2008 Awards for Excellence in Teaching

For more information, contact Joni Worthington at (919) 962-4629 or worthj@northcarolina.edu.


April 23, 2008




UNC Board of Governors Presents University-wide Awards for Teaching Excellence

CHAPEL HILL – The Board of Governors of the multi-campus University of North Carolina has selected 17 of its most outstanding faculty to receive the 14th Annual Awards for Excellence in Teaching. During a recognition luncheon to be held in conjunction with the Board’s May 9 meeting, a faculty member from each UNC campus will receive a commemorative bronze medallion and a $7,500 cash prize.

The 17 recipients, representing an array of academic disciplines, were nominated by special committees on their home campuses and selected by the Board of Governors Committee on Personnel and Tenure. The awards will be presented by UNC President Erskine Bowles and Board of Governors Chairman Jim Phillips of Greensboro.

This marks the first year that an instructor from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, a residential high school for gifted students, has been recognized with the award. In 2007, the General Assembly declared NCSSM, which had previously been an affiliate of the University, a constituent institution.

Award winners for 2008 include Mark Vogel, professor of English, Appalachian State University; Louis Warren, professor of curriculum and instruction, East Carolina University; Edmond B. Koker, professor of chemistry, Elizabeth City State University; Constance Lightner, associate professor and interim chair of the Department of Management, Fayetteville State University; Jothi V. Kumar, professor of chemistry, NC A&T State University; Karen Dacons-Brock, associate professor of theater, NC Central University; Robert Francesconi, assistant dean, acting and movement, NC School of the Arts; and Richard J. Spontak, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and materials science and engineering, NC State University.

Other winners are Kevin K. Moorhead, professor of environmental studies, UNC Asheville; Kevin Stewart, associate professor of geological sciences, UNC-Chapel Hill; Helene Hilger, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, UNC Charlotte; Vidyaranya Gargeya, professor of information systems and operation management, UNC Greensboro; Mark Canada, associate professor of literature, UNC Pembroke; Carole Tallant, professor of communication studies, UNC Wilmington; William L. Peebles, professor of music, Western Carolina University; Dennis Felder, associate professor of sport management, Winston-Salem State University; and Dan Teague, instructor of mathematics, NC School of Science and Mathematics.

Established by the Board of Governors in 1994 to underscore the importance of teaching and to reward good teaching across the University, the awards are given annually to a tenured faculty member from each UNC campus. Winners must have taught at their present institutions at least seven years. No one may receive the award more than once.

Mark Vogel, Appalachian State University

A member of the Appalachian faculty since 1989, Vogel is admired as a quiet leader who has made a meaningful impact on students, colleagues, and the larger community. His service to English education includes advising and mentoring practicing high school teachers, as well as elementary and middle school education majors and graduate assistants. He serves on the College Education Technology Task Force, the Teacher Education Council, the Secondary Education Advisory Committee, and the Teaching Fellows Advisory Board. Vogel earned his doctorate from the University of Missouri after teaching at the middle grades, high school, and community college levels.

Louis Warren, East Carolina University

Louis Warren is passionate about teacher education, and he credits his first-grade teacher with inspiring him to become a teacher. “The classroom,” he says, “is a sacred place where ‘Ahas!’ happen and dreams are made possible. I am puzzled that not everyone wants to teach because to me it is the most wonderful job.” For that reason, he works to create learning environments and experiences that help his students grow and develop as individuals and as teachers. Warren holds an undergraduate degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, a master’s degree from UNC Pembroke, and a doctorate in education from the University of Georgia. After teaching in middle schools in rural North Carolina and serving as an assistant professor at Georgia Southern University, he joined the ECU faculty in 1994.

Edmond Koker, Elizabeth City State University

“I am a better student after taking his classes and not just in chemistry, but overall,” reflects one of Koker’s students. To help students grasp key scientific concepts, he focuses on teaching through inquiry, conducting field experiences, leading discussions, presentations and recitation, as well as the importance of using outside reading to increase comprehension. Koker has continued his own professional development through research in physical chemistry conducted at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Office of Naval Research. An ECSU faculty member since 1984, Koker holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and doctorate in physical chemistry from Howard University.

