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Faculty Recognized for Outstanding Achievements

Each year, Dean Theresa Lee and members of her cabinet, with help from department heads, recognize faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences for their excellence in teaching, research and creative activity, and lifetime achievements.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, however, we were unable to host the annual awards banquet in-person. Each faculty member received a plaque and congratulations from the dean. We posted a video to the college YouTube channel here, which features each faculty award winner.

College Marshal Award

Cal MacLeanCal MacLean, professor and head of the Department of Theatre, received the College Marshal award, which is the college equivalent of the Macebearer and the highest college honor award to a faculty member. MacLean joined the department as head and artistic director of the Clarence Brown Theatre Company in 2006. Since his arrival at UT, MacLean has demonstrated outstanding service to the college and university.

In addition to directing more than a dozen plays, he has been innovative by bringing professional playwrites to campus to develop plays with the MFA students. MacLean has led the department to have the eighth ranked MFA acting program in the country, as well as production programs that produce highly sought after and well-placed graduates.

Year after year, he has worked with the theatre department faculty and CBT professionals to develop seasons that draw the public to a balance of old favorites, such as The Christmas Carol, and innovative, new programming that include drama, musicals, and comedies. Nearly without fail, the shows receive glowing remarks. Undergraduate students have opportunities to participate in the mixture of annual productions in acting and production roles alongside MFA students. Some productions have even been large enough to include community members and visiting artists.

“I am humbled and overwhelmed by this honor,” MacLean said. “My 15 years as head of a remarkable department and theater company are rich in memories and meaning. I am proud to be a part of this community and of this great university.”

Through the years, MacLean has directed productions that have earned numerous awards, including five for Joseph Jefferson Awards for Outstanding Production of a Play and Outstanding Direction. Most notably, Joshua Sobol’s Ghetto, a production that ran for seven months, was nominated for six Joseph Jefferson Awards and honored with four including Outstanding Production of a Play and the first-ever Michael Maggio Award for Outstanding Direction of a Play. Other professional credits include productions in top theatres across America. In addition to leading the Clarence Brown Theatre Company and the theatre department to new heights and community visibility, MacLean has been an involved citizen within the college, serving on many committees.

Lorayne W. Lester Award

Derek Alderman, professor and interim head of the Department of Geography, received the Lorayne W. Lester Award, which recognizes a faculty member or exempt staff member who has demonstrated outstanding service through research, outreach, and/or administrative, teaching, or advising services to the college, the state, our local community, or beyond.

Alderman joined the geography department in 2012 as head and worked hard to advertise and modernize the curriculum for undergraduates, which allowed the department to increase in size dramatically. During his five years as head, he also worked successfully to diversify the faculty and student population. During these years, he was also elected president of the American Association of Geographers, after successfully serving as a chair of the association’s publications committee, the regional southeast councilor, and president of the southeast region.

Alderman’s research brings him many opportunities to inform the public about issues related to American Civil Rights movement and southern culture more broadly. Much of his work focuses on the histories, memory-work, commemorative activism, and place-making efforts of African Americans as they assert and claim civil rights, their right to belong with public spaces, and the power to remember the past and shape the American landscape on their own terms. In particular, his interests focus on critical place name studies and using cultural struggles over the naming and renaming of streets, schools, parks, and other public spaces as important lens for understanding the unresolved place of race, memory, and identity in America.

“I am grateful and humbled to receive the Lorayne Lester award from our college, which is filled with many inspiring servant-leaders,” Alderman said. “Since coming to UT in 2012, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to work with others to grow and maintain departmental health, advocate for national professional organizations, and engage in public outreach and partnership building. Service, for me, is about being responsive to the needs and well-being of other people—to think and act beyond oneself. More than simply a category of annual evaluation, service is the lifeblood of the university and key to the ethics of care we owe to ourselves and wider communities.”

He is a devoted scholar-teacher who enjoys working and publishing with students, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He is also committed to conducting critical public scholarship that engages, informs, and helps the news media, government officials, community activists and organizations, and the broader citizenry. Most recently, Alderman has been involved in three major research efforts funded by NSF that involved researchers from universities across the country collecting and analyzing data related to the struggle for freedom from several different perspectives. He continues to serve beyond expectations by agreeing to step back into the role of interim head for geography this year when there was a last minute change within the unit leadership.

Faculty Academic Outreach Research Awards

The academic outreach awards recognize extraordinary contributions of faculty to the public that occur as an outgrowth of academic pursuits and are related to the university’s academic mission. The Academic Outreach Research Award recognizes faculty whose research and creative activities advance knowledge through the pursuit of their scholarly interests while simultaneously addressing community problems and issues and benefiting the scholar, the discipline, the university, and society.

This year, the college awarded Academic Outreach Research Awards to Kimberly Sheldon and Liem Tran.

Kimberly Sheldon, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, developed a research program that is advancing knowledge while simultaneously addressing a community issue through collaboration with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). Sheldon makes use of insects from the Southern Appalachians, including her dung beetle system, and climate change in the region to make her outreach research activities culturally and socially relevant to the EBCI.

