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Presidential Award winners reflect best of university's teaching, leadership and advising

Thursday, April 5, 2018


MANHATTAN — Excellence in teaching, administration and advising is earning five faculty members and a graduate student Kansas State University's 2018 Presidential Awards.

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 Heather Bailey, assistant professor of psychological sciences; Nathaniel Birkhead, assistant professor of political science; Mike Finnegan, assistant professor of leadership studies; and Amanda Martens, graduate teaching assistant in psychological sciences from Shelby, Iowa.

Jeffrey Pickering, professor and head of the political science department, is receiving the Presidential Award for Outstanding Department Head. The recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising is Lisa Wilken, assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering.

"We are pleased to partner with the K-State president's office for the last several decades in honoring the university's talented teachers," said Chris Curtin, president of Curtin Property Company and its Manhattan associates at Georgetown Apartment Homes and Westchester Park Apartments. "Their dedication to students and professional excellence is inspiring."

Recipients of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching are being recognized for serving students with compassion, dedication and creativity.

Bailey, who consistently receives high evaluation marks for her teaching, applies evidence-based techniques that have been validated in her field of cognitive psychology to her teaching to improve student learning. Among the courses she teaches is Psych 350, the psychological sciences department's undergraduate research methods course that is required of all psychology majors and one of the most demanding courses offered by the department. An active researcher, she also mentors eight to 10 undergraduate researchers in her laboratory each year. In addition, Bailey serves as an advisor to the K-State chapter of Psi Chi, the psychology honor society.

At the undergraduate level, Birkhead teaches introductory and upper-level courses on U.S. politics. Students praise the objectivity in his teaching and his ability to explain the subject in a clear and accessible manner. A pedagogical leader in his department, faculty and graduate teaching assistants in political science often turn to Birkhead for tips and suggestions on teaching. Birkhead serves as an undergraduate research mentor and also encourages students to get involved in his own research projects, including a polling observation study for the 2016 presidential election.

Since joining the Staley School of Leadership Studies in 2006, Finnegan has taught the school's Introduction to Leadership Concepts course, which serves 600 to 700 first-semester freshmen and meets once a week for two hours. He has been responsible for all facets of the course, including curriculum development, lectures, and training and supporting class leaders. He was even asked by authors of the textbook used for the course to assist them in updating it. Along with teaching upper-level undergraduate courses for the school, Finnegan was a driving force behind Kansas State University becoming a strengths-based campus that focuses on student engagement and well-being. All incoming freshmen at the university can take the Clifton Strengths for Students and receive strengths coaching.

Martens, a doctoral student in psychology, has taught a wide range of psychology courses, including Psychology of Women, General Psychology, Personality Psychology and Social Psychology. She also is the first graduate teaching assistant asked by the psychological sciences department to teach Forensic Psychology and is currently teaching Psychology of Mass Communications. Her class sizes have ranged from 25 to 75 students. Martens also leads and manages a team of four undergraduate research assistants each semester. Her teaching has several other honors, including the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools' Excellence in Teaching Award, the Stamey Award for Teaching Excellence from the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Graduate Instructor Award from the psychological sciences department.

As the recipient of the Presidential Award for Outstanding Department Head, Pickering is being honored for proactive and positive leadership qualities that have helped to foster a collegial environment and encourages productivity and innovation. Since becoming head of the political science department in 2009, faculty and staff members say Pickering has created an environment where they all can succeed, feel valued and enjoy their jobs. As department head, Pickering has helped increase the number of undergraduate and graduate political science majors. He also has worked to increase the department's support from alumni and donors, including the establishment of a $1 million endowed professorship. Pickering has also been successful in recruiting and mentoring new, high-quality junior faculty members. The overall result is a department with strong outcomes in the classroom and in research. Numerous political science faculty members have won teaching awards, publications in leading research outlets have increased significantly, and faculty have had increasing success with extramural funding.

Wilken, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising, is the primary advisor for the biological and agricultural engineering program's biological option. Wilken has an open-door policy and encourages students to seek assistance whenever they face challenges. She takes a holistic approach to advising by learning about her students' backgrounds, experiences, and academic, career and life goals. She actively seeks opportunities that will prepare students to reach their goals and identifies experiences that will further develop their skills and talents. This includes supporting students for national scholarships and awards and encouraging students to attend and participate in regional and national professional conferences and competitions. Outside of her regular advising duties, Wilken frequently advises upper-level undergraduates on graduate school selection and admission, as well as funding opportunities for their research. In the past year, she wrote more than 50 letters of recommendation for students for graduate program admission, fellowships and scholarships, undergraduate research opportunities and more. She served as the advisor to the student chapter of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers for five years and is currently an advisor to Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society. Wilken also has mentored more than 17 undergraduate researchers.

Written by

Beth Bohn