Montana State University

MSU honors top faculty and staff

January 5, 2015 -- MSU News Service

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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 2015 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 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 13, in Reynolds Recital Hall. 

Rufus T. Firefly Award for Innovative Service
Coleen Kaiser
, director of the Montana Dietetic Internship program, won the 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.

Kaiser became director of the Montana Dietetic Internship program in 2010. Since then, the program has become an excellent example of MSU fulfilling its land-grant mission. As the only dietetic internship program in Montana, it allows more MSU nutrition graduates to complete their internships in the state. In four years, Kaiser has expanded the number of internship opportunities to 57 rotation sites and assisted professions in the state to create a scholarship fund for the interns. Three classes have graduated so far from the self-supporting program. Twenty-six of the 46 graduates are working in Montana.

Provost’s Excellence in Outreach Award
Stephanie Gray
, program development manager for Gallatin College MSU, and Charles (Bill) McLaughlin, teaching professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, were selected as the 2015 recipients of MSU's Provost's Excellence in Outreach Award. Each receives a $2,000 honorarium.

In just two years, Gray has gained a reputation as an exceptional program development manager for Gallatin College. She meets with local businesses, high schools and communities throughout Gallatin and Park counties to learn their needs so she can develop programs that will best serve students and the businesses that will eventually hire them. She also attains and manages all the grants that support those programs. Her work has benefited hundreds of area high school and two-year students and helped build the work force across southwest Montana.

For the past five summers, McLaughlin has held a four-day workshop called the Science Horizons Initiative to help teachers on Montana’s Indian reservations develop a new science curriculum unit. The teachers come to MSU during the summer to interact with experts in curriculum, science disciplines and Native American programs. During the school year, participating teachers must present their work at district or regional meetings, and McLaughlin follows up by visiting the teachers’ classrooms. McLaughlin has been called an inspiration for his single-handed impact on teachers and thousands of Native American students.

Betty Coffey Award
Betsy Danforth, director of the MSU Women’s Center, received the Betty Coffey Award in memory of an engineering professor who was noted for her teaching excellence and championing of women’s equity and minority issues in the curriculum. The award comes with a $1,000 honorarium.

In her 23 years with the MSU Women’s Center, Danforth’s work and commitment to social justice has transformed the university and community. Danforth helped create the VOICE Center, and she has been instrumental in revitalizing or reorganizing several student groups including Students Against Sexual Assault, Q-MSU and Students for Reproductive Choice. She is a founding member of the President’s Commission on the Status of University Women and has served on the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Committee since its inception. She was a member of the Gender Pay and Equity Task Force that brought activist Lilly Ledbetter to the MSU campus last year, which led to Gov. Bullock selecting MSU as the site for his Equal Pay for Equal Work Summit.

Teaching Innovation Award
Brent Rosso
, assistant professor of management, has won the Teaching Innovation Award, which honors a faculty member who has incorporated outstanding innovative teaching practices into his or her classes. Rosso will receive $2,000.

Rosso’s research on creativity in organizations has inspired him to design innovative experiential teaching methods that enliven and deepen student learning. One example is an elevator pitch competition where Rosso’s entrepreneurship students have 60 seconds in an actual elevator to pitch new venture concepts to three investors. Rosso also developed “The Entreprentice” challenge where student teams received $25 in startup capital to launch and operate a real business in the first three weeks of class. All profits go to charities selected by students, and Rosso’s students have given more than $14,000 to local organizations in the past four years. Rosso’s techniques have inspired other instructors in the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship and beyond.

Phi Kappa Phi Award
Bonita Peterson Kramer
, professor of accounting, won the Anna K. Fridley Distinguished Teaching Award given by the Phi Kappa Phi honorary. She will receive $1,000.

Kramer, an MSU alumna in business (accounting), is in her 21st year as an MSU faculty member. The recipient of several teaching awards, including the Montana Society of Certified Public Accountants’ Outstanding Educator Award, Kramer says her overall goal is for her students to understand the material and be able to apply it in various situations. Her graduate students ranked second, first and third in the nation for their first-time pass rate on the auditing section of the CPA exam when she first taught auditing, and they continue to rank above the national average. She emphasizes hands-on learning and real-world situations. Kramer also researches accounting education, typically emphasizing fraud or auditing. Kramer co-authored the book, “Financial Statements DeMystified,” and has published more than 40 journal articles. The computerized fraud examination/auditing case simulation she co-wrote received the Best Teaching Innovation Award in 2012 from the forensic accounting section of the American Accounting Association.