Sheldon received funding from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation and the UT Office of Community Engagement and Outreach to collaborate with the EBCI and the Office of Fish and Wildlife Management to provide summer scientific research opportunities for EBCI high school students. The culturally and socially relevant research experiences that Sheldon has developed and led helps students to see the relevance of STEM literacy in their own lives as well as the number of jobs that require it.

Liem Tran, professor of geography, conducts research built on creating strategic collaborative networks with government agencies, major research labs, and other community stakeholders and leveraging innovative geospatial analysis. A number of Tran’s measures and spatial models are widely used by the EPA across the US. Recently, he has collaborated with the EPA to develop the EnviroAtlas, an interactive web-based platform used by states, communities, and citizens that provides geospatial data, easy-to-use tools, and other resources related to ecosystem services, their chemical and nonchemical stressors, and human health. Tran has used his expertise in geospatial analysis to develop a series transmission models posted on the Tennessee State Data Center’s COVID-19 dashboard that estimates coronavirus reproduction rates and hotspots in the state.

Tran is also actively involved in meaningful public communication of science. For example, he has interacted with media to explain the metrics to measure the spread of COVID-19 and authored a policy brief in partnership with the Baker Center to educate the public on COVID-19 modeling and forecasts. Well before engaging in important research outreach to COVID-19, Tran had begun focusing state of the art geospatial technologies, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and web-based applications, to combat the opioid crisis.

“The award is very important not only to myself, but also to my students and colleagues who have been working diligently alongside with me in various research outreach activities,” Tran said. “It shows the commitment of faculty and students in the geography department to serve the great state of Tennessee and its people, especially during this difficult time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Faculty Academic Outreach Service Awards

The academic outreach awards recognize extraordinary contributions of faculty to the public that occur as an outgrowth of academic pursuits and are related to the university’s academic mission. The Academic Outreach Service Award recognizes faculty who apply their knowledge to the benefit of the community by helping to seek solutions to community problems and issues. Defined more specifically, outreach service extends the faculty’s disciplinary expertise acquired through research, scholarship, and creative activity to the community.

This year, the college awarded Academic Outreach Service Awards to Paul Armsworth and Nicole Eggers.

Paul Armsworth, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, brings mathematical, statistical, and computational tools to bear to help organizations trying to conserve species, habitats, and ecosystems to make more effective decisions. He works with a range of state and federal agencies, local, national and international nonprofits and for-profit companies with the goal of reducing their environmental impact.

The same commitment to help seek solutions to community problems and issues is apparent through his service both within academia and to wider society. Beyond contributions made directly through his research, his service contributions to the wider society have included serving on the science advisory council for a major synthesis center whose mission is to see scientific results deployed to improve both nature and human well-being, and serving on major taskforces commissioned by the federal government. These taskforces provided policy guidance on how public lands should be valued in the federal balance sheet and how best to help fish, wildlife, water, land and people adapt to a changing climate.

“When there are so many great examples of outreach and service being undertaken within the College of Arts and Sciences, I feel really honored to have the scholarship that my students, colleagues, and I undertake highlighted in this way,” Armsworth said. “People sometimes talk about outreach and service as something distinct they do alongside their teaching and research. But I’ve always seen the three as a single package. The most interesting opportunities for teaching and research always seem to arise when we roll our sleeves up and look for ways to help people address the pressing, real-world challenges we face in society.”

Nicole Eggers, assistant professor in the Department of History, teaches African history. Soon after arriving in Knoxville, she became aware of the Bridge program and was invited to speak with staff about the history and cultures of Congo, which have shaped the experiences of some clients. After speaking with the staff about the isolation that new refugees feel when they arrive, she decided to work to build the kinds of social networks that can help them support each other while learning how to adapt to their new lives in Knoxville.

She has served as a facilitator for the group, in part, because she is fluent in Swahili. She invited Enkeshi Thom El-Amin, a lecturer in the sociology department, to work with women on a project, Sew It Sell It, which El-Amin started to provide a small industry that women can carry out in their homes. Since the onset of the coronavirus, it has been more difficult for the group to meet, but Eggers invited Katie Crawford, a doctoral student in the College of Nursing, to help people with accessing healthcare. She also worked with the Bridge staff to move forward summer gardens for fresh food for the refugee community in 2020.

Faculty Academic Outreach Teaching Awards

The academic outreach awards recognize extraordinary contributions of faculty to the public that occur as an outgrowth of academic pursuits and are related to the university’s academic mission. The Academic Outreach Teaching Award recognizes faculty who extend the university’s instructional capacity to provide learning opportunities to public audiences through workshops, public lectures, and other educational activities. Faculty may also perform outreach teaching by extending their classroom beyond the campus to engage their students in service learning.

This year, the college awarded Academic Outreach Teaching Awards to Jessica Budke and Katy Chiles.

Jessica Budke is an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and director of the University of Tennessee Herbarium. In her role of Herbarium director, Budke is training a new generation of undergraduate and graduate students in the preservation and use of natural history collections, welcoming community volunteers to work in the collection, and driving new approaches to update and make the collection even more useful to the academic and non-academic communities that it serves. She developed an internship program where undergraduate students receive credit in an independent study course for learning and applying curatorial skills that includes collecting, processing, preserving, cataloging, and filing of specimens in the herbarium natural history collection. She also encourages citizen science in the herbarium, welcoming community volunteers to be involved in work ranging from basic specimen processing to digitization and databasing of specimen data.