Constance Lightner, Fayetteville State University

A member of the FSU faculty since 2000, Lightner teaches mathematics-based courses to often apprehensive business majors. Through the creation of supplemental teaching manuals and chapter tutorials, she has managed to make quantitative topics both applicable and interesting. In addition to teaching, Lightner is also the School of Business’ liaison to the community colleges and has served the community as a consultant for United Way of Cumberland County. A graduate of Norfolk State University, she holds master’s and doctoral degrees in operations research from NC State University.

Jothi Kumar, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

Students and colleagues alike praise Kumar’s unwavering dedication to students, her demand for excellence, and her passion for teaching chemistry at all levels. She focuses on developing students’ critical thinking skills through small-group activities that promote hands-on application of chemistry principles and encourage real-world problem solving. A sought-after advisor, she has personally mentored nearly 50 undergraduate and master’s level students since joining the A&T faculty in 1975. A Fellow of the American Institute of Chemists, a Certified Professional Chemist, and a Land Grant University Research Ethics Fellow, Kumar holds a baccalaureate degree in chemistry from Annamalai University in India and a doctorate in chemistry from Kansas State University.

Karen Dacons-Brock, North Carolina Central University

A member of the NCCU theater faculty since 1980, Dacons-Brock teaches courses in voice and diction, oral interpretation, acting, directing, theatre history, and literature and speech communication. She is also an advisor, director, producer and scriptwriter for a group of student performers who help recruit prospective NCCU students. As a teacher, Dacons-Brock emphasizes the creation of a classroom environment that is engaging and stimulating. “Exchange” she notes, “is a key word here. Both student and teacher have potential for growth in the academic arena.” Brock received her bachelor of fine arts degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and holds a master’s degree in communication disorders from NCCU.

Robert Francesconi, North Carolina School of the Arts

Francesconi, or “Sconi” as he is affectionately called, teaches by not only by telling, but by guiding students to experience what they need to become professional actors and directors. A member of the NCSA drama faculty since 1978 and assistant dean since 1992, he has achieved national and international acclaim for using mask work as a tool in teaching and acting. He has directed many student productions over the years and has made guest appearances at colleges and universities in the U.S., Russia, Spain, and Singapore. A former recipient of the NCSA Excellence in Teaching Award, Francesconi holds undergraduate and master’s degrees from Humboldt State University in California.

Richard Spontak, North Carolina State University

Since joining the NCSU engineering faculty 15 years ago, Spontak has integrated teaching and research with equal passion and rigor. He has encouraged his students to engage with the real problems and challenges facing the world, and his students have become well-known for participating in science-based competitions and projects. Twenty-six of his undergraduate students have been listed as co-authors on peer-reviewed journal publications. He also has advised more than 100 students, including six Park Scholars. Spontak earned his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Penn State University and his doctoral degree in chemical engineering from the University of California-Berkeley.

Kevin Moorhead, University of North Carolina at Asheville

Moorhead injects enthusiasm in his classes and challenges students to think about environmental problems from various perspectives. His teaching is also informed by his own research. As one former student observed, “Who would think soil science is that exciting?” Moorhead, who joined the UNCA faculty in 1992, has been awarded the campus’ Distinguished Teacher Award and Feldman Awards for teaching, service, and research. He holds a baccalaureate degree in biology from Warren Wilson College, a master’s degree in agronomy from Ohio State University, and a doctoral degree in soil science from the University of Florida.

Kevin Stewart, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

For more than 20 years, Kevin Stewart has devoted himself to helping students discover and appreciate the geologic world that surrounds them. Whether leading field trips for 20 students in a first-year seminar or teaching a class of over 100 students, he guides his students to fresh understanding of the world in which they live. He awakens what he calls “the geologic imagination,” an ability to think about the natural world in innovative ways. As one former student observed, “I was honestly caught of guard by how much I enjoyed this course. I’m not a science person, but I found the material lively and exciting.” Steward holds a doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley.

