April 17, 2017

Seven to receive Faculty-Staff Excellence Awards

by Pete Rosenbery

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

Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell 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., Thursday, April 20, in Morris Library’s John C. Guyon Auditorium. 

The recipients are: Michael J. Lydy (Scholar Excellence Award), Kathleen A. Pericak-Spector (Teaching Excellence Award, tenured and tenure-track), Timothy J. Ting, (Teaching Excellence Award, non-tenure track), Jennida M. Chase (Early Career Faculty Excellence Award), Nanditha Balasubramanian (Women of Distinction), and Robert A. Baer and Elizabeth A. (Liz) Hunter (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 for their achievements by other scholars in the field.” 

Michael J. Lydy, professor, in the Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences (CFAAS) in the Department of Zoology, started at “sonic speed” when he came to SIU Carbondale from Wichita State University in 2001. Lydy, who has a cross appointment in chemistry, continues to be a “productive powerhouse,” according to a letter of nomination written by James E. Garvey, interim vice chancellor for research and CFAAS director. 

Lydy is “intense, demanding, and clearly driven,” Garvey wrote. “Mike runs a tight ship, is highly competitive, and fights for what he needs to be the best scientist possible. This makes him the productive powerhouse that he is and will continue to be.” 

Blair Siegfried, professor and chair of the University of Florida’s Entomology and Nematology Department, wrote that Lydy is one of the “preeminent scientists in the world working on toxicology of environmental contaminants in aquatic and terrestrial environments.” Lydy, Siegfried wrote, has conducted pioneering work on developing analytical tools for detecting environmental contaminants “and their potential to adversely affect biological systems.” He also has the important ability to explain the complexity of environmental contamination to regulatory and non-governmental organizations, significantly impacting decisions regarding regulation of chemicals in the environment, Siegfried wrote. 

Garvey wrote that a hallmark of Lydy’s laboratory is “pushing the edge of toxicological techniques, especially regarding quantifying bioavailability of contaminants in the field.” By emphasizing quality control and assurance to laboratory staff, Lydy ensures his results are of the highest standards. The use of cutting-edge tools for chemical analysis and toxicological experiments leads “to great training opportunities for our undergraduate and graduate students,” Garvey wrote. 

Lydy has an impressive publication record for a faculty member in the middle of his career, Garvey wrote. He has 194 peer-reviewed publications; he averages 274 citations per year; and has more than 3,900 papers citing his research to date. He has mentored more than 40 undergraduate students, graduated 36 graduate students and trained numerous post-doctoral and visiting scholars over his career. Garvey wrote there is a “culture of learning, curiosity, and hard work” cultivated in Lydy’s internationally diverse laboratory – with regular lab meetings that can go on for hours. His students are accomplished and regularly win national awards for their work. 

Lydy understands how to seek research support from diverse sources while competing for lucrative federal grants. He is also a hands-on teacher who conveys complex concepts in ways that are easy to understand, Garvey wrote. 

“This intensity in the classroom is simply another facet of what makes Mike a great academic to the benefit of our university,” Garvey wrote. 

Lydy earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Wittenberg University and his master’s degree in zoology from Miami University. He earned his doctorate in zoology from The Ohio State University. 

Lydy will receive the permanent title of Distinguished Scholar. 

Teaching Excellence Award, tenured and tenure-track 

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

Kathleen A. Pericak-Spector, professor, Department of Mathematics, is recognized for inspiring students throughout her academic career through “innovative educational opportunities, exciting outreach activities and expert classroom teaching,” according to a nomination letter written by Bhaskar Bhattacharya, professor and department chair. A close examination of Pericak-Spector’s work in her 36-year SIU Carbondale career “is that of an educator who is a living example of the very best characteristics of our profession and has inspired thousands of students.” 

Pericak-Spector joined the university in 1981 as an assistant professor in Mathematics, became associate professor in 1987, and was promoted to professor in 1999. She is vice chair of the department. She was named a University Faculty Woman of Distinction in 1995 and received the Lindell W. Sturgis Professional Achievement Award in 1999.  Among other honors, she was recognized as the outstanding teacher in the College of Science in 1997 and 2011. 