“I feel especially honored to have received this award from the college,” Budke said. “My teaching outreach has broadly focused on expanding people’s vision of natural history collections. They are often thought of as dusty collections of curiosities, but are actually dynamic resources we are using to answer important questions about conservation, invasive species, climate change, and discovering species new to science. I enjoy sharing hands on experiences with specimens that get people excited about learning more about them and engaging with them through online citizen science activities.”

Katy Chiles, an associate professor of English, has developed interconnected initiatives in public-facing teaching and partnership includes Knoxville’s African-American community, English undergraduate students, her colleagues, and future graduate students. She has created a powerful, to-the-moment series of pedagogical workshops about anti-racist teaching and pedagogical practices. She has used her research in critical race theory and early American literature in the context of the Intersectionality Community of Scholars and the English department to create bridges from the best of her research to best practices for UT.

Frederick Douglas Day, under her leadership, has grown into a major event that networks UT students with others all over the country, including Princeton and Howard Universities. She organized this past year’s event with other faculty, as a local part of the National Douglass Day, with the Colored Conventions Project. She hosted Professor Derrick Spires as a plenary speaker and coordinated a daylong transcribe-a-thon wherein participants transcribed the records of Black feminist Anna Julia Cooper. She created programming for young poets at the Phyllis Wheatley Y in conjunction with one of our undergraduate English majors, and then, in collaboration with faculty at the UT Libraries, the office of research, and PWY, brought groups of young poets to UT Special Collections where they were able to look at a 1774 edition of Wheatley’s poems, among other things.

“I have and continued to be honored to work with colleagues in English, Africana studies, history, and the Hodges Library on both UT’s Frederick Douglass Day celebration on campus and the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Project held with the students at the YWCA Phillis Wheatley Center,” Chiles said. “Now more than ever, we need to be teaching and celebrating Black history and literature, both on our campus and out in our community, which is exactly what these two projects allow us to do.”

Outstanding Service Award

Nina Fefferman, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, received the Outstanding Service Award, which recognizes extraordinary service in advancing the mission and goals of the college.

During the past year, Fefferman took on an impressive level of service related to her expertise in modeling epidemiological events – specifically the COVID-19 pandemic. This work is a logical extension of her earlier work examining Zika and other mosquito-driven disease transmissions, the evolution and spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, Lyme disease risk, human cooperation in vector control, etc. As a result of her current work, she is also publishing several papers related to pandemic mitigation in a number of types of communities, as well as leveraging insights from prior similar events.

She served the university by advising the COVID-19 Re-Imagining Fall Task Force and continued to monitor and model the COVID-19 infection data in the fall semester. Fefferman has been interview by six different television outlets, five podcasts, and numerous print media during the past year. She has managed this enormous service while continuing to manage six active grants, undergraduate and graduate students, as well as post-doctoral scholars.

“I’m very grateful to receive this award,” Fefferman said. “This award reminds me how grateful I am to be in a community that inspires us to care about each other and work, in whatever capacity we each can, for each other’s lives to be better.”

While her level of service has been very high and extremely important in the last year, Fefferman has provided exceptional service to NIMBioS, NSF and NIH, and in a variety of editorial roles over the years, in addition to ongoing public service through public presentations and consultation with various organizations, including ACLU, Vera Institute of Justice, State of Vermont, and ongoing service to the CDC since 2009.

Diversity Leadership Awards

The Senior Diversity Leadership Award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of a senior-level staff or faculty member in support of the college and university’s commitment to diversity. This year, the college recognized Stephanie Bohon and Dan Roberts.

Stephanie Bohon, professor and head of the Department of Sociology, is the founder of the Center for the Study of Social Justice, a Leadership and Governance Fellow at the Baker Center, and president-elect of the Southern Sociological Society. She holds degrees in economics, political science, sociology, and demography from Penn State University.

Her research uses critical race theory and demographic techniques to examine the integration of ethnic minorities, especially Latinos, into new destination labor markets in the US Southeast. This work interrogates the racialization of immigrants, “crimmigration” policies, and institutionalized processes of discrimination in housing and transportation. Her work circulates in the leading journals of sociology as well as major news media outlets. She has briefed elected officials at all levels of government and in federal court on immigration issues. At UT, she has played key roles in many of the university’s largest efforts to improve diversity and inclusion.

“Creating departments where the students and faculty are comprised of people from historically, culturally, and legally excluded groups not only helps, in a very small way, to redress years of injustice, but it also makes our departments more productive, creative, and highly functioning,” Bohon said. “I appreciate this award from the college, and I look forward to a future society when our departments look like our society and such awards will no longer be necessary.”

Dan Roberts, professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology, has demonstrated leadership and a continued commitment to diversity in all its forms over the past 33 years of his appointment at UT, as a faculty member in BCMB, research mentor, as a former department head. Most recently, Roberts shows demonstrates diversity leadership as the director for the NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). The REU program targets the most underrepresented group in STEM – deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Roberts organized the program to be transformative not only for visiting students, but also for participating faculty and students who served as mentors to these students. In 2018, and while he was still department head, he took a course to learn American Sign Language so that he could directly engage with the students.