Spirit of Discovery Award
Ann Bertagnolli, program coordinator of the Montana INBRE program, and Abigail Richards, professor in chemical and biological engineering, have won the inaugural Spirit of Discovery Award for faculty members who have excelled in teaching and mentoring students in the Honors College. The awards were made possible by support from Dr. Lew and Liane Vadheim of Miles City. The Vadheims’ son, Bryan, was MSU’s first Marshall Scholar. Each recipient will receive a $1,400 honorarium.

Bertagnolli has mentored and taught students in the Honors College for more than 15 years. She is the chair of the Texts and Critics Advisory Committee, where she has guided the syllabus of rigorous readings for the more than 300 incoming freshmen in the Honors College. A regular presenter at the Freshman Research Symposium, Bertagnolli has provided research opportunities for students in her role as program coordinator of the Montana INBRE program. She is also the instructor of the upper level Texts and Critics course for transfer Honors students. Her students credit her for encouraging them to persist, dream and excel academically.

Richards is a generous and tireless mentor of students, encouraging excellence. Her mentees have gone on to win many of MSU’s top awards, including the Marshall Scholarship, several Goldwater Scholarships as well as National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships. She is a role model for women in engineering and has served on the MSU Goldwater Scholarship selection committee for several years. Her talents as a mentor were recognized earlier when Richards was named the national Tau Beta Pi Outstanding Advisor, in recognition of her dedication to mentoring students interested in engineering professions.

Excellence in Online Teaching Award
Scott Powell, land resources and environmental sciences, 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.

Powell has played a key role in the development of MSU’s new online master’s degree of environmental science in the College of Agriculture’s Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences. Powell is involved in every aspect of a program that has grown to nearly 60 students in just two years. As an instructor, Powell has received outstanding evaluations from his students. As program coordinator, he has helped shape the current and future curriculum, course design and improvements, faculty recruitment and retention, program marketing, and student recruitment, admissions, retention, advising, and professional paper development. As the academic adviser to all incoming students, he makes himself available via email, phone, Skype or office visits. Powell developed two courses for the program, designed to offer students the kind of lab exercises that quality science learning requires. Powell’s research is focused on understanding the drivers of change within landscape and vegetation patterns, as well as the consequences of those changes for ecosystem processes. He has secured multiple grant awards having received nearly $1 million, either as principal investigator or co-PI, and published more than 20 refereed journal articles.

Women's Faculty Caucus Distinguished Mentor Award
Linda Young
, political science, received the Women's Faculty Caucus Distinguished Mentor Award. It carries a $2,000 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.

The chair of the MSU Department of Political Science, Young is said to be a tireless advocate for faculty and a great model of balance between work and life, teaching and research, service and leadership. Young finds time to mentor others despite a demanding schedule that includes invitations to speak around the globe about her expertise in the field of international political economy. One colleague in her department writes, “Linda’s skill as a mentor should be copyrighted. At the very least, she could write the handbook on developing mentoring relationships.”

Cox Family Award for Creative Scholarship and Teaching
Bern Kohler, chemistry and biochemistry, is the recipient of the 2015 Cox Family Award for Creative Scholarship and Teaching. He will receive a $2,000 honorarium from the Winston and Helen Cox Family Endowment.

Students recognize Kohler as a highly effective teacher who makes extremely difficult subject matter stimulating and fun. In addition to his coursework, Kohler supervises a large group of research students; his current group includes five graduate students and a number of undergraduate students. He supports this highly productive research group with grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA. Kohler is also internationally recognized for his research using ultrafast laser spectroscopy to study how DNA interacts with ultraviolet light. UV damage to DNA is responsible for skin cancer. His published work in this area is widely cited. During the last decade, publications from his research group have appeared in Science, Nature, and PNAS. During the past 10 years, Kohler has also given more than 75 invited talks on his group’s work at universities and international conferences throughout the world.

Outstanding Academic Advising Award
Rita Sand, Native American Studies, and Mary Murphy, history and philosophy, won Academic Advising Awards. Each receives a $2,000 award.

