NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Dedicated educators and mentors have played a crucial role in ushering students through one of the toughest learning environments in recent decades, and their efforts have not gone unnoticed.
Stephen F. Austin State University recently recognized seven of its faculty members with 2022 Teaching Excellence Awards for their dedication to their students and profession.
The Teaching Excellence Awards were established in 1994 to honor outstanding classroom teachers at SFA. Each of the university's six colleges selects a faculty member to receive the annual award based on knowledge of subject matter, quality of lectures and assignments, enthusiasm for teaching, interest in and availability to students, commitment to continuous improvement, and contribution to the quality of teaching at SFA by assisting and encouraging other faculty members.
The Faculty Senate also selects a seventh nontenure-track faculty member to be recognized for their commitment to all these same attributes.
The 2022 recipients are as follows:
Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture
Dr. Rebecca Kidd, associate professor of forest resource management, joined the Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture in 2016. Her research and teaching interests include forest resources management, forest ecology, dendroecology, and forest disturbance and restoration ecology.
“I am very honored to receive this award, as I feel it is a testament to my passion for teaching and desire to inspire future natural resource leaders,” Kidd said. “This award reflects the excellent mentors within my college and at previous institutions.”
Kidd actively mentors undergraduate research and serves as a research advisor to graduate students while maintaining an active portfolio of research grants and professional publications, as well as professional and university service. She also serves as faculty advisor to the student chapter of the Society of American Foresters.
Prior to joining SFA, Kidd served as a postdoctoral associate for Virginia Tech’s Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation. Kidd holds a doctoral degree in forestry from Virginia Tech, a Master of Science in forest resources from the University of Arkansas at Monticello, and a Bachelor of Science in biology from Campbell University.
College of Liberal and Applied Arts
Dr. Spencer Willardson is an assistant professor of government who is in the national intelligence and security program housed in SFA’s Department of Government.
“I am thrilled to have been considered for, let alone to win, the award. It is an honor,” Willardson said. “I am grateful to be recognized by my colleagues because I know they share the same energy and excitement for education.”
Before coming to SFA in 2020, Willardson served in the Utah Army National Guard for nine years, including two combat tours in Iraq. He was awarded the Bronze Star in 2003 and the Knowlton Award in 2004. This award is given by the Military Intelligence Corps Association to individuals who significantly contributed to the promotion of Army intelligence.
Willardson served as an assistant professor from 2014-20 at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan and was the school’s inaugural chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations from 2015-17. While there, Willardson was awarded the John and Mary Witte Service Award in 2016 and Mentor of the Year award in 2018.
Willardson has published papers in the following journals: International Studies Quarterly; Conflict Management and Peace Science; Foreign Policy Analysis, Defense and Security Analysis; Research and Politics; and International Studies Review.
College of Sciences and Mathematics
As an assistant professor and metamorphic geologist in the Department of Geology, Dr. Liane Stevens gets to peer into the mysteries of the Earth, studying rocks that formed deep below the Earth’s surface long ago.
“The processes that formed these rocks cannot be witnessed,” she said. “It’s that mystery, and our ability to decipher it, that fills me with awe. I enjoy sharing my wonder with students.”
Stevens received her bachelor’s degree in geology from Wellesley College, her master’s degree in geology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a doctoral degree in geosciences from the University of Montana.
At SFA, she teaches two sophomore-level courses as well as electives, weekend field trips and graduate courses. In teaching mineralogy, the first class geology majors take after their introductory classes, Stevens gets to see students discover the wonder of geology.
“It’s a real privilege to welcome them into their advanced studies to share our nerdiness for minerals and to facilitate their transition into geoscientists,” she said.
Stevens enjoys finding innovative ways to facilitate learning through the connection of facts and ideas, and observing students’ growth while cheering on their successes.
“What’s great about geology is there’s nothing that isn’t interesting — everyone can find something that speaks to them,” she said.