“Dan is a leader,” said Angie Batey, associate dean for diversity. “He doesn’t only talk the talk, but he walks the walk.”

The Junior Diversity Leadership Award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of a junior-level staff or faculty member in support of the college and university’s commitment to diversity. This year, the college recognized Kirsten Gonzalez.

An assistant professor of psychology, Kirsten Gonzalez has a longstanding passion and commitment to promoting social justice through research, teaching, and service. Her research and teaching focuses on the psychological well-being of individuals with marginalized identities including racial/ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ people. Gonzalez holds leadership roles in the department, university, and profession and is intensely engaged in diversity related activities on campus and in the community. She currently serves as co-chair of the psychology department Diversity Council.

Last summer, Gonzalez served on the team that created and ran the Academics for Black Survival and Wellness training week and had more than 7,000 participants nationally, including faculty and students from UT. As a result of this training, UT is implementing new diversity initiatives and ways to challenge anti-Blackness. Gonzalez gave two well-attended diversity-related talks aimed at educating the broader UT community during the fall 2020 semester, each of which was attended by more than 100 participants. Gonzalez is also very involved in building a partnership between the psychology departments at UT and Tennessee State University, an HBCU in Nashville, which is aimed at creating a comprehensive program to prepare and recruit students of color to graduate programs in psychology generally and to UT in particular.

“I am honored to receive this award and to be acknowledged for my commitment to diversity-related service, scholarship, and social justice work at UT,” Gonzalez said. “I am passionate about contributing to the positive diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in the college, including recruiting and retaining more diverse students, faculty, and staff; educating the broader UT community; strengthening community partnerships; and cultivating a warm, welcoming, supportive, and inclusive campus climate.”

As she reflects on her own research on social justice ally development, Gonzalez has learned that each of us have an important role to play.

“Regardless of their identities, all community members have an important role in making UT’s campus a more inclusive and equitable place,” she said. “I encourage every UT community member to join me in finding a way to get involved in diversity and social justice initiatives at UT.”

Excellence in Research Award/Creative Achievement Awards

We seek to recognize faculty members who excel in scholarship and creative activity while also being fully engaged in the other responsibilities of faculty jobs, primarily teaching and service. To this end, the college honors faculty in three stages of their research careers – early, mid, and senior – with awards for excellence in research or creative achievement, as well as honoring a faculty with an award for Distinguished Research Career at UT.

Early Career Research Awards

Aaron Buss, associate professor of psychology, is an outstanding scholar whose interdisciplinary research has revolutionized the field of cognitive neuroscience. His research has transformed how we understand the relationship between the brain and behavior by developing a theoretical approach that explains how cognition arises from neural processes. His work is the first offer an explanation, rather than a description, of the relationship between neural processes and behavioral processes. 

Buss’s research is supported by a $1.1 million R01 grant from NIH. He uses functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure brain activity while research participants perform cognitive tasks. The fNIRS is a relatively new technology that is particularly well suited to examine neural processes during early development or in more naturalistic task settings because it only requires the participant to wear a lightweight cap with near-infrared light emitters and detectors.

The central line of his research is in the study of executive function during early childhood. His current R01 is examining how learning changes brain development during early childhood. Children in this project were provided with a card game to play at home between the ages of 2 and 3. He is following these children longitudinally to explore how their brains are changing as they develop new cognitive skills and to determine what impact different types of games have on children’s brain development. Findings from this grant study will not only have an important impact in the study of executive functioning, but also in educational methods or treatments and interventions of developmental disorders.

“I am thrilled to receive this recognition,” Buss said. “To know that the college chose to recognize my work among all the stellar research being conducted by my colleagues is truly an honor.”

Buss also has many active collaborations across campus and across the country and a strong record of publications in top-tier journals across many different areas of psychology including developmental psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and general psychology. 

The work of Stephen Collins-Elliott, a newly minted associate professor of classics, bridges the humanities and mathematics, and he is equally comfortable publishing in either field. Ranked among the most promising young Roman archaeologists in the world today, he is in the forefront of a new interdisciplinary movement that uses computational methods to detect trends in the overwhelmingly large body of archaeological data currently available. Collins-Elliott’s cutting-edge research challenges traditional historical narratives. For instance, he is arguing forcefully that the Roman Empire was destructive of local economies and identities rather than a conveyor of civilization, as it is traditionally understood. His work is changing how archaeologists examine the past and is forcing them to apply more rigorous methods in their analyses.

While assembling an impressive record of publications and scholarly presentations, Collins-Elliott has set up an archaeological field project in Morocco, which he directs together with the head of the Moroccan National Institute of Archaeology. His work requires profound expertise not only in archaeology and statistics, but also in ancient and modern languages and history. In addition to Latin and ancient Greek, he reads four modern languages, including Arabic, which he has taught himself in preparation for his Moroccan project.

“I am very honored to have received this award,” Collins-Elliot said. “I spent my early career in the pursuit of new frontiers in my field, by advancing more mathematical approaches in classical archaeology and by undertaking a new collaborative fieldwork project in Morocco. I am grateful to have these efforts recognized by the College of Arts and Sciences, and look forward to building on this work in the future.”

