Montana State University

MSU honors top faculty and staff

January 3, 2013 -- MSU News Service

MSU honors top faculty and staff

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Dedicated teachers, dynamic researchers and faculty devoted to the betterment of Montana are among the winners of the top Montana State University 2013 faculty awards announced this week. The annual awards honor achievement in faculty research, teaching, outreach and creative projects. The awards will be presented at the MSU Spring Convocation, set for 10:15 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 10, in MSU's Procrastinator Theater.

The Cox Family Faculty Excellence Award
Jeffrey Conger, professor of art; Robin Gerlach, professor of chemical and biological engineering; John Peters, professor of chemistry and biochemistry; and Jessi L. Smith, psychology professor, are the recipients of the 2013 Cox Family Awards for Creative Scholarship and Teaching. Each will receive a $2,000 honorarium from the Winston and Helen Cox Family Endowment, as well as an $800 stipend to buy books dedicated in their honor at MSU's Renne Library.

Conger is a talented designer, photographer and teacher. His students annually place in the top 10 in the prestigious Society of Publication Design student competition in New York City. He helps prepare students for a successful career in design by planning an annual trip for the senior design class to visit firms and advertising agencies in Seattle or Portland. He oversees a popular annual photography class in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. His photographs have appeared on motorsport magazine covers and with articles in the U.S. and Europe. In 2004, Conger was named one of America's 40 most influential creative individuals by ID Magazine.

Gerlach has an international reputation for groundbreaking research, from studying the complex network of interactions between biofilm growth and environmental conditions, to studying contaminant transport and transformation on certain surfaces. He has worked on using biofilms to create subsurface barriers for use in bioremediation of environmental contaminants, as well as in carbon sequestration and bioenergy. He is a researcher with Center for Biofilm Engineering and director of the Environmental and Biofilm Mass Spectrometry Facility and has been repeatedly published in Environmental Science and Technology.

Peters has a thriving research program that is focused on the study of enzymes that are important for fundamental biochemical processes. He is a superb mentor for a large number of students who work in his well-funded and productive research lab. In addition to running his lab, Peters serves as director for the MSU Center for Astrobiology and Life in Extreme Environments and for the Thermal Biology Institute. He also has developed new curriculum so that MSU can offer a minor in astrobiology. Peters has published more than 100 papers and has given many seminars and presentations.

Smith's research focuses on the roles that gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation play in understanding stereotypes. She has published 31 research articles in top-tier peer reviewed journals in her discipline --12 of those included MSU students as co-authors. Smith also published five book chapters and one edited book. Smith has been awarded four federally funded grants totaling more than $4.8M from competitive NSF and NIH programs. Her research on breastfeeding and gender objectification led to the establishment of MSU's first Family Care Room and creation of the family advocate. She is the principal investigator of the $3.4 million NSF ADVANCE grant, which has the potential to transform MSU by increasing the representation and advancement of women in academic STEM and social/behavioral science careers.

Wiley Awards for Meritorious Research and Creativity
Brian Bothner, chemistry and biochemistry; Susan Cohen, history and philosophy; and Benfang Lei, immunology and infectious diseases, have won this year's Charles and Nora L. Wiley Faculty Awards for Meritorious Research and Creativity. Each will receive $2,000. Sponsored by the MSU Foundation, the prizes are given in honor of the Wileys, who were pioneer ranchers in eastern Montana.

Bothner is widely recognized as a pioneer in developing mass spectrometry methods and the creative use of mass spectrometry to understand how viruses and biological systems function. His research program is said to be one of the most vigorous, productive and creative in MSU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, giving him an international reputation for the questions he tackles. Bothner has published more than 50 papers. His research group currently involves eight graduate students, two postdoctoral researchers, and eight undergraduate researchers. Bothner's research is supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Naval Research and the Department of Energy.

