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Front row, l-r, Rebekah Buchanan, Ian Shelly, Andrea Porras-Alfaro, Jennifer Plos; back row, l-r, Ellen Poulter, Interim Provost Kathy Neumann, President Jack Thomas
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Provost's Award of Excellence Winners

October 16, 2017

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MACOMB, IL -- Five Western Illinois University faculty members and one academic adviser have been named 2017 Provost's Award of Excellence winners. The Center for Innovation in Teaching and Research (CITR) at WIU organized six-member committees charged with evaluating excellence in each of the determined areas.

"I am honored to present the Provost's Awards of Excellence to the WIU faculty and staff who have devoted themselves to Western Illinois University and their students, and who go well beyond expectations to guarantee their students an outstanding learning experience," said Interim Provost Kathy Neumann.

Provost's Award for Academic Excellence in Teaching with Technology: Rebekah Buchanan, Department of English.

The selection committee noted: "Rebekah Buchanan's instructional methods and teaching in her English and Education classes provide a catalyst for developing critical thinking and the ability to learn in, and beyond, the classroom in ways that are meaningful and practical. Buchanan uses technology to provide a skill base for her students that sets the stage for professional success and personal growth. From the ground up, she provides an apprentice style learning experience for students, modeling the concepts and techniques for effective writing using a variety of digital media. In her classes Wikispaces and Twitter (among other media) become a canvas for developing the writing and communication skills students need for academic success and on the job. Her instructional strategies include constructivist methods that allow students to develop their own interpretations of course concepts and topics. One example in her education classes is the creation of multimodal projects. These student-designed projects bring audio, text and visual media elements together so student teachers can learn to better implement technology in the classroom and motivate high school students using media formats with which they are familiar. Buchanan's teaching uses systematic planning, contextually relevant instructional methods and a broad set of digital applications to bring the study of writing alive for her English and education students. The excellence of her efforts is clearly shown in the way she applies technology to maximize learning of the writing process across the wide range of activities in her courses, her engagement as a digital educator for campus professionals and the positive feedback of her students and colleagues."

Provost's Award for Academic Excellence in University/Community Service: Ian Shelly, Department of Art.

The selection committee said, "Service and philosophy towards mentorship is the foundation of Ian Shelly's professional career. He has been a force to be reckoned with at WIU starting with the first semester of his employment Fall 2013. In his own words, 'I have used a large portion of my time at Western planning and implementing countless opportunities for people to gather, communicate and connect.' One of the most visible examples is the evolution of 'Throwing Thursdays,' where anyone with a simple interest in ceramics from WIU or the community can come in and learn the 'gospel of clay.' Since 2013, 'Throwing Thursdays' have brought in approximately 500 guests per semester to the art department. In addition, Shelly took an unused space in the Heating Plant Annex to develop a small gallery to use for the critique of student work, as well as display space for students, faculty and regional and visiting artists. The development of this space also provides students with the experience of what goes into the running of a gallery. Shelly has also been instrumental in bringing visiting artists to campus to provide students and the community interaction with differing techniques and materials. Not only did he get the visiting artists here and often at a greatly reduced rate, but he and his wife hosted them at their home to minimize costs to the department and University. He is active in committee and service work throughout the art department, College of Fine Arts and Communication, WIU, west central Illinois and beyond. The art department, and the University as a whole, has benefited from the hundreds of hours of service Shelly has spent, as well as the students, faculty and community enjoying, learning and developing."

Provost's Award for Academic Excellence in Scholarly/Creative/Performative/Professional Activities: Andrea Porras-Alfaro, Department of Biological Sciences.

According to the selection committee, "Andrea Porras-Alfaro is an outstanding researcher, mentor and teacher who has successfully integrated all of these into a diverse research program centered on fungi. During the review period, she has authored or co-authored 14 peer-reviewed papers, many in top international journals, two book chapters and 50 oral/poster presentations. In addition to this exemplary publishing record, she has received 16 grants, totaling over $600,000. Students at all levels are completely integrated into this active research program. Her students have won 15 different awards for excellence, including two at national meetings and received 25 separate grants to support their research. Students have also authored or co-authored 10 of her 14 peer-reviewed papers. Finally, she also taught one to two courses per semester and has been the coordinator for the RISE (Research Inspiring Student Excellence) program for the last three years. All of these numbers, however, fail to give a full picture of Porras-Alfaro's research efforts. Her work is recognized internationally, as indicated by an outstanding citation record, invited presentations at eight national and international seminars, the establishment of active collaborations with a variety of national and international organizations and numerous reviews of national and international grant proposals and professional papers. A quick glance at her publications reveals a wide range of collaborators on a variety of topics, all related to fungi. Her research is an impressive example of fundamental inquiry into the role of fungi in ecosystems, which also has important practical applications. These include improving plant productivity in agriculture and natural ecosystems and, most notably, trying to understand and mitigate White Nose Syndrome in bats, a devastating disease which has decimated North American bats. Her outstanding efforts in research, mentoring and teaching make her a worthy recipient of the 2017 Provost's Award of Excellence in Scholarly, Creative, Performing and Professional Activities."