Mid-career Research Awards

Brian O’Meara, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, is an international leader in the creation, development, and application of phylogenetic methods to answer fundamental questions about the Tree of Life. His work in the areas of parameter inference in phylogenetic models and the study of macroevolutionary processes, particularly the association between diversification rates and continuously distributed trait evolution, is outstanding. He develops cutting edge statistical models, implements them in freely available software, and discusses their interpretation stressing their strengths and limitations in his publications. Further, he applies these methods to important problems in evolutionary biology, resulting in his exceptionally high impact in the field broadly, with contribution in both theory and practice.

His contributions have pushed the theoretical underpinnings of phylogenetic theory forward in concert with development of methods. Due to the explosion in size of gene sequence-based comparative datasets and the rapid growth in computing power, phylogenetic models have necessarily become more complex. O’Meara is a clear leader among only a handful of scientists worldwide that have been developing and implementing such models. He is the recipient of $2.89M in external support. He has a prolific track record of mentoring in his 12 years at UT. He has mentored 16 postdoctoral fellows and graduated four PhD students who have gone on to successful careers.

“Brian is a generous collaborator with his mentees and members of the EEB community and beyond,” said Susan Kalisz, head of the EEB department. “He is a leader in EEB, serves as associate head, chairs the departmental Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and was recently elected president of the Society of Systematic Biologists.”

Sara Ritchey, associate professor of history, is a scholar of medieval Europe who is leading that field in new directions, as a specialist in women’s history and the history of medicine. This year, in addition to an award-winning co-edited volume, she will be publishing her second monograph, The Recovery of Health: Religious Women, Caregiving, and Erasure in Medieval Europe (Cornell University Press.) In recognition of the value of this work, she was awarded two of the most prestigious and competitive fellowships in the humanities, from the NEH and the ACLS. Her work has also been published in the major journals in her field, and in 2018, she gave the plenary address to the most important American conference on medieval history.

A pillar of the department’s research specialization in pre-modern Europe, she was central to the development of the history department’s research and teaching specialization in the history of medicine. Ritchey is active in the women and gender studies interdisciplinary program. She has done all this while being a strong advocate for faculty and student diversity, a leader in departmental conversations about pedagogy, and a generous mentor to graduate students.

“I am grateful to the college for its sustained support of research in the humanities, which has enabled my work to grow in multiple new directions,” Ritchey said. “Receiving the award this year has been particularly delightful because I was able to celebrate the honor alongside two brilliant members of my department, Nikki Eggers and Pat Rutenberg, who are also recipients of 2020 faculty awards from the college.”

Senior Career Research Awards

Adriana Moreo, professor of physics, is a leading researcher in theoretical condensed matter physics. She pioneered advanced computational methods to elucidate how the magnetic and superconducting properties of copper- and iron-based high-temperature superconductors can be controlled by various experimental control parameters. Her numerical results also provide clear guidance to the interpretation of neutron scattering data, such as those acquired at the Spallation Neutron Source, which is crucial for developing unconventional materials platforms for novel quantum technologies.

Moreo is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and Fellow of the American Associations for the Advancement of Science. She is the author of close to 200 research papers receiving nearly 12,000 citations. She served as a member-at-large of the Executive Community of the Condensed Matter and Computational Physics divisions of American Physical Society (APS), and is currently associate editor of the prestigious Physical Review Letters. Moreo led several APS-sponsored site visits at various universities and national labs in the US and Canada to report on the climate for women and minorities in physics. Moreo’s exemplary record in research and academia is a true inspiration for all aspiring physicists.

“I’ve conducted research since my arrival at UT more than 15 years ago and being recognized by my peers encourages me to persevere and keep performing an activity that I very much enjoy,” Moreo said.

Bin Zhao is the Paul and Wilma Ziegler Professor in the Department of Chemistry. He has made significant contributions to the field of macromolecular brush materials, from precise synthesis to fundamental understanding and potential applications of surface brushes, polymer brush-grafted particles (hairy particles), and brush polymers. He is widely recognized, nationally and internationally, as one of the leading figures in this field. His work on stimuli-responsive polymers has also received wide attention. Zhao is a dedicated research mentor who seeks to use research opportunities to cultivate scientific reasoning and spirit in his graduate and undergraduate students. 

“I am very excited to receive this great honor and recognition from our college,” Zhao said. “I look forward to continuing contributing to the research mission of our university in the years ahead.”

Distinguished Research Career at UT

Karen W. Hughes, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, is an internationally recognized scientist. Early in her career, Hughes brought her knowledge of plant tissue culture to the study of fungi, culturing individual fungal spores collected from wild populations across the globe and testing their breeding compatibility. She demonstrated that populations of fungi from different continents – originally considered the same species – represent distinct species unable to interbreed. Her findings transformed how mycologists view fungal species, demonstrating more extensive fungal diversity previously recognized.