Cohen is known for her novel and creative approach to research and her dual ability to conduct meticulous field work and synthesize valuable lessons from that work. She analyzes settlement patterns, the rise of urbanism and international interconnections in the second millennium B.C.E. in the eastern Mediterranean, particularly in the Middle Bronze Age in the southern Levant (present-day Israel/Palestine). During her first year at MSU she completed a book that has been used in courses on Middle Bronze Age studies at Brown University and in a seminar at Harvard University. Since then, she has published a second book and has two more currently in press, which add to the understanding of the history, archaeology and culture of the Near East. At the same time, she conducted archaeological digs that trained students and made her research accessible to undergraduates.

Lei is an expert in the area of bacterial pathogenesis and known for making groundbreaking contributions that will have long-lasting medical relevance. He received two major grants from the National Institutes of Health in 2012 to elucidate how bacterial pathogens evade host immune system and develop therapeutics to treat streptococcal bacteria-caused devastating diseases in humans. He has published 56 papers so far, many of them high-impact papers in top-tier journals. He supervises graduate students, mentors biotechnology internships and has directed numerous undergraduate researchers in his lab.

James and Mary Ross Provost's Award for Excellence
Eric Funk, music, received the 2013 James and Mary Ross Provost's Award for Excellence, which recognizes excellence in teaching and scholarship. Funk receives a $2,500 honorarium for the award. Funk teaches some of MSU's most popular classes and serves as creative director and driving force behind the award-winning "11th & Grant with Eric Funk" on MontanaPBS. He is a jazz musician, recording artist, conductor, band director and church musical director, but most of all he is a composer with more than 121 major works, including nine symphonies, four operas, 16 concertos, five string quartets and an extensive list of choral and chamber works. His "Concerto for the Violin Alone, Op 109," written for Hungarian violinist virtuoso Vilmos Olah, will be featured on "The Violin Alone" documentary debuting on MontanaPBS in the spring.

Academic Advising Awards
Doug Downs, professor of English; Steven Holmgren, chemistry and biochemistry; Rob Maher, professor and department head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Sheila Nielsen-Preiss, director of the Health Professions Advising Office and research professor in immunology and infectious diseases, won the inaugural Academic Advising Awards. Each receives a $2,000 award.

Downs, who says that he believes advising to be "the space between course instruction and long-term mentoring on the overall spectrum of teaching," is adept at blending the humanities' concern for liberal education with students' needs for career preparation. A specialist in the area of rhetoric and composition, he is the adviser of record for 30-40 English majors per year, spread among the three options of writing, teaching and literature, but unofficial mentor to many more. His colleagues say advising is something that Downs "is," rather than just does, and his skill as an adviser is connected to his teaching and research.

As part of the teaching faculty in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Holmgren teaches a variety of undergraduate courses at MSU, ranging from an introductory seminar to a 500-level safety and risk management course of K-12 science teachers. He also serves as adviser to all undergraduate chemistry majors. As part of that work, he mentors students and introduces them to research and takes an active role in the recruitment and retention of MSU's undergraduates.

Maher was recognized for his commitment to academic advising with the National Academic Advising Association's 2012 Outstanding Advising Award in the faculty category. MSU's annual survey of graduating students named Maher's department the best for student advising satisfaction. Fellow faculty members credit him with establishing a culture of superior faculty advising of current and prospective students, and for creating extensive advising resources on the department's website.

Nielsen-Preiss assists students in understanding academic and extracurricular requirements for health professional schools as well as exploring possible career options in the health care delivery system. She advises more than 350 students each year who are applying or preparing to apply to health professional school. Nielsen-Preiss also serves as the director and academic adviser in the Post Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Certificate program and the Master of Science in Health Sciences program, as well as faculty adviser for the Pre-Health Professions Club, the Pre-Health Professions Honor Society and the Pre-dental Club. She meets with nearly 100 prospective undergraduate students and their families each year, in addition to those whom she meets in group settings, such as MSU Friday.