Sand has been an adviser at MSU for 27 years, first in University Studies and, since 2008, with Native American Studies. She is known for her dedication to advising, counseling and encouraging young American Indian students so that they have a sense of a home at MSU. Colleagues note that students often speak with Sand about challenges in their personal lives, and as a professional counselor, she is well prepared to assist such students. Her knowledge of the university and community support programs also allows her to maximize the assistance students receive. Sand’s work to recruit students to MSU is significant; each year, she visits every school on or near every reservation in Montana and Wyoming through the highly successful Native student recruitment program, Rockin’ the Rez. She also visits many schools in larger communities where there are large Native student enrollments, and she takes new faculty and staff on recruitment trips to orient them to the state and reservations. Students say that once they arrive at MSU, Sand believes in them, empowers them and motivates them along their educational journeys.

Murphy, who has been advising MSU students for 24 years, is known to students and colleagues as an outstanding, successful and reliable guide whose office is always occupied with students. In addition to advising students about basic curricular issues, Murphy talks with them about their interests and works to find individual, particular opportunities that match their desires with pre-professional opportunities that will hone their skills. Students say Murphy also motivates them to work toward personal and professional goals and helps them aim for academic success. One student wrote that her advising appointments with Murphy made her feel as though her college career was important. “Dr. Murphy inspires me daily to work my hardest in accomplishing my goals… She goes out of her way each day to make sure that the people she helps are informed of the choices ahead of them, motivated, and that they embrace their full potential for academic success.”

Charles and Nora Wiley Faculty Award for Meritorious Research
David Weaver, land resources and environmental sciences, has won this year's Charles and Nora L. Wiley Faculty Award for Meritorious Research. He will receive $2,000. Sponsored by the MSU Alumni Foundation, the prize is given in honor of the Wileys, who were pioneer ranchers in eastern Montana.

Weaver has led significant research on the wheat stem sawfly, the most economically destructive pest in Montana, which has caused statewide annual losses from $45-80 million over the last five years. It is research that is helping farmers as part of MSU’s statewide effort to combat the threat using biologically active compounds as part of an integrated pest management program. Weaver also helped spearhead initial efforts to combat the recent outbreak of orange wheat blossom midge, a pest that poses a significant threat to the yields produced in Montana wheat fields. Weaver worked with growers and members of MSU Extension, the Montana Agricultural Research Station and the Agricultural Research Centers to spread the word about both of these pests, as well as to track insect populations and to educate the farmers about ever-changing mitigation. He participated in the development of wheat varieties resistant to the two pests. Weaver has other lines of research ongoing, including investigating management of stored-product insect pests found in Montana’s grain facilities and collaborating to enhance the impact of biological control agents on the noxious weeds, Dalmatian and yellow toadflax.

Vice President for Research Meritorious Science/Technology Award
Joseph Shaw, electrical and computer engineering and OPTEC Center, has 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.

Shaw is a leader in the development and application of optical remote sensing systems to study the natural Earth environment, including radiometers, polarimeters, and LIDARs, or Light Detection and Ranging systems, as well as the photography and science of optical phenomena in nature. Recently, Shaw’s work in the Optical Remote Sensor Laboratory has sought to harness research on infrared imaging of clouds to help NASA develop a better method for communicating with its vehicles in the far reaches of the solar system. Shaw is known for a variety of projects that range from use of LIDARS for measuring clouds in climate science and mapping invasive lake trout for protection of Yellowstone Lake to the use of imaging systems for understanding Yellowstone's thermal pools. He has led his group's development of optical aurora detectors to send cell phone text messages alerting people when they can see an aurora. Shaw is a fellow in the Optical Society of America and the International Society of Optics and Photonics, both organizations representing researchers in fields ranging from vision science to fiber optics to lasers and remote sensing. Shaw also serves as the director of the Optical Technology Center at MSU, the organization that seeks to promote research and education in optical science and engineering and the growth of the optics and photonics industry in Montana. 

Provost’s Award for Undergraduate Research/Creativity Mentoring
Tom McNab, architecture, won the Provost's Award for Undergraduate Research/Creativity Mentoring. He receives a $2,000 honorarium.

For a decade, McNab has taught in the MSU School of Architecture and served as director of its Community Design Center, a collaborative interdisciplinary community/university partnership that undertakes research and design of the built environment as its primary means of serving the people of Montana.  As director, McNab guides the students through the process of research and problem solving while teaching them critical thinking, analysis techniques and the development of written and oral presentation skills as they engage the communities in the creative exploration of design alternatives. Through his work, McNab has directly supervised more than 250 students and traveled nearly 10,000 miles throughout Montana, establishing an exemplary record of undergraduate research/creativity mentoring.