In her career, Pericak-Spector has been principal investigator on more than $3.25 million on external grants for innovative educational programs, including a National Science Foundation project designed to increase retention rates within the College of Engineering. Bhattacharya notes that first- and second-year retention rates within the College of Engineering increased by seven and nine percent, respectively, due in part to her efforts. She established the Math Learning Center in the College of Science study lounge in the James W. Neckers building; the study lounge consistently attracts 50 to 100 students nightly to receive additional tutoring help. She also has been instrumental in several outreach activities, including the “Expanding Your Horizons” program; chair of the Illinois Junior Academy of Science Region VIII Science Fair; the annual “Science in the South” conference for K-12 teachers; and the “Math Field Day”, which brings close to 1,000 high school students in the region to campus. 

Pericak-Spector wrote that she loves math and teaching, cannot imagine doing anything else, and wants to make a difference in students’ lives. She wants students to see that “mathematics is not necessarily hard but it is thought-provoking.” Pericak-Spector strongly encourages students to ask questions and investigate for themselves – noting that a mathematics course “is comprised of helping students gain straightforward knowledge as well as equally develop a pattern of thinking about unsolved problems.” 

Those who nominated Pericak-Spector also discuss her popularity as a classroom instructor and the waiting list of students who want to enroll in her courses. Tarnisha Green, director of Success in Engineering Through Excellence and Diversity at SIU, first met Pericak-Spector 20 years ago when Green was a student in her class. She wrote that Pericak-Spector has a “strong commitment” to students, and “regularly encourages other faculty to continue pursuing professional and personal opportunities to grow.” Green wrote she often tells others that if it weren’t for Pericak-Spector, she “may not have graduated with an engineering degree and it was her strong example of what a teacher is supposed to be that catapulted my desire to become a teacher.” 

Former students who are now math instructors credit Pericak-Spector for their development, first as a student and now in their own respective careers. 

Pericak-Spector earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics at State University of New York at Buffalo; a Master of Arts in mathematics from the University of Pittsburgh; a Master of Science in mathematics from Carnegie-Mellon University; and her doctorate, also in mathematics, from Carnegie-Mellon. 

Pericak-Spector will receive the permanent title of Distinguished Teacher. 

Teaching Excellence Award, non-tenure track 

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

Timothy J. Ting, a lecturer in paralegal studies, is a “model for what should define an outstanding teacher,” wrote David A. Silver, the program’s interim director, in Ting’s nomination letter. 

An assistant public defender in Jackson County, Ting is a Carbondale native whose parents met while both attended SIU Carbondale. Ting graduated from the paralegal studies program in 2005 and earned his law degree from the SIU School of Law in 2008. A lecturer in paralegal studies since 2011, Ting is also an adjunct professor at the law school. 

Silver wrote that Ting, a former student of his in the paralegal program, showed he “clearly had a passion for teaching” with his help to other students while working later as a graduate assistant while attending law school. Ting was hired to teach part-time after working three years as a clerk for local judges, 1-and-one-half years as an appellate prosecutor for the Fifth District Appellate Court, and two years as assistant public defender in Williamson County. He consistently receives high scores in instructor course evaluations at both the undergraduate level and at the law school. 

“Tim has been a superior lecturer and has vastly improved the courses he teaches,” Silver wrote. “One would be hard-pressed to find someone better to teach advanced legal analysis, research and writing. It requires very specialized talents and knowledge but also requires a teacher that is capable of conveying new and complex concepts to students.” 

Ting wrote that the legal profession and academic community “have provided me with many opportunities and I am grateful for my career.” 

“It is my hope that I have these opportunities not only to enhance my personal accomplishments, but, more importantly, to aid the local community, the academic community, and the legal profession,” Ting wrote. 

