At a socially distanced ceremony outside Hopwood Hall on Thursday afternoon, Associate Provost and Dean of Academic Affairs Dr. Chip Walton announced the winners of this year’s faculty awards. The event was also livestreamed.
President Dr. Alison Morrison-Shetlar opened the ceremony by thanking all of the faculty for their tireless and innovative work over the past year. Seconding her remarks, Walton also remembered those colleagues who died.
The Edward A. Polloway Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching went to Dr. Eric J. Schmidt, assistant professor in the School of PA Medicine, who was described by students as someone who has “consistently gone above and beyond to provide students with the best possible education, even through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual learning.”
His “natural ability to take incredibly complex material and break it down into concepts that are easily digestible” earned him additional points.
As one student explained, Schmidt “is hands down one of the most amazing educators that the University of Lynchburg could have ever come across. This professor teaches very difficult courses but is able to make learning the material so seamless and interesting.
“The most complicated disease states are presented as though telling a story, and this professor always manages to bring things full circle.”
In addition to student nominations, candidates were reviewed for “evidence of impact of teaching, utilization of engaging and effective instructional methods, support of student learning, and a commitment to student success.”
The Elsie Ervin Bock Award for Excellence in Citizenship was awarded to Dr. Laura Henry-Stone, associate professor of environmental sciences and sustainability and director of sustainability.
According to the University, the 2021 Bock winner “contributes to all facets of our higher education environment. As a mentor and advisor to many of our students, she explores the best pedagogical practices for teaching about the human environment and sustainability and integrates these concepts in her scholarship and professional activities.”
Henry-Stone serves on a number of committees, was instrumental in the development of the University’s DELL core curriculum, and works extensively to provide service-learning opportunities to her students.
One example is the STARS assessment that will help the University better understand its sustainability efforts. A big milestone came earlier this year, when Henry-Stone’s collaboration with internal and external partners helped Lynchburg become carbon-neutral.
The Award for Excellence in Research Mentoring was given to Dr. Brooke Haiar, associate professor of environmental science, for “making undergraduate student engagement a key component of her tenure.”
Since joining the faculty of Lynchburg in 2008, her nomination letter explains, Haiar has taken 13 students to Wyoming for field research in the Wyoming Fossil Excavation Project. “This research, along with her supervision of 32 student research projects, has led to numerous peer-reviewed publications that Dr. Haiar has co-authored with Lynchburg students,” the nomination letter continues.
“This work has paid dividends for the students, both in terms of the enjoyment and the professional benefits that have come as a result, including both graduate school enrollment and job placement.”
Haiar’s extensive work with students was recognized by those outside the University of Lynchburg when in 2019, she was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Natural Science Education, an award given annually by the Virginia Museum of Natural History.
Dr. John Eric Goff, professor of physics, received the James A. Huston Award for Excellence in Scholarship. Described as a “prolific researcher whose scholarship has gained an international reputation,” Goff, in the last seven years alone, published his second book and 20 articles in internationally respected, peer-reviewed journals.
Goff’s 2018 article on the Telstar 18 soccer ball went viral and was said to be the most downloaded paper ever in the Journal of Sports Engineering and Technology. Meanwhile, he continued his steady media presence both nationally and abroad.
In addition to his publications, Goff has given 20 presentations in four different countries, two of which were keynote addresses, and has served as a guest editor for two different journals.
Dr. James Sherwood, dean and professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and editor of one of the journals, wrote, “While many special issues are pursued by a team of guest editors of two or three, [Goff] took on his role as guest editor on his own — with minimal guidance from me. … The response to the special issue was such a success that it was published in two volumes.”
Goff’s nomination letter also noted student involvement in his research. In fact, seven of his most recent papers were co-authored by Lynchburg students.
The Shirley E. Rosser Award for Excellence in Teaching — the University’s highest teaching honor — was given to Dr. Robin Bates, Geraldine Lyon Owen Professor and chair of the English department, who reportedly did a particularly stellar job navigating the shift to online learning. According to Bates, the question she asked herself wasn’t so much about technology, but rather: “What is the human connection here?”
And it worked, as evidenced by the award. “With creativity, openness, and grace, this professor found it possible to maintain a strong sense of community with students, and to continue ‘to explore the deeply human aspects of the texts through the tools of the virtual classroom,’” her nomination letter reads.
As one student put it, Bates “is the teacher I aspire to be one day.” Another wrote that the English professor makes “every student feel accepted, loved, and passionate about their studies.”
Finally, the Thomas C. Allen-Heidi Koring Award for Excellence in Academic Advising went to Katie Bowman, assistant professor of health and physical education. According to her nomination letter, Bowman “goes above and beyond for her students,” “ensures they have the best learning experiences and outcomes,” and “always has her door open and is willing to talk.” In addition to serving as an advisor and program director in her academic department, Bowman previously served as a freshman advisor.
One nominator wrote, “Without her constant encouragement and advice, I would not have the courage to pursue my desired career goals.”
Bowman’s advising philosophy goes beyond a student’s academic needs. “I understand that on any given day, there is more going on in the students’ [lives] than the content they are supposed to be learning in their courses,” she wrote.
“Sometimes, I just need to be present, with a smile, nod, or a box of tissues. If they need a minute to compose themselves, then that time, no matter how short, should be allowed so that they are ready to continue on their path. … In every case, for me it is the whole person that matters.”