April 23, 2015

Seven earn Faculty and Staff Excellence Awards

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Southern Illinois University Carbondale will honor seven members of the faculty and staff for superior scholarship, teaching and service.

SIU System President Randy Dunn will host a ceremony and reception honoring the recipients of the Faculty and Staff Excellence Awards, as well as campus authors, at 3 p.m. Monday, April 27, in Morris Library’s Hall of Presidents and Chancellors.

The Excellence Award recipients are: Karen Renzaglia (Scholar Excellence Award), Gary Apgar (Teaching Excellence Award), Justin Filiberto (Early Career Faculty Excellence Award), Sara Baer and Cheryl Jenise Wilson (Women of Distinction Excellence Award), and Rachel Shurtz and Jeff Goelz (Staff Excellence Award).

Here are profiles of the recipients:

Scholar Excellence Award

This award “recognizes and promotes outstanding research and creative endeavors,” and is given only to those “who have made outstanding contributions to their discipline” and who are “widely recognized by other scholars in the field.”

Karen Renzaglia, a professor in the plant biology department in the College of Science, “is a credit to our institution, bringing us well deserved international recognition because of her exemplary scholarship,” according to the letter of nomination written on behalf of colleagues in the department by David Gibson, professor of plant biology and the 2008 recipient of this award.

Renzaglia, a three-degree graduate of SIU Carbondale, joined the plant biology department in 1996 as a visiting research professor before being hired as an assistant professor in 2005. She became a full professor in 2011. Prior to her appointment here, she was on the faculty at East Tennessee State University from 1980 to 1997.

Gibson describes Renzaglia’s scholarly activity as “quite astonishing,” noting, “She is a recognized international expert on bryophytes (mosses, hornworts and liverworts), and is quite simply the world expert in the spores and reproductive structures of these plants. As a result, she has active research collaborations with all the other international experts in her field. Her research laboratory is vibrant and active, and attracting visiting scientists from around the world.”

Gibson also points to Renzaglia’s development of undergraduate and graduate programs at SIU Carbondale.

“She has spearheaded collaborations across campus to successfully attract funding from the National Science Foundation (several times) and other agencies to develop programs that have helped several diverse groups of students including minorities, women, and other underserved populations,” he wrote.

Renzaglia has been the primary investigator on grants totaling $15 million, including: “Southern Illinois Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program,” $1.3 million from the National Institutes for Health; “Robert Noyce Master Teaching Fellowships, a community of problem-solvers: teachers leading problem-based learning in Southern Illinois,” $3.25 million from the National Science Foundation; and the McNair Scholars Program, $1.3 million from the U.S. Department of Education.

She will receive the permanent title of Distinguished Scholar, a plaque, a medallion, a $2,500 monetary award and $1,000 in other-than-salaries funds.

Teaching Excellence Award

This award recognizes faculty who demonstrate outstanding teaching, high-quality classroom performance, innovation, and “commitment to student learning outcomes and inclusive excellence in education.”

Gary Apgar, associate professor in the animal science, food and nutrition department in the College of Agricultural Sciences, “has excelled in classroom and laboratory instruction” and “has continuously demonstrated his ability as an outstanding Teacher Scholar,” according to the letter of nomination written by William J. Banz, professor and chair of the department.

Apgar joined the department as an assistant professor in 1998 after spending three years as a technical consultant and swine nutritionist with Continental Grain Co. He became an associate professor in 2004. In addition to teaching undergraduate and graduate courses and conducting swine research, he has managed the Agricultural Research and Education Laboratory-Swine Center. From March 2011 to August 2013, he served as the interim department chair, and as Banz noted in his letter, the department – the largest in the college -- achieved two successful accreditations, three successful program reviews, and hired two tenure-track faculty under Apgar’s leadership.