In addition to handling a wide range of felony cases, Ting will typically teach two classes each semester. In 2015, Ting received the Illinois State Bar Association’s “Young Lawyer of the Year Award” and was an American Bar Association finalist for “National Outstanding Young Lawyer” last year. He will be president of the Jackson County Bar Association this fall. 

Christopher W. Behan, professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the SIU School of Law, wrote that Ting, who teaches a trial advocacy class, “has an unparalleled work ethic.” After the death of Ting’s father following his first year in law school, Ting cared for his wife, young daughter, a younger sister, and “distinguished himself as one of the finest student advocates ever to graduate from our law school.” 

“Simply put, Tim is the most exemplary young lawyer I know,” Behan wrote. “He epitomizes all that is best about the practice of law. The success that he has achieved as an advocate and as a teacher is not accidental; it is the result of hard work and a relentless quest for excellence.” 

Ting will receive the permanent title of Distinguished Teacher. 

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. 

Jennida M. Chase, assistant professor, Department of Cinema and Photography, has been at SIU Carbondale since 2014. She is a “younger colleague who represents the very best of the old-fashioned faculty ideal, i.e., someone for whom research, creative work, teaching and service are all interwoven in the very fabric of her being,” Jyotsna Kapur, professor and chair of the department, wrote in her nominating letter. 

Chase’s interest and specialties include film, video, sound, mobile platform and cross-platform media development, animation, art installations and art interventions.  Chase has a “remarkable drive for artistic impression, social engagement, and exploration of new media technologies,” Kapur wrote. She pointed to two of Chase’s present projects: “Richmond Reclamation Project,” an interactive, multi-platform documentary “that brings to life the oral history of the Civil Rights movement” in Richmond, Va.; and “In The Dreams of Others,” a series of video installations that provides vignettes of families in domestic spaces that “teach us to look closely at the concept of ‘home’.” 

Chase has a serious commitment toward undergraduate and graduate students and has developed several new initiatives since coming to SIU Carbondale, including preparing them to showcase work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Kapur wrote. 

“I see in Jennida a faculty member whose memory of being a student herself is still fresh and who wants to ensure that our students are prepared for the world after school,” Kapur wrote. 

Bob Paris, an associate professor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Fine Arts, wrote that Chase’s “extraordinary curiosity and activity” has always been present. She has a “relentless drive to take on new creative challenges.” With a “broad skillset that seems to expand each month,” Paris described Chase as a “modern, international artist who embraces creative paradigms of collaboration, community work and new media.” 

Chase joined the SIU Carbondale faculty from Bowling Green University where she was an instructor and film equipment and computer lab manager. Prior to that, Chase was an adjunct professor in the Department of Photography and Film, Kinetic Imaging Department, at VCU. Her other experiences include work as an editor, director and cinematographer on various projects. 

Chase earned her Master of Fine Arts from VCU and her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of Art Institute of Chicago in 1998. 

Jay Needham, professor of sound and media and interim director of SIU’s Global Media Research Center, wrote that Chase conceived the center’s “Expanding Media” symposium. In its third year of programming, the symposium is poised to grow into a consortium with partnering institutions that includes The College of New Jersey, The Art Institute of Chicago, and Tulane University. 

He added that Chase’s creative practice is grounded in relevant social issues. 

“Many people teach others how to use technology, but few are ever able to integrate what is essential about artistic creation or what is culturally relevant about creating electronic media,” Needham wrote. “We are fortunate to have a media maker who is breaking new ground on our campus.” 

Women of Distinction Excellence Award 

This award is given to a faculty, Administrative/Professional or Civil Service staff member, and recognizes employees for a “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. 

Nanditha Balasubramanian, director of annual giving, SIU Foundation, is a “quiet, yet effective leader” whose service includes a number of initiatives that further the university’s and foundation’s mission; mentoring a diverse group of students for leadership positions in the annual giving program; and volunteering her time and skills to promote diversity awareness in the community. 

Balasubramanian joined the university as the assistant director of annual giving in January 1996 and was named director in August 2006. 

