Six Kansas State University educators receive Presidential Awards for outstanding work
Friday, March 25, 2016
MANHATTAN — Five Kansas State University faculty members and one graduate teaching assistant are receiving 2016 Presidential Awards for going above and beyond in providing education, development and vision to students and professors.
The awards include a $5,000 honorarium sponsored by the university president's office and Curtin Property Company, a real estate development firm with offices in Manhattan and Kansas City.
Receiving the Presidential Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching are Soo-Hye Han, assistant professor of communication studies; Heidi Mehl, Augusta, doctoral student in geography; Lisa Wilken, assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering; and Richard Zajac, professor of physics.
Amit Chakrabarti, department head of physics and interim dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, is receiving the Presidential Award for Outstanding Department Head. Dawne Martin, assistant dean for diversity in the College of Business Administration, is receiving the Presidential Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising.
"These talented teachers are dedicated to helping students succeed at K-State and preparing them for future accomplishments," said Kirk Schulz, university president. "We are grateful for their efforts and appreciate the continued support of Chris Curtin and Curtin Property Company to reward them for their dedication, which advances K-State's goal of becoming a Top 50 public research university by 2025."
"We are pleased to join with the K-State president's office in recognizing and rewarding these highly talented educators," said Chris Curtin, president of Curtin Property Company and its Manhattan associates at Georgetown Apartment Homes and Westchester Park Apartments. "Their commitment to their students' success, to professional excellence and to K-State is inspirational to all of us."
Han is being recognized because of her contributions to undergraduate research, international learning opportunities and outstanding instruction for a cross-section of university students. In the past two years, she has supervised 16 undergraduate research projects that resulted in public presentations; has started discussions regarding exchange opportunities at two Japanese universities; and has organized an upcoming intercultural communication student trip to Japan. Even while teaching a challenging survey course, Han's teaching evaluations are in the top quartile of her department.
Mehl incorporates her personal experience into her teaching to generate students' enthusiasm about class materials. She has attracted several new majors to the geography department through her work. According to teaching evaluation scores, she has been the department's best graduate teaching assistant for the past two years. Mehl earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Kansas.
Wilken exemplifies the values and skills she teaches through her leadership roles in the engineering community. She was instrumental in revamping a biological and agricultural design course with 10 semesterlong projects. She coached upperclassmen in serving as peer mentors to guide freshmen through the process. Wilken has developed an educational model that integrates the development of superior writing and oral communication skills with quality laboratory research experiences.
As a professor at the Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus, Zajac performs the duties of a full-time laboratory technician while teaching a full load of courses and participating in scholarship and service activities. His immediate familiarity with every aspect of lab design and troubleshooting allows him to keep his classroom teaching grounded in the students' hands-on experiences and better integrate real-world problem-solving skills with conceptual understanding. Zajac's teaching evaluations consistently praise his skills as an instructor.
Chakrabarti established compensation time from classroom teaching for faculty members who are developing new research collaborations, classes or teaching techniques. He has brought together leaders from agriculture, engineering and fine arts for interdisciplinary research and creative activities. He also has promoted the commercialization of physics research by networking across campus and securing a $1 million endowment from an alumna for the Sorensen Physics to Business Incubator. He has revitalized recruitment and retention by writing a personalized letter to every physics teacher in the state asking them to refer their brightest students to the department; increasing offerings for undergraduate students in the realms of advising, research and recognition; creating a fellowship for international students; acquiring funds to improve teaching and research facilities; and providing vision to the department, with clear-cut plans to enhance the national visibility of the department's research enterprise.
Martin starts building relationships with students from underrepresented groups at the high school level by leading College for a Day, which introduces teens to campus. During the summer bridge program for incoming freshmen, she often works into the evening engaging students and administering study halls. Additionally, she serves as an adviser for the Multicultural Business Student Association, partners students with tutors, explains financial aid processes, connects students to internship recruiters, assists students with acquiring job interview attire, and maintains mentoring relationships well into graduates' careers.