Betty Coffey Award
Bethany Letiecq, health and human development, received the Betty Coffey Award. The award was established in memory of Betty Coffey, an engineering professor from 1977-1984 who was noted for her teaching excellence and her championing of women's equity and minority issues in the curriculum. It comes with a $500 honorarium. Letiecq conducts community-based action research with the goal of ameliorating health disparities among families on the economic and social margins. She is currently working in partnership with Latino migrants in the Gallatin Valley to develop interventions to improve migrant mental health and well-being. Colleagues call her work a successful integration of scholarship and engagement, both at MSU and in the community. They say it also raises awareness of important issues and causes MSU students to examine their own lives more deeply.

President's Award for Excellence in Service Learning
Carolyn Wenger and Perry Roberts won the inaugural President's Award for Excellence in Service Learning. Wenger is a member of the College of Nursing faculty on the Billings campus and Roberts is the executive director of the Montana Rescue Mission. The award carries an $800 award.

Since 1988, Wenger has engaged students in service learning experiences through the Montana Rescue Mission, which serves the homeless in Billings. As part of a nursing course, Wenger's students work with the organization to meet the healthcare needs of homeless individuals. Colleagues say the project engages MSU students and helps them apply their knowledge of nursing to serve a population in need. They call it a tremendous vehicle for students to deepen their understanding of the roles they can play in communities as members of the nursing profession. Roberts has worked with Wenger since 2010 to integrate MSU's student nurses into mission program activities.

Phi Kappa Phi Award
Bill Wyckoff and Linda Young won the Anna K. Fridley Distinguished Teaching Award given by the Phi Kappa Phi honorary, sharing a $1,500 cash award.
Wyckoff has taught at MSU for 26 years and has earned high praise from his colleagues and students for his enthusiasm, energy, knowledge and compassion. He is praised for his mentoring of both undergraduate and graduate students. "He always has an open door," one student writes, "and I see students taking advantage of this daily." Colleagues praise him for his ability to bring his research into the classroom and to keep students informed about ways to think about changes in the cultural landscape.

Young is in her 17th year of teaching students at MSU about the international political economy. Colleagues praise her for her ability "to translate the most complex economic theories and policies into language that is accessible and exciting to her students." Students praise her for inspiring them to craft careful and thoughtful responses to difficult questions about economic and political developments and "to be meticulous and detail-oriented" in their own work. Highly regarded for her work on food security, Young helps students understand that their world is constantly being shaped and reshaped in light of international economic and political developments.

Teaching Innovation Awards
Brock LaMeres, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Charles "Bill" McLaughlin of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, have won Teaching Innovation Awards, which honor faculty who have incorporated outstanding innovative teaching practices into their classes. Each receives a $2,000 award.

LaMeres developed "remote laboratory" technology under funding from the National Science Foundation that allows students to control laboratory equipment on campus from any other computer. It allows students to complete the laboratory component of a course without having to come to campus and promises to expand the online offerings of engineering courses throughout the state. LaMeres is known for his work with undergraduate student design teams, including serving as the primary adviser for MSU's NASA Lunabotics team over the past 3 years. The team won the systems engineering paper category in 2012 and won the national championship for mining in 2010.

McLaughlin is known for introducing chemistry to majors, as well as to students from other disciplines, using innovative classrooms that offer real-world demonstrations and the technology of online learning. McLaughlin connects with students of diverse backgrounds in large lecture courses and analytical chemistry using digital materials, online/virtual office visits, generous office hours. He also uses "smart" pen technology to extend contact hours with students. McLaughlin incorporates live demonstrations into nearly every lecture and his "chemicast" Web-based pencasts offer students another look at his presented material

Excellence in Online Teaching Award
Glenna Burg, nursing, has won the Excellence in Online Teaching Award honoring faculty who have provided outstanding teaching, course development, mentoring of students, and service to online education. The prize comes with a $2,000 honorarium. Colleagues call Burg a pioneer in online course teaching and development. She developed and taught several of the first fully online courses for the nursing curriculum beginning in 2003. She continues to regularly teach a variety of courses online. She also served as a member of the committee whose mission was to review and score proposals for a new learning management system, which resulted in the implementation of Desire2Learn, or D2L.