Helene Hilger, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

“She loves to teach and she does a great job!” is what students and faculty colleagues say about Hilger. Even though her subject matter is often sewage, garbage, or hazardous waste, Hilger has received UNCC’s award for undergraduate teaching once and graduate teaching twice. A member of the UNCC faculty since 1979, Hilger has developed successful learning tools that include group design projects, field trips, bingo and Jeopardy games to teach concepts, and extra credit for the performance of thematic songs she has written on class topics. Hilger earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in engineering from UNCC before receiving her doctorate in civil engineering from NC State University.

Vidyaranya Gargeya, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Since joining the UNCG Department of Information Systems and Operations Management in 1993, Gargeya has created and taught a wide range of courses at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. According to his students, “He does not teach to make a living. He lives to teach.” Already an award-winning teacher, he seeks to engage students with live case studies, interactive guest speakers, and written exams that provide students with real-life business experiences in the classroom. Gargeya received his baccalaureate at Andhra University in India, his postgraduate diploma in management at the Indian Institute of Management, and his doctorate in business administration from Georgia State University.

Mark Canada, University of North Carolina at Pembroke

Canada says of teaching: “Like Ben Franklin, I believe humans have tremendous potential, and I can think of no more appropriate or fulfilling job for me than helping them realize that potential.” He connects course content with the diverse experiences of his students, and he engages in leadership roles and collaborations that promote learning among students and colleagues. In each of his courses, he incorporates technology, group work, and experimental learning activities, even as he shares his expertise and passion about writers such as Poe and Franklin or explorers such as Lewis and Clark. Canada holds master’s and doctoral degrees in English from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Carole Tallant, University of North Carolina at Wilmington

As a professor of communication studies and director of Storytelling in the Community, Tallant considers teaching “an art, just as performance is” and has as her goals “to help students reclaim their intense desire to read and learn with the joyful passion they once had as children, and to believe in their ability to succeed so that they realize their unlimited potential.” A member of the UNCW faculty since 1980, Tallant holds baccalaureate and master’s degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill and a doctorate from Louisiana State University. The recipient of several UNCW awards for teaching excellence, she was named the 2004 North Carolina Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

William Peebles, Western Carolina University

Peebles’ desire to help students see learning “as one of the most enjoyable activities yet discovered by the human species” is evident in all his classes. When students walk into his gamelan class, for example, they immediately take off their shoes, sit on the floor amid varied parts of an Indonesian instrument and begin practicing. Students not only play their own parts, but they also assist each other, work to correct troublesome spots and ask insightful questions. It is clear that the group is discovering how to learn for themselves, take each others’ leads, and try new things. A WCU faculty member since 1992, Peebles is a three-time winner of the campus’ James Dooley Excellence in Teaching Award. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work, as well as master’s and doctoral degrees in musical arts, from Michigan State University.

Dennis Felder, Winston-Salem State University

A WSSU faculty member since 1984, Felder is known by his students as one who stresses professionalism and teamwork at all times in and outside of class. He is also very involved with outreach and civic engagement projects in the community, serving on the board of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Carolina and the Winston-Salem Recreation Parks Commission and chairing the Advisory Board for the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club. A graduate of Alcorn State University in Mississippi, Felder earned master’s and doctoral degrees in curriculum and instruction from Kansas State University. 

Dan Teague, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics

Teague, who has taught at the NCSSM for the past 25 years, is described by students as energetic, engaging, approachable, and realistic. His classes regularly investigate real-world problems, and his goal in teaching is to make knowledge personal for his students—“not just to teach mathematics, but to teach my students how to learn mathematics, and love the challenge of mathematics.” Extending the reach of NCSSM, Teague has directed summer workshops for high school math teachers across the state. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, he holds a master’s degree from Springfield College and a doctorate from NC State University.

About the University of North Carolina

The oldest public university in the nation, the University of North Carolina enrolls more than 209,000 students and encompasses all 16 of North Carolina’s public institutions that grant baccalaureate degrees, as well as the NC School of Science and Mathematics, the nation’s first public residential high school for gifted students. UNC campuses support a broad array of distinguished liberal-arts programs, two medical schools and one teaching hospital, two law schools, a veterinary school, a school of pharmacy, 11 nursing programs, 15 schools of education, three schools of engineering, and a specialized school for performing artists. The UNC Center for Public Television, with its 11-station statewide broadcast network, is also under the University umbrella.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

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