Her early work foreshadowed the revolution in molecular phylogenetics using DNA sequence-level data and she continues to extend these findings. Key to her success is her ability to coordinate multiple collaborators, including students, colleagues, and the public. Recently, Hughes spearheaded an NSF-funded research coordination network of 100 scientists called Deep Hyphae, which led to a major reassessment of the evolutionary history of fungi based on molecular phylogenetic data. Most recently, Hughes secured NSF funding to investigate fungal response to the Gatlinburg wildfires and coordinated and trained forays of professional and amateur (Discover Life in America and GSMNP interns) mycologists to collect post-fire fungi. One early finding reveals that some collections were unique, fire-adapted fungi, which persist within mosses and liverworts for long periods of time, then reproduce and spread when the habitat experiences a fire. Because fungi play critical roles as mutualistic partners in the roots of most plants, as well as in ecosystem functioning, her results have important applications in forestry and basic ecological studies. Hughes has been an exemplar of leadership, research, teaching, and outreach throughout her 47 years at UT.

New Research, Scholarly and Creative Projects in the Arts & Humanities

Michelle Brown, professor of sociology, received the New Research, Scholarly and Creative Projects in the Arts and Humanities Award, which provides outstanding faculty in the arts and humanities with financial support for advancing scholarship or creative work. The award is to support a project or projects over a period of time that will lead to significant new external professional recognition for the faculty member

Brown is a critical criminologist, with loved ones living inside and working for the prison state. She holds a BA in comparative literature (Film Studies), an MA in criminal justice, and a PhD in criminal justice and American studies from Indiana University. Her research and teaching focuses on the carceral state, abolition movements, transformative justice, and visual culture.

Her many research accomplishments over 17 years as a scholar include publishing two books and editing three more along with 40 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. She served as editor for the journal Crime Media Culture and two special issues of other journals. Brown is the senior editor of the three-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of Crime, Media, and Popular Culture. Brown has won at least six research awards, including the university’s coveted Jefferson Prize. While she was producing all of this top-quality research, she still managed to accrue five teaching awards and the college’s Diversity Leadership Award. It is no wonder that the American Society of Criminology deemed Professor Brown the Critical Criminologist of the Year in 2016.

Long before many of us had heard the call to “Abolish the Police,” Brown was conducting research on that movement. Her current research seeks to provide an account of abolition’s varied meanings and contestations through organizer accounts, movement materials, and mainstream forms of public commentary. It draws upon interviews and curated materials from organizers, activists, and artists about their abolitionist visions and related creative output: art, online workshops and convergences, podcasts, webinars, and digital toolkits and curricula that have produced a heightened public presence around new forms of justice. This project will culminate in a community-based, digitally curated site for abolition movement materials open to both university and community users, a public resource and digital hub for a genealogy of new forms of abolition in the era of mass incarceration. 

“The recognition, trust, and resources that come with this award mean so much,” Brown said. “I am excited to use every penny of it to help build, with organizers, a community resource that teaches us all more about abolitionist visions in our contemporary moment.”

Interdepartmental Collaborative Scholarship and Research

Some of the most exciting and creative scholarly work takes place at the interface between disciplines, which is why the college recognizes the efforts of those who reach out beyond their departmental and disciplinary borders to explore new areas. This year, the college honors Jacob Levy and Barbara Murphy with the Interdepartmental Collaborative Scholarship and Research Award.

Levy is an associate professor of psychology and applied personality researcher who studies psychological factors that influence academic and occupational satisfaction and performance. He is particularly interested in examining person-environment fit factors, and performance success in the context of the performing arts.

Murphy, an associate professor of music theory, focuses her research theory pedagogy and technology in music theory. Recent research projects include the incorporation of theatrical improvisation in pedagogy classes, chunking in music dictation, and the development and use of online educational resources in music.

Professors Levy and Murphy first met in fall 2008 when Murphy asked Levy to give a talk on music performance anxiety for students living in the Crescendo LLC. Their meeting led to several collaborations examining the intersection psychology and music pedagogy. Their collaboration is particularly impressive because their interdisciplinary work has been recognized by both of their respective disciplines. To date, their collaboration has led to one published paper, two paper presentations at national conventions in music, and two poster sessions at national conventions in psychology. They have also served together on five dissertation committees in psychology.

“I have loved working with Jake Levy on a range of topics from the musicians’ learning styles to the mental and physical health of music majors,” Murphy said. “For me, this award shows that this kind of interdepartmental collaboration is valued by the college.”

Their collaborative work demonstrates a clear passion for examining and addressing the health, wellness, and educational needs of music students. It is evident by the progress of their work that their studies are developing into a clear, continuing interdisciplinary program of research relevant to both the psychological and music communities.

James R. and Nell W. Cunningham Outstanding Teaching Award

The James R. and Nell W. Cunningham Outstanding Teaching Award recognizes faculty excellence in teaching. The honor is awarded to a tenured faculty member who demonstrates outstanding classroom teaching. This year, the college recognized Edward Schilling and Urmila Seshagiri for their outstanding teaching.

Often when we envision a professor who has been teaching for more than 40 years, we think of yellowed note pads or dull lectures. Edward Schilling, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, was nominated for this award because as teaching circumstances evolve, so does he, and these changes are solely because of his dedication to student engagement and learning in his courses. His teaching has always been exemplary, but he has shown great adeptness at transitioning to online teaching over the last year that students have truly appreciated.

