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Faculty Honored at Annual Awards Banquet

Faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences were honored for their research, teaching, creative activities, outreach, and leadership in diversity at the college awards banquet Tuesday, February 28, 2023. Theresa Lee, Herbert Family Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and members of her cabinet hosted the annual event at the UT Conference Center.

Deborah Welsh, professor of psychology, was named College Marshal, the college’s equivalent of the university macebearer and the highest college honor awarded to a member of the faculty. Robert Jones, professor of sociology, received the Outstanding Service Award, and Ann Robinson-Craig was honored with the Lorayne W. Lester Award, the highest honor for college staff.

Congratulations to all faculty who received honors for your leadership and service to the college.

Deborah Welsh, College Marshal

For 17 years, Deb Welsh, Chancellor’s Professor in the Department of Psychology, has led the UT Clinical Program and psychology department through a great deal of change that resulted in greater transparency and faculty inclusion in governance, stronger graduate programs, and the growth and transformation of undergraduate education. She has served the college in several capacities, but very importantly for many other departments by chairing a number of department searches for new department heads, then serving as a mentor for the new heads. She served on the UT Commission for Women, UT Equity Issues Committee, was a Life of the Mind faculty trainer and group facilitator, chair of the Committee for Academic Integrity, Welfare & Conduct of Student Athletic Board, and many more.

Ann Robinson-Craig, Lorayne W. Lester Award

Established by the college to honor Lorayne Lester, who served as associate dean and then dean of the college from 1991 to 2002, this award recognizes outstanding service to the College of Arts and Sciences. Ann Robinson-Craig served as the college budget director for 30 years. She earned her BA in history, a master’s in accounting, and her CPA before heading into the corporate world. Robinson-Craig joined the college as a young mother and, since then, has assisted in every growth opportunity and difficult pull back with equal parts attention to details and requirements of the institution and to preserve and improve the core mission of the college. Her training in the humanities, knowledge of the arts, respect for the sciences helped her be the best possible director of budget possible.

Robert Jones, Outstanding Service Award

Robert Jones, professor of sociology, is a pioneer in the environmental sociology concentration and a key player in UT’s environmental protection and sustainability efforts. His research and applied scholarship have contributed to policy knowledge nationally for the National Park Service, US Departments of Interior and Energy, and the Army Corps of Engineers and locally for the Chattanooga Housing Authority, TN Department of Agriculture, and the UT Green Economy Initiative. Jones has served on just about every committee the sociology department has, as well as almost any committee focused on sustainability at UT. His service, research, and applied scholarship has made great contributions to the sociology department, our college, the Knoxville community, and hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students.

Faculty Academic Outreach Research and Creative Activity Awards

This 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.

Orou Gaoue, associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, investigates how indigenous communities use and manage wild plant resources. He weaves ethnobotany, mathematical modeling, and field ecology together to understand the synergistic relationship between people and plants. A focus on medicinal use of plants took him to South Africa, the Solomon Islands, and the Peruvian Amazon to learn about interactions with nature from those communities. Gaoue received a Fulbright to examine how an endemic African plant species responses to root harvesting, which will help communities understand harvesting practices in light of climatic changes impacting the plant species.

Erin HardinErin Hardin, professor of psychology, is co-PI for PiPES: Possibilities in Post-Secondary Education, which helps rural students in East Tennessee explore their interests, post-secondary education options, and a range of career possibilities in science, technology, engineering, math, or medicine. Since 2015, she has received more than $5 million in grants to support outreach work by a team of psychology undergraduate and graduate students and counselors in education and clinical mental health who provide a multi-week in-school career education curriculum to more than 1,200 students a year at four high schools in Campbell and Monroe counties.

Faculty Academic Outreach Service Award

This 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.

Nina FeffermanNina Fefferman is a mathematician whose work explores complex biological phenomena, including the emergence and spread of infectious diseases so it should come as no surprise that she was a vital part of the COVID response team providing extraordinary service to the university and broader public during the pandemic. Professor Fefferman serves as director of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, associate director of UT’s One Health Initiative, and director of development for the Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education Foundation. She consults with advocacy groups like the ACLU about the impact of COVID on prison populations and has served as an expert witness in more than a dozen court cases across the country – pro bono.

Faculty Academic Outreach Teaching Award

This 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.

Lawrence Lee, assistant professor of physics, brought physics to the dance floor by producing and performing physics-infused electronic music through his project, ColliderScope. The music is engineered so that audio waveforms encode animations of particle physics experiences that can be seen on scientific equipment. When viewed on an oscilloscope, these audio signals draw pictures of fundamental particle interactions, the Large Hadron Collider, and its particle detectors. When he is on stage, Lee uses old particle physics experiment electronics to create a visual representation of the music. Lee has performed ColliderScope around the world and at major international music festivals, representing UT and bringing physics to the public on their own terms and in their own spaces.

