Each year, UNO recognizes excellence and faculty achievement at its Faculty Honors Convocation. This year, 18 different faculty members were selected, following nominations from their students, colleagues and academic units, for their outstanding contributions to academic learning; research and creative activity; community engagement; and global engagement.
"It is hard to overstate the incredible value that each and every one of these faculty members brings not only to their respective academic units, but to the entire UNO campus and University of Nebraska system, as well," said UNO Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs B.J. Reed, Ph.D.
A full list of awardees is included below:
With thousands of faculty members across the University of Nebraska system, it is a rare honor to be recognized among each of the system's four campuses for one's teaching efforts; however, that is the case for William Mahoney, who received the University of Nebraska Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award.
Mahoney, who has been a full-time faculty member for 15 years, originally started as an adjunct for the School of Interdisciplinary Informatics and is now an associate professor. In his 15 years, he credits his colleagues and students for creating a vibrant learning environment.
"I think it is easy to do good things when you work with outstanding faculty that push you to be better and with students that make it such a joy to teach," he says.
Currently, Mahoney is the graduate program chair for the masters in cybersecurity degree program and is also the principal investigator for the Scholarship for Service program, which is a student aid program for cybersecurity students managed by the National Science Foundation. He regularly teaches in both the cybersecurity and computer science areas and has helped organize numerous cyber warfare experiences for students that have helped UNO become recognized by the NSA as a National Center of Academic Excellence.
"One thing I have always done is to think about traits that made me really like a professor, and emulate those, and think about traits that I did not like, and steer away from those. So in a way my classroom approach is based on past experience. Since some of my graduate work was at UNO and some at UNL I think that says a lot about our program in Nebraska."
Ashlee Dere, Ph.D. - Geography/Geology
Assistant Professor Ashlee Dere's research focuses on soils within the critical zone. She primarily investigates how variables such as climate and geology control weathering rates and soil formation. She also studies how intensive agricultural land use influences soil and solute geochemistry. Dere also studies ways to incorporate critical zone science and research into undergraduate and high school classrooms.
Ramon Guerra, Ph.D. - English
Associate Professor Ramón Guerra's primary teaching and research focus is Latino/Latina Literature within American Literature, particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries. As a member of the English and Latino/a and Latin American Studies faculty, Guerra offers undergraduate and graduate courses that examine Latino/a Literature and cultures through fiction, poetry, oral history, memoir, and more.
Laura Walls, Ph.D. - Foreign Languages and Literature
Laura Walls is an assistant professor who teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in composition, bilingualism, sociolinguistics, and heritage language pedagogy. Walls also has taught a study abroad course and developed the Spanish heritage language series at UNO. Her scholarship bridges the fields of sociolinguistics, second language acquisition, and heritage language pedagogy. She also is an affiliated faculty member of the Office of Latino/Latina American Studies at UNO.
Shari DeVeney, Ph.D. - Special Education and Communication Disorders
Shari DeVeney’s principal academic focus is speech-language pathology, for which she teaches coursework at the undergraduate and graduate level. DeVeney teaches courses related to speech sound production and disorders; language and reading disorders; fluency disorders; augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems; and, research methods in communication sciences and disorders.
Jillian Poyzer, Ph.D. - Accounting
Jillian Poyzer’s primary teaching focus is taxation, focusing on federal income tax at the individual and business entity level. Beyond teaching technical knowledge in the classroom, Poyzer also assists and mentors students in professional development to help set them up for success as they transition from student to accounting professional. She created and leads the Accounting Careers Program and is its advisor and is the College of Business Administration’s accounting internship coordinator.
Todd Richardson, Ph.D. - Goodrich Scholarship Program
Associate professor Todd Richardson teaches in the Goodrich Scholarship Program, which provides full tuition scholarships and a rigorous curriculum to high-achieving Nebraska residents who might not otherwise be able to afford college. Richardson's teaching emphasizes creative citizenship, which attempts to preserve the best elements of our cultural inheritance while encouraging students to create new cultural possibilities.
Matthew Hale, Ph.D. - Interdisciplinary Informatics
An assistant professor, Matthew Hale’s research interests include security and software engineering, focusing on building and testing secure web services, mobile applications, wearables and combatting human-centric social engineering problems. He has won competitive research grants to investigate attack vectors in hybrid mobile applications; to identify and mitigate consumer-wearable security issues in the internet of things, and to conduct cybersecurity STEM outreach events.