Provost's Award for Academic Excellence in Multicultural Teaching: Minsun Doh, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration.

The selection committee said, "Minsun Doh truly excels in multicultural teaching, creating a learning environment that offers students the opportunity to look at our globalized world in a manner that challenges them academically and works towards equity. She approaches multicultural teaching through three dimensions: content integration, knowledge construction, and equity pedagogy. This approach allows her to look at issues on a grand scale, yet makes them manageable for her students to understand. For example, one of the goals in her classes is to identify theoretical solutions to real world problems. She notes, 'It is hoped that discussions on these topics may ultimately spread beyond the classroom to help my students create an environment where differences are valued.'
Additionally, her commitment to multicultural teaching is demonstrated by the guest lecturers and visiting professors from abroad, through whom, students are engaged in academic pursuits on cultural competencies. Doh has facilitated academic initiatives that not only take students abroad, but she also exposes them to multicultural understandings in practical ways, such as by asking them to understand and compare their discipline in diverse cultural and socioeconomic contexts. Doh's enthusiasm for multiculturalism and equity in the classroom showcases WIU's commitment to diversity. One of her colleagues notes, 'Dr. Doh's commitment to multiculturalism is not confined to the classroom. She has worked with and served other faculty, the Disability Resource Center, the Student Development Office, the Center for International Studies, the International Friendship Club and others. Further, she raises awareness about multiculturalism and [the] importance of international education by giving and arranging presentations for the university community, programming through Phi Beta Delta (Honor Society for International Education) and participating in filming on study abroad."

Provost's Award for Academic Excellence in Teaching: Jennifer Plos, Department of Kinesiology.

According to the selection committee, "No matter how great or small, Jennifer Plos' overall goal is to provide students with a learning environment and educational lessons that make a positive impact on their lives for a lifetime. Evidence that she is making this positive impact on students' lives is consistently seen in the ratings and comments on her course evaluations. Her students praise her passion for teaching and for her profession, as well as her ability to motivate them to do their best. Dr. Plos 'goes to the end of the earth to help her students.' She has demonstrated her mentoring philosophy by serving as a faculty adviser and mentor for 34 students undertaking research or honors projects, serving as a chair for five completed master's theses and as a committee member for two additional theses and serving as a faculty mentor for two graduate teaching assistants. She has also collaborated with 13 students in conducting research, writing conference proposals, preparing poster presentations and presenting at national conferences. Plos has been instrumental in preparing athletic training students to successfully pass the Board of Certification exam, with her last two cohorts having first time pass rate of 100 percent. Western's AT Program has the third highest first-time pass rate in the state, which speaks volumes to the time and energy Plos spends preparing her students to be successful. Perhaps most telling of the impact that Plos has on her students' lives comes in the form of the wristbands worn by her students. These wristbands have the letters WWJRD on them, which poses the question, "What would Jenn and Renee do?" If her students are ever in doubt about how to handle a situation, whether professional or personal, they think about Plos and use her example to guide them."

Outstanding Academic Adviser: Ellen Poulter, Department of English

According to the committee, "Ellen Poulter, the academic adviser for English and liberal arts and sciences majors, has 21 years of service at WIU, which includes 19 years as an academic adviser. English Chair Mark Mossman said, 'There is no one more deserving of this award. Ms. Poulter is the embodiment of professionalism, is a brilliant adviser and is an excellent colleague and the definition of a team player.' Student Rebecca Gonner shared, 'Ellen is a dedicated and caring individual who regularly goes above and beyond the call of duty to serve the students she works with. Her office is a welcoming space, and each time I leave a meeting with her, I feel more confident and prepared for the semester than when I entered.' Poulter has received the Outstanding Academic Adviser twice, and it is apparent she is well respected by students, staff and faculty."

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