In her nomination letter, Gayla Borgognoni, a retired financial adviser from Carbondale, wrote that Balasubramanian’s efforts began her first year on campus with a direct mail calendar appeal sent to alumni and friends that led to “significant increases in donations,” along with national recognition from CASE, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. As assistant director, Balasubramanian was also responsible for collaborating with and helping other units across campus with fund-raising ideas and establishing ongoing annual giving efforts, Borgognoni wrote. 

The annual giving program employs about 70 students each year to call alumni and friends of the university to secure private support. Borgognoni wrote that Balasubramanian selects student callers from diverse cultural backgrounds and as director, introduced the idea of training students “in a wide-range of topics, besides fundraising.” That includes developing cultural competencies, motivation, personal safety, leadership development and providing major networking opportunities, Borgognoni wrote. 

In addition to facilitating cultural events and programs at local schools in the region, Balasubramanian served on the planning committee for Asian Awareness Month; was adviser to the United Asian-American Council, a registered student organization on campus; and for five years was on the Non-Traditional Student Services Advisory Board. 

Balasubramanian is a two-degree graduate of Eastern Illinois University, earning a Master of Arts in political science and a Master of Science in student personnel in higher education. Her honors include a University Women’s Professional Advancement (UWPA) Mentoring Award in 2013. She also received a Global Ambassador Award from Eastern Illinois University; the award recognizes alumni who exemplify EIU’s definition of a global citizen. 

Terry Clark, dean of the College of Business, wrote that Balasubramanian’s “rare combination of professional and community commitment to women’s issues, to diversity and inclusion is strong, and has been sustained for many years.” 

Christina Donsbach, director of philanthropy at Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship in Effingham, met Balasubramanian more than 14 years ago while a student worker at the SIU Foundation. Balasubramanian provided excellent training and served as a mentor, Donsbach wrote. 

“At the time I did not realize I would be interested in a long-term career in the fund-raising/development area,” Donsbach wrote. “However, looking back, I now realize her commitment to me as a student worker helped lay the groundwork for me to achieve a successful career path in fundraising for higher education.” 

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. 

Robert A. Baer is a computer/electronics specialist and public astronomy outreach coordinator in the Department of Physics. In his letter of nomination, Scott Ishman, geology professor and associate dean of the College of Science, wrote that Baer’s passion for the university, its students, and SIU’s outreach mission is evident in a variety of ways. 

Baer began with SIU Carbondale as a teaching and research assistant in 1995. He moved to his present position in 2000. Baer is active in planning for the 2017 total solar eclipse on campus in August. He is the NASA Night Sky coordinator for the physics department; faculty adviser to the Saluki Astronomy Association; co-chair of the Southern Illinois Eclipse 2017-2024 Steering Committee; and is actively involved with the Citizen CATE Experiment, which will record data during eclipse totality across the country, with multiple sites in Illinois. 

Baer provides instructional and research support in addition to being involved with community outreach. That includes coordinating the department’s public astronomy observation program and several general hands-on physics events; there are about 24 events per year serving more than 1,300 people.

Baer established a computer laboratory for undergraduate and graduate physics students and a computer cluster that “enables the faculty and students to conduct sophisticated research in computational physics,” Ishman wrote. In addition, Baer is a mentor, visiting regional schools presenting programs on physics to K-12 students, and presents at the Boy Scouts of America STEM University. 

Baer wrote that he strongly believes that “good outreach efforts are crucial to getting bright students to go into the science fields and in keeping good teachers interested and motivated.” 

Sarah Kovac, a senior in physics, wrote that Baer has been “one of the most influential people” during her time on campus. Kovac is the Saluki Astronomy Association president, and said that the entire registered student organization can now run observations on its own thanks to his guidance. She accompanied Baer to Indonesia in March 2016 to observe and record the total solar eclipse there as a test run for August. Without Baer, “we would not have brought back the incredible images that lead us to publications and public outreach on an international scale,” she wrote. 