Paige Toller, Ph.D. - Communication
Paige Toller is an associate professor and the assistant director of UNO’s School of Communication. She has taught at the undergraduate and graduate level. Her courses include qualitative methods, health communication, speech communication in business and the professions, and interpersonal communication. Toller’s research interests are bereavement, parental grief, and end-of-life communication.
Chungwook Sim, Ph.D. - Civil Engineering
Chungwook Sim is an assistant professor in the department of Civil Engineering at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. He directs the Large-Scale Structures Laboratory at the Peter Kiewit Institute on UNO’s campus and has taught reinforced concrete design I and II, foundation engineering, and seismic design at UNO since 2015.
Whether inside the classroom or out of it, faculty have the opportunity to not only educate the next generation of leaders, but provide their own expertise towards expanding knowledge and understanding of important issues and experiences.
As professor of music and coordinator of woodwind studies, flute and piccolo at UNO, Christine Beard has had the opportunity to see generations of students graduate and become professional musicians all while performing around the world herself.
“As a performing musician, if I quit learning and growing as an artist, not only will I stop being current and effective, but I will no longer have anything to say in my music,” Beard says. “As a champion of new music, it is important for me to work with living composers to bring about new music for my instrument and help to define the next generation's standard repertoire and performance practice.”
Over her 17 years as a UNO faculty member, Beard has had guest teaching residencies at the Conservatorio Giraldo Gerald and the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo (both in Argentina), the Universidad Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil), and the Leuven Academy of Music LUCA (Belgium).
To be honored with the Distinguished Research or Creative Activity Award, Beard says it reflects not only her own experiences and hard work, but the hard work and talent of her students and colleagues.
“I am honored to receive this award and to represent all of the musicians and creative artists on our campus. UNO is a special place to not only acknowledge but also reward the creative activity of their faculty on equal standing alongside traditional academic research, and I am proud to be part of a campus that values the arts in so many ways.”
One of the most important things a student can have is a strong mentor, which is why Dustin Slivka, Ph.D., is so honored to be recognized as this year's recipient of the "Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award," even more so because the nomination came from his students.
"The students that have worked with me have put a lot of effort into their graduate education, and this, for me, is just validation that I may have had some small part of their success."
Slivka, who serves as chair of the School of Health & Kinesiology graduate program committee and the director of the Exercise Physiology Labratory, has been a member of the UNO faculty since 2010. His research, which has been funded by the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health, specializes in exercise physiology and muscle biology.
"My research lab depends on the success of graduate students," he says. "As a mentor I simply help channel the students' enthusiasm.
"I was lucky enough to have great mentors to help guide my path. With this mentorship my whole career trajectory changed. Having this type of mentorship was so important to me that I want to pass that on to other graduate students."
Some of the most important lessons a student can learn are not necessarily in the classroom - but from lived experiences. This is a philosophy Cecilia Tocaimaza-Hatch, an assistant professor in Spanish Language in UNO's Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, brings to bear with her students each and every day through service learning projects.
“Service learning brings life into the classroom,” she says. “It makes learning more meaningful for students because whatever they do in the classroom has an immediate application in the real world."
Tocaimaza-Hatch's research focuses on two primary areas: 1) service learning and language learning for those learning Spanish as a second language and heritage language learners, as well as 2) vocabulary learning through interaction.
Tocaimaza-Hatch has been with UNO since 2014. During that time, she said she has seen meaningful service learning activities meet community needs and provide her students with a supportive conduit to engage in community service. These efforts are why she was honored with the Outstanding Service Learning Faculty Award.
"Service learning gives students new experiences that otherwise would be unattainable for them at this stage in their lives. They meet people who appear different to them, but, in the end, they realize are just like them with the same dreams and goals.”
Regardless of the subject, it takes a talented person to not only captivate students' attention in the classroom, but ensure that they leave gaining knowledge they didn't have before. This is something Brian Dorn, associate professor of computer science, has implemented in all of his classes - whether it is an introductory computer programming course or graduate coursework for in-service teachers learning to teach computer science themselves.
"Good educators strive to use evidence-based teaching practices and they are both intentional and reflective about what they do in the classroom," he says. "Regardless of whether I'm working with middle school, undergraduate or graduate students I aim to foster contextualized expereinces that authentically connect to the learners' lives, prompt them to think about their thinking and challenge them to reach as far as possible."
Dorn, who has been at UNO since 2013, is the Union Pacific Community Chair of Computer Science Education and is also actively involved in advocacy and training work to support universal access to computing education in primary and secondary schools both regionally and nationally. Additionally, he co-directs the UNO BRIDGE Lab with colleagues in the College of Information Science & Technology and serves as the co-editor of the international journal "Computer Science Education."