Provost’s Award for Graduate Research/Creativity Mentoring
Bill Inskeep, land resources and environmental sciences, has been selected for the Provost’s Award for Graduate Research/Creative Mentoring, which comes with $2,000. The award recognizes faculty members who actively and creatively engage graduate students in their learning experience.

In 27 years at MSU, Inskeep has mentored 21 graduate students, including as a major adviser to 10 doctoral students and 11 master of science students. As part of his mentoring/advising relationship with those students, Inskeep has published 63 papers in peer-reviewed journals with them as co-authors. Inskeep has published nearly one paper with each student, and in one instance, Inskeep teamed up with a student to publish 13 papers. Some of Inskeep’s graduate students have won national awards under his mentorship, including a National Science Foundation dissertation award and a U.S. Department of Energy STAR award. As another indicator of Inskeep’s commitment to mentoring, he has served on more than 40 master’s degree and doctoral committees. In the words of one student: Inskeep’s mentoring style “is centered on a direct and personal involvement with our training and reflects a commitment to the ideals of academia and our personal growth as academicians and scientists.”

James and Mary Ross Provost’s Award for Excellence
Brock LaMeres, electrical and computer engineering, received the 2015 James and Mary Ross Provost’s Award for Excellence, which recognizes excellence in teaching and scholarship. He receives a $2,500 honorarium for the award.

In 2014, a rocket soared into space with a new computer LaMeres and his students built to withstand the effects of space radiation. It was another step in an impressive run of successful tests for their work as part of a series of grants from NASA to build radiation-hardened computers. In 2015, NASA will send one of those computers up to the International Space Station, where it will receive its most demanding test yet. LaMeres uses this project as a way to excite his students in the 200-level digital circuits course he teaches each semester. Giving the students a real-world example of how the concepts of digital design are applied helps them better understand the material and stay motivated. It is just one effort underway by LaMeres to enhance introductory-level courses in engineering at MSU. LaMeres has also received a series of grants from the National Science Foundation to study the impact of e-learning environments on student understanding of introductory topics. LaMeres’ research has compared the learning effectiveness of online courses to those delivered using the traditional face-to-face method. He has also developed “remote laboratory” technology that allows students to complete lab exercises from off-campus. His most recent project is in developing adaptive learning modules to help address background deficiencies and dynamically tailor the material for different student demographics. His work has led to numerous publications including a recent article in the IEEE Transactions for Engineering Education, the most prestigious journal in his field for education-related research. LaMeres has also received the 2010 President’s Excellence in Teaching Award, the 2012 Teaching Innovation Award and the 2014 Excellence in Online Teaching Award.  

President’s Commission on the Status of University Women Award
Ariel Donohue, program manager of the Diversity Awareness Office, received the 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.

Donohue has been instrumental in bringing engaging and transformational activities, courses and workshops to MSU including Safe Zone trainings, annual Martin Luther King Day events, and assessments of diversity and inclusion at MSU. She was essential to MSU’s nomination and award of the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award this year. Since she came to MSU in 2009, her work has made a difference in incorporating women’s and other diverse perspectives into the MSU curriculum, the campus community and the Northwest region.

President’s Award for Excellence in Service Learning
Julie Ruff, nursing, won the President's Award for Excellence in Service Learning. She will receive $800.

As part of a pediatric nursing course she created, Ruff leads groups of nursing students twice each year to Fort Peck Indian Reservation in the extreme northwest corner of Montana. There, the students conduct well-child exams in schools, travel to homes to provide care for families and elders, and interact with the community as part of a partnership between MSU and the reservation. Ruff’s colleagues say the partnership provides important services to children and families, while MSU students gain valuable experience in pediatric nursing. Her students say the experience inspires them and helps build confidence in their abilities.

President's Excellence in Teaching Award
Ada Giusti, modern languages and literatures, received the 2015 Excellence in Teaching Award. She will receive a $2,500 honorarium.

Giusti consistently puts students’ academic needs first, both inside and outside the classroom. She has developed a philosophy of teaching that is interdisciplinary, experiential and collaborative, as evidenced by her establishing partnerships with the College of Agriculture and College of Engineering. An innovator in integrating service learning and study abroad into her curriculum, she has involved her students in health and economic projects in various French-speaking countries such as Burkina Faso, Senegal, France, Mali and Morocco. “Dr. Giusti changed my life,” one of her former students wrote. “She has encouraged me to travel the world, serve others and have an academic practice grounded in not only holistic thought, but in love.” 

Contact: Julie Heard, MSU Office of the Provost, (406) 994-4373 or