Matthew J. Penn, an astronomer with the National Solar Observatory in Tucson, Ariz., worked with Baer on eclipse experiments in 2015 and 2016, as well as plans for an eclipse experiment in August. Penn wrote that he has visited many communities along the eclipse path and that Carbondale is “light-years ahead in its planning compared to any other community in the nation.” Baer has organized a community task force for the event and the planning is an “outstanding education and public outreach program.” 

“It is not just my opinion that his work is the best in the nation,” Penn wrote. He noted that Baer has been a co-investigator on several NASA and National Science Foundation proposals with Penn, and is a co-author on two papers. The NASA Edge group will broadcast a live eclipse program with a target audience of 1 billion views worldwide, and selected SIU Carbondale “to be the base of their broadcast because of what Bob has achieved,” Penn wrote. 

Baer earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Illinois State University and is pursuing a master’s degree in physics from SIU Carbondale. 

Elizabeth A. (Liz) Hunter is the information technology manager/administrative coordinator with University Communications and Marketing. From developing website strategy, to a commitment to ensuring the university’s website is useable and accessible to everyone, to resolving problems with a strong work ethic and collegiality, and to mentoring students, Hunter “is the employee we all aspire to be, the colleague we are all eager to work with, and the supervisor every student deserves,” Rae M. Goldsmith, chief marketing and communications officer, wrote in her nomination letter. 

Hunter is a two-degree SIU Carbondale graduate, with a bachelor’s degree in communication design and a master’s degree in Higher Education Administration. She began at SIU as a publications coordinator in the admissions office in 2005 before moving to University Communications and Marketing as a web specialist two years later. Hunter has been in her current position since 2012, and also spent a year as a lecturer in communication design in the School of Art and Design where she taught a print technology course. 

Hunter’s “recommendations and decisions involving the website are always informed by best practice and driven by data,” Goldsmith wrote, adding that Hunter was heavily involved in making the website responsive so that it can be viewed on any device. She chaired the university-wide web standards committee that developed accessibility guidelines, and is a member of the university’s Americans with Disabilities Act Committee. Goldsmith wrote that Hunter “is focused not on maintaining the status quo, but on continuous improvement.” Two years ago, SIU’s new responsive website was ranked most accessible in a study of 140 university websites, and this year, the overall website ranked second; the admissions site ranked first.  Hunter has worked closely with the university’s 2017 Total Solar Eclipse Planning Committee and designed the eclipse website, a key element in attracting visitors from around the country and world. In addition to an ease in navigating the website, many other eclipse websites have copied Hunter’s use of a countdown-to-the-eclipse clock. 

Hunter is a member of the Jackson County Board, where she chairs the finance and administration committee, and is also a Carbondale Township trustee. Hunter is on the university’s parking appeals board and has been on the School of Art and Design’s art advisory board since 2008. 

Kay M. Pick Zivkovich, professor in the School of Art and Design, was Hunter’s former design professor and a mentor. Hunter “has demonstrated a sense of excellence and attention to detail that most would aspire to possess,” Zivkovich wrote. 

“She is a warm and engaging individual who is flexible, enthusiastic, and has a great deal of patience,” Zivkovich wrote. “Students become enamored with her knowledge and energy that in turn makes them strive to do better.” 

Sam Goodin, director of Disability Support Services, wrote that Hunter is prepared, passionate about her work, and contributes to the university’s Americans with Disabilities Act task force discussions “in a knowledgeable and sometimes passionate way.” 

Jessica Mann, assistant director of web communications with University Communications and Marketing, wrote that Hunter “exhibits the same professionalism and perfectionism in all aspects of her job,” from hiring and training students to being part of the web team and redesigning a website template used for more than 300 SIU websites. Hunter is able to “mesh” her knowledge of the department and university structure “with technical data in order to find original solutions and answers to help people.” 

“The world today is heavily dependent upon technology and Liz works hard to assure that the university’s website projects are innovative, professional, functional, user-friendly and that they operate smoothly,” Mann wrote.