In his statement of philosophy of teaching, Apgar refers to his industry experience, noting: “From this, I’ve maintained a wide, varied network and recognized that no matter the audience, people relate to people on a personal basis. Therefore my teaching philosophy is rooted in both personal approach and real-world application. I do not merely desire to understand students from an educational point of view; I reject being another faceless professor made slightly less intimidating with a simple smile and wave in the halls. Instead, I wish to comprehend the entirety of the student; not just their interests and learning styles, but what comprises the core of their characters.”

Kelsey Wawrzynice, who earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science with a pre-veterinary specialization in 2012, described Apgar as “a very influential role model” in a letter of nomination.

“Dr. Apgar also played a role in my branching out academically,” Wawrzynice wrote. “His passion for pigs is what prompted me to enroll in his Swine Management course, even though I do not care for pigs. Despite coming home reeking of the swine barn from our weekly labs, I learned many critical skills that I am and will be able to apply to my path in veterinary medicine."

Apgar earned his bachelor’s degree in animal science from the Delaware Valley College of Science and Agriculture in Doylestown, Pa., in 1989, and his master’s and doctoral degrees in swine nutrition from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1991 and 1994, respectively.

He will receive the permanent title of Distinguished Teacher, a plaque, a medallion, a $2,500 monetary award and $1,000 in other-than-salaries funds.

Early Career Faculty Excellence Award

This award recognizes faculty within their first five years at SIU Carbondale for “significant contributions throughout the year” to their discipline or the university community. The award recognizes excellence in scholarship, teaching, and other professional activities.

Justin Filiberto, assistant professor of geology in the College of Science, “has amazed us with his productivity, rapidly establishing an internationally recognized research program, remarkably performing as a teacher, and admirably serving the department, his profession, and the community,” writes Steven P. Esling, professor and chair of the Department of Geology, in his nominating letter.

Filiberto joined the faculty in 2011 after serving as a visiting scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute from 2009 to 2011; he also was a postdoctoral research associate at Rice University during the same time period. He earned his bachelor’s degree in geological sciences and marine science in 2001 from the University of Miami, and his doctorate in geology in 2006 from Stony Brook University. Filiberto was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Lunar and Planetary Institute from 2006 to 2009.

His research is in the field of petrology – the study of rocks. Specifically, he studies igneous rocks, particularly those from Mars.

“I kidded him early about the difficulties he may have conducting field research, but in fact the rocks come to him as meteorites,” Esling wrote. “I once asked him how he knew that the rocks came from Mars, rather than some other planet. He cheerfully gave me a detailed, but clear response that helped me understand something that bothered me for some time.”

Filiberto has created and offered two undergraduate and one graduate-level course, and teaches one of the core geology courses required of all majors. According to Esling’s letter, Filiberto has 31 articles in high-impact journals, including 17 since joining the SIU Carbondale faculty. He also has two book chapters and three white papers, and has delivered 90 presentations at professional meetings, including 40 since joining the faculty.

“These are impressive numbers for someone at this stage of their career,” Esling wrote.

Esling also referred to the importance for any “young academic” of establishing their research laboratory.

“This is often a very difficult process because of their other teaching, research and service responsibilities,” Esling said. “With real determination Justin established his laboratory in short order and started collecting data that has already found its way into grant applications and publications.”

Filiberto will received a plaque, a medallion, a $2,500 monetary award and $1,000 in other-than-salaries funds.

Women of Distinction Excellence Award

This award is given to a faculty, administrative/professional or civil service staff member, and recognizes employees who demonstrate “sustained commitment to women and/or issues of diversity through demonstrated leadership, vision, or actions” in their profession, expertise or service to the university community.

Sara Baer, professor of plant biology in the College of Science, “has distinguished herself well as a member of the SIU community as well as within her discipline and the Carbondale community,” writes Stephen D. Ebbs, professor and department chair, in his nominating letter.

Baer joined the Department of Plant Biology as an assistant professor in 2004, becoming an associate professor in 2009 and full professor in 2014. Baer specializes in ecosystem, soil and restoration ecology.