James I. Perkins College of Education
Dr. Rachel Jumper is an assistant professor of human sciences who has worked with children and families in both early childhood settings and nonprofit organizations. Her research background is in communication, focusing on family communication in health contexts and on children's communication with their parents, peers and teachers about bullying in school.
She earned her doctorate in health communication from Texas A&M University and began her tenure-track position at SFA in 2016. She teaches philosophy and theories of human sciences, as well as family life education.
“My mother was a teacher and instilled in me a love for reading, learning and exploration that I carry with me to this day,” Jumper said. “I hope I can, even if in a small way, share her joy for learning with my students and inspire them to learn — not because they have to, but because they love the discovery.”
Before arriving at SFA, Jumper was a faculty member at Blinn College and an adjunct faculty member at Lone Star College CyFair. Refereed articles by Jumper have been published in the Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Gifted Education International, and the Texas Association of Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal. She also is engaged in numerous service activities at the departmental, college and university levels.
Mickey Elliott College of Fine Arts
CC Conn has taught lighting and sound design in the School of Theatre since 2005. Prior to joining SFA, her lighting and sound designs were at universities, professional theatres and festivals across the South. Credits at SFA include designs for hundreds of plays, musicals and radio plays through the years.
“I am honored to receive an award that recognizes my level of engagement with my students both in the classroom and in the theatre,” Conn said. “Like my colleagues in theatre, we are dedicated to the art of live performance and have worked tirelessly through the struggles of the COVID-19 years to keep our practice safe and creative. I am grateful to be taking this award and the energy behind it into our new spaces next spring to create live theatre with our future students.”
As a faculty member and mentor, Conn makes every effort to connect classroom learning with real life experiences. She also is community-centered and has created and directed Junior Jacks, a theatre camp for community children in grades three through nine, since 2009. This has provided a service teaching opportunity for the School of Theatre’s teacher certification students.
Conn also is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Nacogdoches Arts Collaborative dedicated to expanding arts opportunities for the community, much like Junior Jacks.
Rusche College of Business
Robert Mark Allen earned his Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting and Master of Professional Accountancy in 2016 and 2018 from SFA before returning to the Rusche College of Business as a lecturer in the Schlief School of Accountancy in spring 2020.
Allen believes joining the SFA faculty just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit made him a better teacher. Moving to an online format “over a weekend” and receiving honest feedback from students that the lectures left too little time for working through problems during class inspired Allen to create a YouTube channel and post videos of his lectures and homework lessons. Students watch his lectures before class to help them digest the textbook material and solve problems during class.
A lecturer deciding to stop lecturing during class may seem odd, Allen admits.
“But the chair, assistant chair and other faculty members have been very supportive of the innovations we’ve wanted to try,” he said. “These efforts seem to be working. We’re giving students the resources to be successful, and they’re rising to the new challenges these courses are presenting.”
Now Allen has more time to teach students critical thinking through the interactive problem-solving of a flipped classroom approach.
Faculty Senate Recipient
Dr. Paul R. Shockley is a lecturer of philosophy in the Division of Multidisciplinary Programs.
“This award is reflective of those who have qualitatively invested in me as a first-generation student,” Shockley said. “I sought to assimilate and integrate into who I am as a unique individual with what SFA professors like Drs. Jere Jackson, E. Deanne Malpass, Fred Rainwater, Tom Segady and Jim Towns modeled before me. I also am indebted to Dr. Joyce Johnston and her leadership, my college, and students.
“Likewise, I am grateful to the Center for Teaching and Learning, its Director Megan Weatherly, and faculty orientation with Dr. Heather Olson Beal,” Shockley added. “Thus, my successes are contextually bound to relationships, an active mindset and the ongoing value of amelioration.”
Shockley earned a Bachelor of Arts in history at SFA, a Master of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, and a Master of Arts humanities-history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas. He earned a doctoral degree in philosophy from Texas A&M University.
Shockley co-authored “Thinking with Excellence: Navigating the College Journey & Beyond” with former SFA professor Dr. Raúl F. Prezas. In it, he discussed his experiences at SFA as a first-generation student.