Provost's Excellence in Outreach Award
David Bertelsen, Extension agent for Wibaux County, and David Lageson, geology/Earth sciences, were selected as the 2013 recipients of MSU's Provost's Excellence in Outreach Award. Each receives a $2,000 honorarium.

As a longtime MSU Extension agent in Wibaux County, Bertelsen has made significant contributions to Extension programs, including agriculture, 4-H, horticulture and community development. Working to connect Wibaux to MSU's outreach resources, Bertelsen initiated a community-visioning project that has sought to grow this "gateway" community. From this effort came a visitor center and rest area that attracts freeway traffic into Wibaux. Bertelsen has helped with the Winter Ag Series, a program that has connected MSU researchers with area producers for 19 years.

Lageson has made a lifetime commitment to outreach, but he literally took that commitment to new heights when he joined a 2012 educational expedition to Mount Everest. As its chief scientist, he helped develop and implement an extensive education and outreach program that inspired students, teachers and the general public in Montana and around the world. He also wrote a chapter on the geology of Mount Everest for a new National Geographic book. Lageson's chapter explains the origin of Mount Everest and the tectonic evolution of the Himalayas. Lageson also organized National Geographic's "Young Explorers" program to help develop the next generation of explorer/journalists.

Provost's Award for Undergraduate Research/Creativity Mentoring
Maire O'Neill, architecture, and David Varricchio, Earth sciences, have won the Provost's Award for Undergraduate Research/Creativity Mentoring awards. Each receives a $2,000 honorarium.

O'Neill has had a productive professional career in architecture, an exemplary record of research and creative activity as well as 22 years of teaching, mentoring and collaborative research with students at MSU. Her mentoring of students takes them from the beginning of their degree program through their master's thesis design projects. She also excels as a teacher and mentor in the Core 2.0 curriculum. As a result of her work, many of her students have received external recognition, such as awards, conference presentations and exhibits, every year from the early '90s. Recently, one of her students was a finalist for the prestigious Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence and received the Berkeley Prize Traveling Fellowship.

Varricchio has a sustained and successful record of mentoring students, providing both field and lab paleontology research opportunities. He has made student research central to all of his classes, as well as his own research. To provide opportunities for student research engagement, Varricchio has made student participation in his grants a significant factor. He is the recipient of an NSF Career Award, which included as a major component an educational plan for extensive student participation. Varricchio has also co-authored a number of refereed journal articles with students, guided student presentations at national and international venues, and mentors students formally and informally.

President's Commission on the Status of University Women Award
Betsy Danforth, director of the MSU Women's Center, was awarded the inaugural President's Commission on the Status of University Women Award given to a member of the faculty or staff who has established a record of working to improve issues related to gender, equity and diversity on any of MSU's four campuses. The award includes a $2,000 honorarium. Danforth served on the committee that founded the Victim Options in the Campus Environment (VOICE) Center, revitalized Students Against Sexual Assault and Students for Choice. She has served on the Women's and Gender Studies Committee since its inception. She works closely with the Diversity Awareness Office, the VOICE Center, the Women's and Gender Studies minor as well as a number of off-campus organizations linked to her work at MSU.

Vice President for Research's Meritorious Technology/Science Awards
Phil Bruckner and Luther Talbert, both in plant sciences and plant pathology, and Kevin Repasky, electrical and computer engineering, received MSU's Meritorious Technology/Science Award. It carries a $2,500 honorarium and recognizes MSU faculty members who have made at least one significant technological or scientific contribution that could be transferred or already has been transferred to the private sector.

Bruckner and Talbert together have contributed immeasurably through their research, plant breeding expertise, student development and new varieties of wheat. The winter wheat breeding project led by Bruckner has developed varieties that resulted in four licenses to two international seed companies.
Three of those varieties have generated sales of 300,000 bushels and plantings of more than 250,000 acres in Montana and the region. The spring wheat breeding program led by Talbert has developed higher yielding and pest resistant varieties including the two leading spring wheat varieties planted in Montana. They have been grown on approximately 15 million acres in Montana since 2000.