Iliana Rocha, assistant professor of English, is dedicated to outreach and advocacy in Knoxville’s Latinx community by creating relationships that help tie the UT English Creative Writing Program to community organizations. She helped recruit the most diverse MFA class to the English department and extended the Flagship Schools tutoring program to include creative writing and established a monthly reading and workshop series at The Bottom. This summer, she will take students to Tulsa for an immersive workshop. Using resources of the new Bob Dylan center as context for the workshop, students will engage with the history of Black Wall Street, indigenous leaders from the Muskogee and Creek nations, and consider the flows of immigrant workers, specifically Latinx people.

Diversity Leadership Awards

This category of awards recognizes the extraordinary efforts of a senior-level and a junior-level staff or faculty member in support of the college and university’s commitment to diversity.

Loneka Wilkinson Battiste, assistant professor of music education, does exceptional work to support UT’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and engagement through her scholarship, teaching, service, and outreach. She infuses culturally responsive pedagogy throughout her classes and has presented on topics ranging from multicultural education and culturally responsive teaching to Black music aesthetics. As a member of the Tennessee Music Education Association (TMEA) Board, she has made the review process for state conference research proposals more inclusive and successfully advocated for creating the first BIPOC affinity group for music educators in the state. Internationally, she has used her research on Coco da Xambá in Olinda, Pernambuco, Brazil, to support the Xambá community in its fight against racism, social injustice, and religious persecution.

Shaneda L. Destine, assistant professor of sociology, explores the foundational ideas from Black Feminist Thought, the Movement for Black Lives, intersectionality, and political economy through her scholarship and teaching. She supports students on their research projects, including how students navigate COVID-19, reproductive justice in Knoxville and its connection to gentrification, and Black Lives Matter. She published research with one of her graduate students on race, beauty, and inequality, and has published in multiple peer-reviewed journals, including the prestigious journal, Gender and Society. In spring 2022, she facilitated a community study group with The Bottom on the celebrated 1619 edited book. She is also a board member of YoSTEM, a local nonprofit that supports science education in historically Black schools in Knoxville.

Patrick Grzanka, professor of psychology, focuses on understanding complex social problems related to cultural diversity and inequity and developing interventions that promote social transformation. His service to the university has concentrated on making the campus a more inclusive space for underrepresented groups. He serves as chair of the Interdisciplinary Program in Women, Gender, and Sexuality and co-founder/director of the Intersectionality Community of Scholars, a network of faculty who study inequality at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality. Professor Grzanka co-developed a curriculum on bias and bystander interventions as part of UT’s first ADVANCE grant, ASCEND, which has been institutionalized in the Office of the Provost as a permanent office devoted to improving the campus climate for women, people of color, and underrepresented and historically excluded faculty on campus.

Excellence in Research and 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

Xingli Giam, assistant professor of ecology, has obtained significant external funding for his cutting-edge research program, received top student evaluations in innovative courses, and has been highly successful in mentoring others engaged in important service activities. He is regularly published in high impact international journals. Giam has a strong reputation as a leader in diverse fields including aquatic ecology, conservation and macroecology and is making significant contributions to all of these fields. Professor Giam is the kind of faculty member that every department and university hope for and value – one that is distinguished in their field, is innovative in teaching and mentoring, is generous with their time and expertise, and who is making significant contributions to important problems worldwide.

Kelli Wood is the Dale G. Cleaver Assistant Professor of Art History – Museum & Curatorial Studies in the School of Art. Wood received her PhD from the University of Chicago in 2016 for her dissertation on the visual and material culture of games and sports and the resulting book, The Art of Play in Early Modern Italy, is forthcoming. Her work has been published in top tier journals and generously supported by Fulbright Italy, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, and the Michigan Society of Fellows. Wood has received Samuel H. Kress grants from the Renaissance Society of America and the Italian Art Society and a full year NEH-Mellon Digital Publications Fellowship for her project turning Renaissance board games into video games. She guest curated a permanent wing of the Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum, A Global History of Sport, which opened in 2022 in advance of the FIFA World Cup in Doha. In 2022-23 Wood is a Fulbright Scholar to India.

