department’s research and scholarship activity. He also cultivated a nurturing, diverse, and inclusive work environment and led efforts to professionalize operations.

He currently chairs UT’s Strategies and Tactics for Recruiting to Improve Diversity and Excellence (STRIDE) committee, which shares important research about bias and diversity with our campus community.

He is a fellow of the Institute of Physics, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Physical Society.

Macebearers lead the faculty during commencement ceremonies and carry UT’s ceremonial mace for a full academic year in recognition of their achievement.

Research and Creative Achievement

Research and Creative Achievement honors are bestowed to senior faculty in recognition of excellence in research, scholarship, and creative achievement.

Daniela Corbetta

Psychology professor Daniela Corbetta focuses on the development of human infants in their first year of life in order to understand how early sensorimotor experience affects future cognitive development. Her lab is the only infancy lab to combine two different technologies, eye-tracking and motion analysis, to conduct this important research. Corbetta’s innovative research approach has led to collaborations with engineers in computer science and robotics to see if it is possible to teach a robot how to reach and grasp by using her longitudinal infant data. She won a competitive Major Research Instrumentation grant from the National Science Foundation to further this research. Her research has appeared in a number of important journals and involves collaborations with colleagues from France, Portugal, and Brazil.

Thomas Papenbrock

Thomas Papenbrock, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, is a prolific researcher and dedicated teacher who is respected for his work by the department and the international physics community. His research in theoretical nuclear physics focuses on neutron-rich nuclear isotopes, which occur rarely enough that they serve to elucidate aspects of physics that are not as apparent in the more stable nuclei around us. His work has appeared in journals such as Nature, Physics, and Physical Review Letters. He won the Department of Energy’s prestigious Outstanding Young Investigator Award in 2007 and the senior Humboldt Fellowship in 2010. Last year, the American Physical Society elected him a fellow.

Research and Creative Achievement—Professional Promise

Research and Creative Achievement — Professional Promise awards honor faculty members who are early in their careers for excellence in research, scholarship, and creative achievement.

Monica Black

Monica Black, associate professor in the Department of History, has a growing reputation as one of her generation’s foremost scholars of German history. Her first book, Death in Berlin: From Weimar to Divided Germany (2010), won two major book prizes, the Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History and the 2011 Rosenberg Prize. She has also won numerous awards for her research, including two of the most competitive research fellowships in the humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies fellowship and the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin. Black is no less outstanding as an undergraduate teacher. Acting as associate head of the undergraduate program, she is focused on providing undergraduates with more hands-on learning and research opportunities.

Shawn Campagna

Shawn Campagna, associate professor of chemistry, pioneered the use of mass spectrometry for the analysis of metabolytes—an area that has application across several disciplines, including biology and agricultural science. With resource support from several UT departments, he built the Biological and Small Molecule Mass Spectrometry Core Facility, a model facility that consists of six mass spectrometers. He was recently awarded funds to purchase a seventh instrument. In just five years, Campagna has attracted more than $5.5 million in funding. His drive and creativity have had a huge impact on multiple departments across the university.


Torchbearer is the highest honor the university gives to its students. Recognition as a Torchbearer reminds us all that those who bear the Torch of Enlightenment shadow themselves to give light to others.

Jalen Blue

Leadership is not a position and a title; it is an action and example. Jalen Blue’s actions on campus prove that he is a true leader.

A public administration major from Brentwood, Tennessee, Blue has held positions on the Student Life Council and the United Residence Hall Council. He served as a counselor for Math Camp. He served as the student representative in a number of organizations including the UT System Diversity Advisory Council, the Provost’s Student Advisory Council, the Center for Leadership and Service Advisory Council, and the Sexual Assault and Misconduct Taskforce.

Blue also holds a seat as a student trustee on the UT System Board of Trustees.

Off campus, Blue interned with the City of Knoxville’s Community Development Department, where he worked with the mayor on issues regarding ADA compliance in new city construction projects in preparation for his future career in public service.

Blue “has proven to be a true student activist and advocate who understands and embodies the values of professionalism, character, respect, strategy, and justice,” one of his nominators wrote.

Madison Kahl

Madison Kahl has spent her entire college career being a leader—in elected offices, serving on committees, and volunteering in the community.

A biological sciences major from Knoxville, Kahl began her Student Government Association service on the Freshman Council. The next year, she was a Freshman Council advisor. Kahl went on in her junior year to be executive treasurer, developing new procedures for each branch of SGA. She has spent this year as student body vice president.

Kahl’s participation in organizations on campus did not stop with the SGA. She served on a number of task forces and committees, including the Top 25 Initiative Student Advisory Task Force, the Civility @UTK Task Force, the Advisory Committee on Student Organizations, the Dining Services Advisory Committee, and the Undergraduate Council. She was a member of Mortar Board and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.

Kahl’s co-workers say she handles true service with pleasure and employs her unstoppable sense of humor to serve others.

Bradford Reszel

Bradford Reszel, of Libertyville, Illinois, graduated in December with a degree in sociology. He left a legacy of helping others on this campus.

As a sophomore, Reszel was encouraged to write a personal mission statement. He wrote, “I want to make people happy.” It was this desire to make others feel welcome and connected on campus that led him to co-create Spark, a two-day retreat for first-year students who are interested in getting involved on campus, developing as leaders, and networking with other student leaders.

Also during Reszel’s time on campus, he participated in the Top 25 Student Advisory Board, Leadership Knoxville Scholars, LeaderShape, Impact, Emerging Leaders, the SGA Election Commission, Concert Choir, intramural sports, and Ignite, where he served two summers as a team leader and then co-director.

In the words of one of his nominators, “Bradford’s actions throughout his time as a UT student have left a lasting impact for thousands of past, present, and future Volunteers.”

Sahba Seddighi

Sahba Seddighi, from Knoxville, already has an impressive record of research for someone yet to graduate from college. She is a College Scholars major with a concentration in neuronal plasticity and neurodegenerative disorders.

Seddighi has received numerous awards at conferences across the country and conducted neuroscience research at the National Institutes of Health and Stanford University.

She is a co-founder of the National Association for Undergraduate Research Advancement, a network founded by undergraduates from leading research institutions that aims to advance undergraduate research programs across North America. She is also the student coordinator for the International Conference of Undergraduate Research.

Seddighi served as co-chair of the Undergraduate Research Student Association, primary organizer of UT’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, and editor in chief of Pursuit: The Journal of Undergraduate Research.

Seddighi is the founder of Jamming Down Memory Lane and UT’s Brain Awareness Week campaign. She also serves as a member of the chancellor’s Top 25 initiative and the Commission for Women in STEM.