“You would be hard put to find anyone who displays so much commitment and puts forth as much effort in everything she does,” Ebbs wrote. “Her efforts in scholarship, teaching and service are extensive and highly reputable. More importantly, she has been a mentor and friend to countless students, helping them on their way to successful careers.”

Baer has published nearly 50 peer-reviewed manuscripts in what Ebbs describes as “some of the most important and high-impact journals in her field,” and has secured millions of dollars in research grants, including serving as a co-principal investigator on a $6.76 million study of grassland dynamics funded by the National Science Foundation. Baer also is co-principal investigator on a three-year, $353,600 grant awarded in 2013 by the NSF, “Convergence Ecology – Research Experience for Undergraduates in Ecological Diversity across Systems and Disciplines.”

In addition to teaching undergraduate and graduate courses, Baer has advised or co-advised more than a dozen graduate students and mentored/trained more than 25 undergraduate students, a third of whom were women. She served as faculty adviser for Elizabeth Bach, who earned her master’s degree in plant biology in 2009. Bach currently is a postdoctoral research associate with the Illinois Natural History Survey.

In her letter of support of Baer’s nomination, Bach wrote, “Dr. Baer has opened many doors for me as a young scientist and provided an excellent example of a successful scientist as a young woman. Her dedication to the scientific process and ecology as a discipline of curiosity and fun rather than a series of hoops to jump through has been instrumental in fostering my interest in pursuing a research career in soil ecology.”

Baer earned her bachelor’s degree in biology in 1992 from the University of North Texas, her master’s degree in entomology in 1995 from the University of Georgia, and her doctorate in biology in 2001 from Kansas State University.

She will receive a plaque, a medallion, a $1,250 monetary award and $1,000 in other-than-salaries funds.

Cheryl Jenise Wilson has served as chief academic adviser in the College of Engineering since 2011. In her letter of nomination, Lizette R. Chevalier, professor and associate dean, and a previous winner of this award, wrote that Wilson “is committed to students, she is a role model, has vision, initiative, passion, and so much more.”

Wilson earned her bachelor’s degree in vocational educational and her master’s degree in workforce education and development, both from SIU Carbondale. Previous positions with the university included secretary and office systems specialist in the forestry department. From 1998 to 2007, she served as academic advisor in the College of Education and Human Services, followed by four years as coordinator of teacher education admissions and field experiences in the college.

Wilson has an extensive list of university service, including Complete College America, numerous search committees, and volunteering during commencement ceremonies and Saluki Start-Up.

“For our underserved student population in the college, she is a reminder that everyone is a vital part of our university, and that you can succeed,” Chevalier wrote. “In a number of situations, I have seen her deliver the ‘no-nonsense’ message with a sense of compassionate authority that gets students back on track. She is equally important to our faculty and chairs, all of whom rely on her to bridge advisement and academic programs, and to keep them up to date with university policy and procedure.” 

Sanjeev Kumar, professor, Distinguished Teacher and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, describes Wilson as an excellent leader and a true team player who has a demonstrated record of serving a diverse university community.”

Noting that her top priority is assisting students, Kumar also wrote in his letter of support, “I have worked closely with Ms. Wilson for establishing 2+2 collaborations with two international universities. I know it was a complex task. Ms. Wilson’s understanding of the process and her efforts have already resulted in one successful agreement and the other one is likely to happen.”

She will receive a plaque, a medallion, a $1,250 monetary award and $1,000 in other-than-salaries funds.

Staff Excellence Award

This award recognizes an administrative/professional or civil service staff member for “significant contributions” to further the university’s mission. That includes demonstrating excellence in overall work performance, helping to improve students’ experiences, and serving as a positive role model for faculty, staff and students.

Jeff Goelz is an assistant director of Recreational Sports and Services and oversees the Aquatics and Outdoor Pursuits program. Colleagues praise him for his commitment to the university and the community.