Mid-career Research Awards

Rachel Patton McCord, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology (BCMB), researches how the genome folds in 3D and how this 3D structure is affected in diseases. Her research has identified changes in chromosome structure in response to mechanical stress and DNA damage and has explored how chromosome structure changes can contribute to cancer metastasis and the premature aging disease Progeria. Her laboratory has also developed novel computational analysis approaches to assist in characterizing these changes in chromosome structure. She is emerging as an international thought leader in her field as seen with her high-profile participation at selective conferences, review articles and perspective invitations. Her research excellence is matched by equally outstanding teaching and service contributions.

elaine-mcmillion-sheldonElaine McMillion Sheldon, assistant professor of cinema studies, is an Academy Award-nominated and Peabody-winning documentary filmmaker. She has been nominated for six Emmy awards. She is the recipient of a 2021 Creative Capital Award and a 2020 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, and was a finalist for a 2021 Livingston Award. She recently completed a feature-length documentary King Coal, with support from the Sundance Documentary Institute, Creative Capital, Tribeca Film Institute, Catapult Film Fund, First Look Media, and the West Virginia Humanities Council. Sheldon is the director of two Netflix Original Documentaries — Heroin(e) and Recovery Boys — that explore America’s opioid crisis. Heroin(e) premiered at the 2017 Telluride Film Festival, was nominated for a 2018 Academy Award, and won the 2018 News and Documentary Emmy Award for Outstanding Short Documentary.

Senior Career Research Awards

Dawn M. Szymanski, professor of psychology, examines how external and internalized oppression, traditional/restrictive gender role socialization processes, and culture influence individual experience and psychological health among members of minoritized groups including women, LGBTQ persons, and Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). She also examines positive identity, resilience, activism, and well-being despite the challenges associated with a minoritized status. Her scholarship has increased understanding of the challenges and unique life issues related to holding intersectional identities, identified factors that help minoritized persons resist and overcome oppressive messages and experiences, and illustrated how members of minoritized and dominant/privileged groups can become change agents in the fight to confront various forms of oppression. Her contributions provide important implications for theory, research, clinical practice, public education/policy, and social justice.

Steven Wise, professor of mathematics, has helped the math department engage with interdisciplinary research in numerical analysis and scientific computing for problems that are important to and have high impact in science and engineering. Professor Wise has a phenomenal record of research productivity, with more than 100 publications, and his research has been continuously supported by NSF and DOE for several years. Wise was noted as a Web of Science Highly Cited Researcher in Mathematics in 2020. In 2022, he was one of only seven UT faculty members recognized as a Web of Science Highly Cited Researcher.

Distinguished Research Career at UT

For 30 years, Hanno Weitering, professor of physics, has been an outstanding UT faculty member, excelling in all aspects of the work of a professor. This includes important fundamental research in quantum materials with the potential to open up entirely new research areas and technologies, a dedication to students through exemplary classroom teaching, and an outstanding record of service to the university, serving as physics department head for 10 years. The impacts of his research are far reaching, including the miniaturization of electronics components enabling the billions of transistors we now carry in our pockets (phones) or future superconducting systems able to deliver the ultra-high magnetic fields needed for fusion technologies.

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

Sara Ritchey, professor of history, has excelled in teaching and efforts to promote diversity among graduate students in history. She has authored two books and more than a dozen articles and book chapters. In her new project, Chansons Créoles: A New Genealogy of the French Middle Ages, she will explore the creation of “the middle ages” as a historical construct, one partly invented by nineteenth and twentieth scholars out of songs, stories, poems, and sayings “discovered” among marginalized communities around the Atlantic world. Ritchey’s project requires a remarkable breadth of vision for the complex arguments she makes about “the centuries-long process of constructing, and implanting, the French Middle Ages” into our modern consciousness. Her work will contribute a valuable lesson to all sorts of historical fields that have uncritically depended on folk stories and oral traditions as evidence for imagined pasts.

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.

Marie Jameson, associate professor of mathematics, teaches courses ranging from calculus to graduate topics in modern algebra. Her teaching evaluations are consistently excellent and her students love her energy, enthusiasm, approach, and style. The comment that “she is one of the best math instructors I have had at UT” appears repeatedly and frequently in her student evaluations. Another student said: “Coach J is the absolute best teacher I have had at UT. She has so much enthusiasm that attending class was never a chore and missing was never an option!” Jameson played a key part in designing the new math GTA Teaching Advising Program and serves as the program inaugural director.