As someone who has observed his teaching said, “he takes great pains to make the material he teaches relevant and connected to issues students care about, whether it’s biodiversity, or agriculture, or being able to identify plants in the field. Ed meets the students where they are, and leads them to greater understanding and appreciation for biology.”

In all of his teaching feedback, there are consistent themes about his teaching: Professor Schilling is incredibly organized and well prepared and provides students with a hands-on and immersive educational experience because he believes that students who are engaged with the material are more likely to learn the material.

“It was an incredibly uplifting feeling to learn that I had been selected to receive the Cunningham Teaching Award,” Schilling said. “UT has many outstanding teachers, so to be recognized in this way is truly an honor that I will cherish.”

Urmila Seshagiri, professor of English, is an internationally recognized scholar of modernist literature and one of the department’s most successful, transformative teachers at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Since she was hired here in 2002, she has received several awards for her teaching, including the 2007 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

In the summer preparations for pandemic teaching, Seshagiri helped to lead the way in a series of conversations with tenure-stream faculty in English about doing less and doing it more thoroughly. In this challenging time, she has become their teacher. Seshagiri is not only an electrifying speaker, she is also one of the most skillful discussion leaders, guiding her students through the complexities of modernist texts without losing track of that literature’s dominant themes and historical contexts.

It is easy to document her success in the classroom as well. In a department of very good teachers, she always ranks either first or second on her student evaluations, and her students write glowing letters about the life-changing experiences they have had in her classes. Yet, her accomplishments extend beyond the successes that she has enjoyed in these specific classes. She is a teaching innovator who is always looking for new ways to enhance the learning opportunities to the entire English student community, both in and out of the classroom. She has established a reading program for honors students, for instance, and is working internally to animate our English honors program.

“Teaching is a creative act, and I have always considered it a privilege to prepare young people for the world that awaits them after university,” Seshagiri said. “It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized for my work within and outside the classroom.”

Excellence in Teaching Awards

Each year, the college recognizes tenured and tenure-track faculty excellence in teaching by presenting both junior- and senior-level teaching awards. The lecturer excellence in teaching award recognizes lecturers.

Senior-Level Excellence in Teaching

Rachelle Scott, associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies, is a beloved teacher whose pedagogical excellence has been well documented for 10 years in the department. As the nominator wrote in a peer teaching evaluation in 2009 and remains true, “Rachelle is a kind, thoughtful, and engaging teacher who is passionate both about the material she teaches and about conveying that material to her students.”

Junior-Level Excellence in Teaching

In his five years with the Department of Classics, Assistant Professor Justin Arft has taught a variety of topics, from large lecture courses on early Greek and classical Greek and Roman mythology to medium-sized beginning Latin and smaller intermediate and advanced courses in ancient Greek language and literature. He also developed a senior-level special topics course on comparative oral epic traditions. Arft consistently earns top marks in student evaluations. Students gush about his infectious passion for the subject matter and his uncanny ability to make them connect with the material. They find his classes rich in content and intellectually challenging and appreciate it that he turns even large lecture classes into a discussion format so that they become engaged.

Language students praise his clear explanations and laid-back style, which make it easier for them to learn the difficult material. All students appreciate his great sense of humor, his fairness in grading, and the great lengths to which he goes to help and mentor them. Arft is a charismatic teacher who makes students discover a passion for classics they did not know they had.

“I am entirely humbled and inspired by this award,” Arft said. “Humbled to be in the company of so many wonderful teachers from whom I have learned a great deal and inspired to strive even harder to meet their example and serve our students at UT.”

Erin Darby, associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies, has long been recognized as an outstanding teacher by her students and her peers. In 2014, she received the department teaching award. In 2018, her students nominated her for the Office of Research’s Humanities Division Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year Award, which she received.

Alternating summers, she leads an archaeological dig in Jordan as a study abroad opportunity. The research she oversees on those trips alone is astonishing – leading not only to numerous research presentations, but even publications by her students. She also regularly oversees independent study and honors thesis research projects as a teaching overload. She has mentored more than 100 undergraduate research projects in her short time. Nearly 40 of those students delivered public presentations on their research, some of them gave presentations at regional or national conferences, and nearly 20 have gone on to graduate school. Each semester she receives a long list of glowing teaching evaluation comments that consistently rank her with very high 4’s and sometimes even 5’s.

Lecturer Excellence Teaching Award

Margie Abdelrazek, lecturer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, teaches a variety of courses each semester, which include a range of courses from general education courses such as introductory astronomy and “how things work,” as well as service courses for architects and design students, life sciences students, and engineering students. These courses are all very different and target very different student audiences, each of them with different needs and different expectations. Student reports, however, are exceptionally high in all of them. Dr. Abdelrazek skillfully manages to alleviate their fears and anxieties, and makes them truly enjoy their physics experience. Students admire Abdelrazek for her pedagogical skills, her caring and kindness, her easy-going attitude, enthusiasm, communication skills, and humor.

“I am very honored and humbled by this recognition,” Abdelrazek said. “I am grateful for all the staff, faculty and students who make teaching at the University of Tennessee such a joy.”

