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Cameron University honors facutly members with awards

Cameron University faculty members Leah Chaffins, Dr. Yingqin Liu, Bernadette Lonzanida, Dr. Rajesh Nayak, Dr. Matt Van Zant and adjunct faculty member William Schlecht have been honored with awards recognizing their contributions to Cameron’s academic community.

Dr. Yingqin Lui, professor in the Department of Communication, English and Foreign Languages, is the recipient of the 2023-24 Harold and Elizabeth Hackler Award for Teaching Excellence, Cameron’s highest faculty honor. The Hackler Lectureship in Teaching Excellence was established in 1996 by Cameron alumni Harold and Elizabeth Hackler to recognize outstanding contributions by faculty in the lives of Cameron students.

“Dr. Liu is one of the most accommodating, hardworking, selfless, and caring professors at Cameron University,” wrote one nominator, who explained that Liu “goes above and beyond when it comes to her students' learning.” The nominator elaborated by saying, “She goes out of her way to help students in whatever they need, such as staying after office hours, reteaching lessons one-on-one, and assisting students in learning the content or succeeding in assignments.”

Another nominator referred to Liu as an inspiration who is excellent in teaching and helpful as a colleague and advisor. “I have heard so many times how her students really appreciate her time devoted to teaching,” the nominator wrote, adding that Liu is an amazing colleague to learn from. “I learned a lot from her on how to teach and how to encourage students. She is very generous in giving me specific advice and tips on classroom management, as well as how to make the assignments interesting and meaningful.”

Dr. Rajesh Nayak, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, Physics & Engineering, was selected to receive the Bhattacharya Research Excellence Award. The nominator summarized Nayak’s contributions to research by mentioning that in the past five years, he has mentored 13 students who have combined for 27 poster and oral presentations at local, regional and national conferences. “Many of those students have gone on to successful graduate school experiences,” the nomination reads. “Dr. Nayak has actively pursued external and intramural funding for his scholarly activity and for his student researchers, resulting in five external grants and 21 intramural grants. His enthusiastic sponsorship of undergraduate research reflects that he is clearly a noteworthy mentor-scholar with a diligent work ethic.

Faculty Excellence Awards were presented to three members of the faculty in recognition of their contributions to Cameron’s academic community.

The Faculty Award for Excellence in Service recognizes a faculty member who has applied his/her professional expertise beyond the classroom to advance the university and its constituents. Dr. Matt Van Zant, associate professor of in the Department of Agriculture, Biology and Health Sciences, is the 2023-2024 recipient. The nomination recapped Van Sant’s service to the university, which includes serving as chair of the General Education Committee for two terms and chair of the Institutional Assessment Committee, in addition to volunteering for multi-year stints on the Faculty Senate, General Education Committee and Institutional Assessment Committee.

The nominator wrote that Van Zant provides valuable suggestions to improve his department’s programs and is the sole person responsible for the general education assessment for critical thinking. The nomination also noted, “It is clear he values serving and helping others and wants to foster a love for science in children. He teaches fifth graders at Woodland Hills Elementary to dissect owl pellets every spring. He tells me that students at first are very grossed out by this activity but quickly enjoy it.”

The Faculty Award for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching recognizes a full-time faculty member who performs superbly in the classroom. Bernadette Lonzanida, senior instructor in the Department of Business, is the recipient. She was nominated by one of her students, who wrote, “Professor Lonzanida is an amazing teacher. The way she interacts with our class of accounting students is amazing! She incorporates active learning and engages with her students directly. It has enhanced my learning experience and has made me rethink my major in college. I feel she truly she is a gifted teacher and I wish we couldclone her!”

Leah Chaffins, assistant professor in the Department of Communication, English and Foreign Languages, is the recipient of the Faculty Award for Excellence in Mentoring Student Research. The award recognizes a faculty member who has an excellent, sustained record of mentoring student research and scholarship. “Professor Chaffins has mentored numerous creative writing students to help them get their work submitted to contests, festivals, and publications,” wrote the nominator. “One of her creative writing students, Briley Jones, had his work nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2019.” Chaffins was also lauded for obtaining research support funding that makes it possible for students to participate at the Scissortail Writer's Festival, where her students have not only presented their work but have often won major prizes and recognition.

The nominator also said, “Professor Chaffins helps bring our creative writing students outside the classroom and mentors them on the process to becoming successful writers in the field at large, helping them develop creativity, innovation, and creative thinking, and to professionalize their work.”

William Schlecht is the honoree for the Adjunct Faculty Award for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching, which recognizes an adjunct faculty member who performs superbly in the classroom. Now in his 13th year as an adjunct for the Department of Agriculture, Biology, and Health Sciences, Schlecht has taught lectures and labs in General Biology and Human Biology almost every semester. The nominator wrote, “While some students find him difficult or too rigorous, one only needs to spend a few minutes perusing social media or his IDEA evaluations to understand the connection he makes with his students through his enthusiasm, energy, and active engagement. In his lectures he is animated and excited, and the students obviously feed off of this in a positive way.”

The nominator wrote that Schlecht encourages his students dig deeper into subjects and to critically think about the living world around them, noting, “His ability to engage and encourage is, in my mind, unrivaled.”



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