In his letter of nomination, Troy Vaughn, director of Recreational Sports and Services, wrote, “Jeff can certainly be viewed as a ‘staple’ at SIU. He has served the university in many various capacities since 1994. Whether it be as a swimming coach, serving on a university-wide committee, assisting with research in various academic departments, or serving thousands of students and members yearly in the Student Recreation Center, Jeff has constantly given his all to those around him. He does this selflessly and without seeking personal gain.”

Goelz joined the university in 1994 as associate head men’s swimming and diving coach. After serving as women’s swimming and diving coach from 1999 to 2004, he became a coordinator in charge of aquatics and sports clubs for Recreational Sports and Services. He has been in his current position since 2007.

Goelz earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education (K-12) and a master’s degree in education, specializing in recreation facility management, both from SIU Carbondale.

Vaughn noted that Goelz has worked “to accomplish a sense of inclusivity within the Student Recreation Center by adding several areas where students and members of all shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds and orientations can feel comfortable. That is not easy to succeed in an aquatic environment, but Jeff has worked hard to accomplish this for the department and university alike.”

Vaughn also shared an anecdote about the assistance Goelz provided to a fellow staff member who was having health issues.

“This person has no family in town and Jeff convinced this staff member to get treatment,” Vaughn wrote. “Jeff transported, assisted, sat with him in the hospital, ensured he had his medications, and transported him home. He did all of this on his own accord while using an earned vacation day. His sense of community and care for the entire campus is appealing and infectious.”

Goelz’s community efforts include serving on the board of directors of the Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale, the Women’s Intersport Network, Special Olympics Polar Plunge, and the Women’s Center Christmas Party, and volunteering with the St. Francis and Williamson County animal shelters.

He will receive a plaque, medallion, a $1,250 monetary award and $1,000 in professional development funds.

Rachel Shurtz has served as manager of the Department of Zoology’s Natural Science Laboratory since 2011 after seven years as a laboratory assistant III.

In his letter of nomination, Carey Krajewski, professor and chair of the department, writes that “the magnitude, complexity and importance of Rachel’s job are beyond dispute.” During her first nine years with the department, she was responsible for organizing the lecture and laboratory components of the two-semester introductory biology sequence for life science majors. During the past two years, she has overseen lectures and labs for that sequence, for a general biology course, and for the Principles of Animal Biology course.

Shurtz has an extensive list of responsibilities, including working with instructors to develop syllabi, monitoring attendance, maintaining grade records, and preparing demonstrations. She also supervises about 25 people at any given time associated with the courses, including a lab assistant, graduate teaching assistants, undergraduate teaching interns, group study leaders and student workers.

“Her efforts directly affect the educational experiences of some 800-900 students who enroll in these courses each semester,” Krajewski wrote.

He cites several examples of Shurtz’s contributions to student success through mentoring, noting that in the courses she coordinates, there are professors, lecturers, graduate instructors, graduate TAs, undergraduate group study leaders and student workers.

“These people come and go, as is typical for such classes,” Krajewski wrote. “Without the continuity that Rachel provides, our general and introductory biology courses would degenerate into chaos. In effect, Rachel mentors the mentors. When I assign a new faculty member to teach one of these courses, as I have many times, the first thing I say to them is, ‘Talk to Rachel and find out what you need to do.’ That suffices, always.”

Letters of support for Shurtz’s nomination included one from William Muhlach, who recently retired after 25 years as a faculty member, including 16 as chair of zoology. He hired Shurtz in 2004.

Muhlach noted that including the time he spent as a research scientist with the Illinois Institute for Developmental Disabilities, he had 35 years of professional experience with State of Illinois institutions.

“Given this experience, I would rank Ms. Shurtz in the top 1 percent of all of the professionals I have ever worked with across the State of Illinois,” Muhlach wrote.

Shurtz earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in zoology from SIU Carbondale.

She will receive a plaque, medallion, a $1,250 monetary award and $1,000 in professional development funds.