Tore Olsson is an associate professor of history and one of the department’s most dynamic, creative, kind, exciting, and engaged instructors. Across the board, his course evaluations are outstanding, but more significant are the enthusiastic and heartfelt comments about his sincere interest in his students, passion for history, and efforts to challenge students to find richer meaning in every aspect of their lives. His teaching philosophy expresses his innovations best: “I invite students into the classroom by engaging the topics and themes that animate them…by building on their existing enthusiasm and channeling it down unexpected avenues, I have sought to bridge the trivial and the profound while making no sacrifices of seriousness or professionalism.” A new course illustrates this strategy: “Red Dead History: Exploring America’s Violent Past Through the Hit Video Games.” Using the game as a lens, he guides students to better understand the Progressive Era’s conflicts over race, western expansion, industrial capitalism, women’s rights, and the stresses of immigration and rapid urbanization.

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

Jason Brown, associate professor of sculpture, challenges students intellectually and creatively and has developed new courses in the fields of sculpture and Eco-Art. Brown has more recently engaged his students and the discipline in the national discussion about historic monuments and questions of race, privilege, and politics. Brown regularly seeks out opportunities for his students to engage with and create work in the community; his students recently created site-specific environmental art projects at Dogwood Elementary School and GATOP gardens. Brown has long promoted public sculpture to support both student instruction and the arts on campus and in the community. His commitment has resulted in important campus acquisitions. Off campus, Brown has collaborated with UTIA and other partners to develop a new extension garden and sculpture trail in East Knoxville at the GATOP gardens.

Junior-Level Excellence in Teaching

Kirsten Gonzalez, assistant professor of psychology, is a phenomenal teacher and mentor whose engaging courses are popular among undergraduate and graduate students alike. She has taught courses that include a significant emphasis on social issues and social justice, such as multicultural psychology and social justice practicum, and other courses focused on clinical training. She is an extremely engaging teacher able to capture and maintain students’ attention and foster their involvement in their own learning. She presents course content in a manner that makes even difficult material accessible, while maintaining rigorous standards for student achievement. Her teaching also fosters dialogue, intellectual curiosity, and critical thinking and her students use the following to describe her: “knowledgeable,” “accessible,” “helpful,” “welcoming,” “amazing,” “warm,” and “awesome.”

Jill Mikucki is a one of a few leading Antarctic microbiologists in the world and has been a lynchpin member of the interdisciplinary team exploring this difficult-to-access environment. She brings this remote region to the UT campus through her thoughtful and creative research laboratory and classroom instruction. She helps students learn microbiology through the lens of exploration and discovery, engaging them in independent learning, and piquing their curiosity about real-world issues. She gives students insights into life on Earth and other planets through the development of novel and effective curriculum that promotes learning through storytelling. In the past several years, she created a graduate level topics course on microbial justice that focuses on the intersection of microbiological research and environmental, social and racial justice, and an undergraduate course on astrobiology that, according to one student, is the “coolest, most thought-provoking course … at UT.”

Lecturer Excellence Teaching Award

Jacob Benner, lecturer in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, is a true teacher who is passionate and sincere about communicating the excitement and utility of geology and environmental science. He has revolutionized the teaching of introductory curricula in the EPS so that lectures are now active learning environments and the introductory lab curricula focus on active inquiry, authentic learning experiences coupled with experiential learning with standard laboratory specimens, and active grading. Each of these developments has greatly enhanced student learning and satisfaction based on course feedback and assessments. He works tirelessly to continuously improve the learning experience for students in all dimensions by engaging directly with students, improving his own teaching craft and leading our students and faculty who work with introductory students to collaborate to improve our collective pedagogy and delivery.

Jenny Collins-Elliott, lecturer of religious studies, has long been recognized as an outstanding teacher by her students and her peers. She teaches classes that are lower- and upper-level, online and in-person, large and small, and a new popular course she developed on religion and film. In all, Jenny devotes herself fully to her students and their learning, as she covers extremely challenging material like introducing East Tennessee undergraduates to Islam, or Queer Theory, or the historical study of the New Testament. Through it all, she is available, present, engaged, and caring, and regularly brings new students into our major and minor. She consistently has glowing reviews from peers and students alike.

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.

Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud is an associate professor and director undergraduate studies for the English department. He is an advocate for their majors, a trusted advisor, and great faculty mentor to English majors at UT. With the introduction of professional advisors, the faculty advising model changed and Professor Cohen-Vrignaud blazed the trail for what faculty mentoring should look like. He leveraged student voices and opinions to develop the English departments current catchphrase, “Get LIT.” He has been a curricular innovator, listening to students and tailoring courses of study to set them up for success and helping students connect English classes to their major interests. Additionally, he was instrumental in creating departmental positions to help students understand that English majors can success in a wide variety of careers, as well as a position to recruit students to the department. He has been an asset to the department and a voice for the students.