"As faculty we can easily get caught up in the day to day work of continually improving our teaching, research and service efforts. Receiving an award like this is a great reminder to 'hit pause' and reflect. To be selected for the Excellence in Teaching award among all of our great faculty UNO is a true honor."
Erica Rose is proud to call herself a 21st century librarian. She is the Library Science Faculty and Program Coordinator for UNO’s undergraduate library science program and she primarily interacts with students online.
“Every student is unique. Thus, every class is unique. Technology provides me with options so that I can shift my instruction to meet the needs of individual students," she says. "Embedding a variety of digital tools and experiences in my classes allows me to remove barriers to accessing knowledge and helps me cater to a variety of learning preferences.”
Rose started at UNO as an adjunct instructor in 2013 and became a full-time faculty member in 2016. She says she’s a true believer in the effectiveness and potential of online learning. Rose calls her 2019 Outstanding Innovation in Teaching with Technology Award affirming and invigorating, a celebration of the good things that are happening in UNO’s library science program and the students they’re impacting.
“When I began graduate school, technology was intimidating to me. Because of amazing teachers, I conquered my fear and learned skills that have been critical in my professional work. Because of my own journey, empowering students through technology is a point of pride for me."
As one of UNO's five academic priority areas, global engagement is a significant focus among many faculty across campus. For Tej Adidam, professor of marketing and entrepreneurship, it is something he knows is vital to students who hope to have a career in the business sector.
"Intellectual diversity is a key element in learning and development," he explains. "If our students can't travel abroad, it is incumbent upon us to bring the globe to UNO. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways and I believe that by attracting students from foreign universities to study at UNO we can elevate the in-class discussions to a higher plane."
Adidam joined UNO in 1996 and teaches courses related to international business, marketing strategies, sales management and brand management. He is also the director of the Center for International Business Initiatives in the College of Business Administration. All told, he has personally taught at 12 different business schools across the globe as a visiting professor.
He is thankful for the support he has received at UNO in expanding the campus' global reach.
"It has been a wonderful journey. I have been able to interact with faculty members, academic leaders, and students from all six continents and have realized that the themes and values of higher education are universal. The beauty of global engagement is to learn from one another in an open and honest manner and hopefully ending up in win-win collaborations.
Chris Allen, Ph.D.
Faculty Excellence in Global Engagement Award
Seeing the world outside your own backyard can give anyone a new perspective on life. For Chris Allen, professor of communication, this is something he has experienced often in his 23 years as a member of the UNO faculty.
“I strongly believe that we can improve international relations through cultural exchanges, cooperative projects with our international colleagues, and student study abroad.” says Allen. “By improving international relations I think we can begin to find ways to solve conflicts.”
Each year, Allen leads an student trip to London to study media outlets and industries there. He has also been faculty advisor to the Omani Students in Nebraska group since 2012.
Allen believes getting students and faculty engaged in intercultural relationships may be a small step toward solving international conflict, but it’s a start.
“I’m not an eternal optimist that it’s going to happen soon, but I realize that solving conflicts is impossible without increasing understanding among the people of other countries. So to be recognized for my small efforts to introduce students to other countries, languages, cultures and religions, not to mention food, is an honor.”
As a metropolitan university, UNO is integrally tied to the Omaha metro area with hundreds of faculty forming strong partnerships with local community organizations and bringing those connections to bare in their teaching and research. This is something Joe Allen, associate professor of industrial and organization psychology, has practiced in each of his six years as a member of the UNO faculty.
"Either through their taxes or in trusting us to educate their children, the community pays our bills and provides us a reason to exist. Absent a community, our University would cease to exist because there would be no one to serve, no one to work with, no one to work for."
In addition to his 100-plus publications and 75-plus invited presentations on his research, Allen directs the Center for Applied Psychological Services, the Center for Marketing Effectiveness lab and the Community Engagement Research Center lab, which houses the Volunteer Program Assessment at the University of Nebraska (VPA-UNO) that helps provide organizations with support in recruiting and retaining volunteers.
Allen's research focuses on the study of workplace meetings, organization community engagement and occupational safety and health.
"One of the passions of my career and a general axiom I live by is a strong desire to give back to the community that has given me so much. The funny thing is, like this award, I always find that when I serve, help or attempt to lift others, I myself am lifted, served, and benefited in ways I would never expect. It is an honor, a privilege and an unexpected blessing to be recognized this way and, most of the credit goes to the team of people who I work with who enable me to serve and/or serve alongside me."
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.