Since joining the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty Kevin Repasky has staked an international reputation in the field of laser remote sensing, with a strong record of technology development and transfer. In addition to work that has offered innovative designs for laser source development and sensor systems, Repasky has put the technology into new and important uses. Laser remote sensing devices Repasky has helped develop are used to study and predict weather, model climate change, monitor carbon dioxide at carbon sequestration study sites and assist in removing landmines from war-torn countries.

Women's Faculty Caucus Distinguished Mentor Award
Laura Black, business, received the Women's Faculty Caucus Distinguished Mentor Award. It carries a $1,000 honorarium. The award recognizes an MSU faculty member for mentoring junior women faculty members by helping them negotiate the promotion and tenure process, encouraging their research and teaching activities, and providing "whole woman" role models. Colleagues say that since coming to MSU in 2002, Black has been a dedicated and committed advocate and mentor for numerous female faculty members in the College of Business and across campus. She has created a supportive research and teaching environment for those faculty members and has initiated informal mentoring relationships with junior faculty in the College of Business. Black regularly shares resources, creates opportunities for others and provides guidance in teaching, research and administration.

President's Excellence in Teaching Awards
Florence Dunkel, plant sciences and pathology; Christina Hayes, mathematical sciences; and David Lageson, Earth sciences, were awarded the 2013 Excellence in Teaching Award. Each will receive a $2,500 honorarium.

A strong believer in collaborations and community involvement, Dunkel has developed discovery-based teaching that links MSU students with Mali, the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation and the Crow (Apsaalooke) Indian Reservation. She knows what students want from their education, demands high scholarship and teaches skills that students need to address critical needs. One of her former students went on to become a Rhodes Scholar. Other highlights have included the establishment of an entrepreneurial incubator and the production of a film illustrating the intense teaching and learning that can take place between native cultures. She and her students also collaborated with a Malian village to eliminate malaria there.

Hayes is known for her creativity and passion for teaching mathematics and statistics. In addition to being a highly effective instructor who has used Oprah Winfrey's salary, interpretive dance and lie detector tests to help students learn, she is said to be the heart and soul of the Department of Mathematical Sciences. She created a recruitment campaign for mathematics, statistics and math education majors. She was instrumental in founding the math club and encourages students to branch out into research. She organizes undergraduate seminars and recruitment visits and advises students participating in an international math modeling competition.

Lageson has been called a force of nature and a great ambassador for MSU and the Department of Earth Sciences. Even after 32 years at MSU, he continues to inspire students with his infectious enthusiasm for geology and ongoing excellence. Since his best learning experiences have always been in the field, his career-long goal is to expose his students to those same opportunities. Even indoors, he has gained recognition for his dynamic lectures, his innovative curricular development and his sustained commitment to outreach. His lifelong commitment to education was demonstrated again this past year when he incorporated numerous learning activities with a trip to Mount Everest.

Rufus T. Firefly Award for Excellence in Innovative Service
Laura Humberger, associate vice president for financial services, has won the inaugural Firefly Award of Excellence given to an employee who holds a professional position within the university system and who has demonstrated tangible innovation, positive and broad impact on student experience, and/or leadership distinguished by role modeling in a professional capacity. The award carries a $1,500 honorarium.

Humberger was recognized for her proposal that eliminated MSU's $10 online payment fee. Humberger argued that eliminating the fee would improve service to students by encouraging online payment and eliminating long waiting lines at the cashier's office. The change improved credit card data security. The new procedure debuted fall 2012, increasing online payments 62.5 percent to approximately 10,650 and reducing manual payments by 43.6 percent, to about 5,960. The changed resulted in a secure and more efficient payment option for many students and their families. It also reduced the workload at fee payment time for the student accounts office and avoided the need to hire additional employees to serve MSU's growing number of students.

For more information about MSU's 2013 Spring Convocation, see:

Lisa Duffey (406) 994-4373,