Bob DuBois joined the Department of Psychology as a lecturer and associate director of undergraduate studies in fall 2019 and has made an immediate, exceptionally important contribution to the students, faculty, and staff. He was selected as the department’s Undergraduate Instructor of the Year in his first academic year. He has quickly distinguished himself as one of the most sought after, passionate, and favorably rated, instructors by the undergraduate students, as well as faculty and graduate students.

In his first year, he taught several undergraduate courses and developed and taught two timely graduate courses, including teaching research methods in psychology and teaching psychology online. His course on online teaching was critical to successfully transitioning several psychology faculty members to compassionate and high-quality online and hybrid teaching for the fall 2020 semester.

“As a first generation college graduate, all I do as a learning facilitator is principally inspired by my wish to transform as many students as possible to confident lifelong learners,” DuBois said. “Earning this teaching award – particularly because it is driven by nominations from so many amazing colleagues and students – serves as one of my most joyful of experiences of 2020.”

Sally Harris, lecturer of English, has pioneered online teaching of technical and professional writing in the English department. Her position as assistant director of undergraduate studies, along with her experience in advising and coordinating course work for the department – as supervisor of GTAs, mentor of lecturers, trainer for online teaching, leader of the First Year Course Academy, OIT Faculty Fellow, and organizer of numerous workshops – put her in a centrally-important position to help the department when the COVID-19 pandemic forced all classes online. She has developed a number of teaching resources for the English department website that can be shared and used by instructors – she is just incredibly collaborative and supportive of our pedagogical enterprise. Despite a very full workload in administration and training, Harris’s teaching has remained a priority, and her record of success as a teacher is clear.

“I am honored to have received the Lecturer Teaching Award from the College of Arts and Sciences,” Harris said. “During my years at UT, my amazing colleagues in English, the College of Arts and Sciences, OIT, and TLI have contributed to my development as a teacher in the classroom and online. I am thankful for the opportunity to recognize their support.”

Patricia Rutenberg, lecturer in the Department of History, is a dedicated and creative teacher who provides excellent history instruction for our students in a variety of formats, from the honors section of the Western Civilizations survey to the upper-level course on public history. Peer evaluations praise her easy rapport with students, her well-designed syllabi, and her creative pedagogy. Her strong student evaluations suggest that she is much appreciated, and they note that she is knowledgeable, empathetic, and brings history alive for them. While these qualities are sufficient to make her worthy of this recognition, she brings much more to undergraduate students in history — a model for experiential learning and an expression of the university’s commitment to diversity and community outreach.

Faculty Advising Awards

The college recognizes excellence in undergraduate advising, providing rewards for past achievements and encouraging future resourceful and creative efforts in undergraduate advising.

Erin Darby, associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies, receives this award for her leadership as chair of the department’s Student Engagement Committee. In this role, Darby has restructured the department’s approach to advising, connecting students with faculty in their specific area of interest and streamlining the major declaration system. Not only does she meet with prospective students in the major, she has also contributed significantly to the college and university’s recruitment efforts, speaking frequently with future students, families, and college ambassadors at university-wide admissions and diversity events.

Most recently, Darby has been tracking the impact of COVID on students in religious studies classes through an instrument she created in collaboration with the Division of Diversity and Engagement, the Pride Center, and Multicultural Student Life. The results have informed the religious studies faculty on student wellness issues and student perceptions of online pedagogical strategies. 

“Her students love her and rely on her for information as well as support,” said Tina Shepardson, head of the religious studies department. “Her commitment to all undergraduate students and their experience is immense and broad in scope. She does this work passionately and always with the diversity of our students in mind, working to reach and include First-Generation students, returning students, and students of color more fully and seamlessly in our community.”

Jennifer Schweitzer, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, is recognized for serving as a tireless advocate for undergraduates within her department. Her commitment to student success is demonstrated through her relationships with individual students as well in her associate head role where she ensures that the student experience is the focal point of all conversations regarding curriculum development, teaching rotation, and advising practices. Recently, she developed a resource for the faculty titled “Best Practices in Advising/Mentoring” to assist all faculty in their mentor role with undergraduates.

Schweitzer also serves as an outstanding mentor to the students in her research lab, where more than 80 percent of the undergraduates who have worked with her have gone on to graduate or professional school. 

“Great mentors bring undergraduates into their lab and involve them in all aspects of being a scientist,” Kalisz said. “A really outstanding mentor like Jen goes above and beyond by mentoring in professional development, choosing a career path, getting into graduate school, navigating work-life balance, and being a woman in science.” 

Kalisz also notes Professor Schweitzer is one of the only faculty members she knows who has a list on their CV of all of the undergraduate students she has advised, including the time span of the relationship and whether or not the student graduated.

“Advising students at UT is such an important part of my job and one that I truly love,” Schweitzer said. “In helping EEB students navigate the biology-EEB curriculum and gain professional development skills I hope we are assisting students in finding and reaching their career goals so they can make a difference in the world. EEB students are so motivated, work so hard, and have such high aspirations for themselves and their futures. It is amazing to see all they achieve. I am very proud to be part of this department and grateful for this kind award.”