2022 Faculty Award honorees
Click on the bars below to read biographies of this year's class of Faculty Award recipients.
Click on the bars below to read biographies of this year's class of Faculty Award recipients.
Faculty Risk Taker
Mehmet Barut, professor, Department of Finance, Real Estate and Decision Sciences, W. Frank Barton School of Business
Mehmet Barut earned the Bachelor of Science and the Master of Science degrees in management engineering from Istanbul Technical University in 1988 and 1991, respectively. He earned his doctorate in industrial management in 1999 from Clemson University. He joined the WSU faculty in 2000.
For everyday consumers, the topic of supply chain management didn't get much notice — that is until the pandemic.
"Everyone now knows the importance of having items on the shelf, why they're not coming and why prices are going up," said Mehmet Barut, whose research deals with supply chain management.
Ever since joining the WSU business faculty in 2000, Barut has been advocating for operations management and supply chain classes, especially since Wichita has a large manufacturing business sector that relies on procurement and distribution.
In 2002, he introduced the first supply chain course, offered as an elective. Finally, in 2018 and in collaboration with College of Engineering faculty member Bayram Yildirim, Barut established the Master of Science program in management science and supply chain management that is offered through the Barton School. The STEM-based program offers two tracks: management and analytics. Barut is the only tenured business faculty member teaching in the program.
In 2017, Barut led efforts to create and instruct the interdisciplinary curriculum for a customized supply change management certificate program for Cargill, which still continues. WSU also offers supply chain management certificates for both undergraduate and graduate students.
Both the certificate and the new master's programs have resulted in increasing enrollments and revenues, noted Chris Broberg, associate dean for the Barton School's graduate programs and research. Several students who've earned certification go on to enroll in additional WSU business graduate programs.
From a single student enrollment in 2018, the supply chain master's program has grown to 53 graduate students.
"We've been able to continue adding enrollment by word-of-mouth," Barut said. "I haven't done much marketing since I'm the only business faculty member so we have to have sustainable growth."
Barut's diligent efforts with area companies and professionals and the Wichita chapter of the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) have also provided awareness.
Joe Thomas, director of purchasing for the Sedgwick County finance division and president of the Wichita ISM chapter, credits Barut with taking the chapter "to the next level of services for our student outreach program."
"We understand the importance of training the next generation of local and global leaders in the field of procurement and our continued relationship with Wichita State University is in large part due to our relationship with Dr. Barut," Thomas said.
ISM-Wichita has provided course development grants of $40,000 for the supply chain master's program and funding for scholarships up to $10,000 for Kansas students studying in the supply chain field.
Both Broberg and Sue Abdinnour, chair of the Department of Finance, Real Estate and Decision Sciences, noted that Barut took a big risk in starting the supply chain master's program since he's the primary business faculty member designing and executing the program.
"This was on top of his regular teaching, research and service activities," Abdinnour said. "This is no small risk for a faculty member as new programs require developing classes, recruiting students, advising them etc."
Barut isn't finished taking risks. He envisions creating a Center of Innovation for Supply Chain and Logistics that would be a one-stop center offering education, training, services and collaborative research to address the challenges and needs across global supply chains.
Excellence in Creative Activity
Cheyla Clawson Chandler, assistant professor, Department of Dance, director, School of Performing Arts, College of Fine Arts
Cheyla Clawson Chandler earned the Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance and choreography in 2000 and the Master of Arts in sociology and statistical research in 2006, both from Wichita State University and the Master of Fine Arts in modern dance from the University of Oklahoma in 2019.
Growing up in Augusta, Kansas, Cheyla Clawson Chandler loved listening to her grandma's stories about her life spent in rural Butler County.
Decades later, those stories would be the seeds of an innovative, creative project in which Chandler combined her unique academic background in sociology research and dance: the award-winning dance film "She Moved the Prairie." The 25-minute film focuses on women's labor practices in the home and on the land in Kansas between 1890 and 1910.
"When I applied for the Tallgrass residency, I was thinking of her experiences and I was thinking about my responsibility as an artist," said Chandler, who worked on the choreography and movements for the film during her Tallgrass Artist Residency.
Chandler spent hours interviewing historian and retired Emporia State professor Joyce Thierer, who has done extensive research on what life was like for women in Kansas early days.
During Chandler's 10-day artist residency spent in an old railroad casita in Matfield Green, Kansas, in June 2020, she read books by Kansas historians and daughters of early Kansas homesteaders in the mornings and then in the afternoons she walked and moved with the wind outdoors both at Matfield Green and the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.
"I choreographed all the movement — or at least 90% of the movement — on my own body during the residency and I don't usually do that. Typically, I work with younger dancers so I'm creating movements for them but sometimes it's necessary to embody the movement yourself for authenticity," Chandler said.
"She Moved the Prairie" involved faculty and students from WSU dance and filmmaking. Chandler set the choreography with students and guest artist Sarah Frangenberg. Student filmmaker Caitlyn Cody was the cinematographer. Bret Jones, professor of theater and director of acting for digital arts, co-directed with Chandler. WSU graduate music student M. Joseph Willette composed the music.
The film has been accepted into nearly two dozen juried national and international film festivals and has won several honors, including two best directed awards, Best Short Film on Women in the Port Blair (India) International Film Festival, and Best Music and Dance Film in a Transylvania festival.
"She Moved the Prairie" is just one of Chandler's projects looking at legacy.
She and WSU sociology professor Twyla Hill worked together on "Kansas Lineage," which involved collecting oral histories of mothers and grandmothers. That project won the 2021 professional paper award from the National Council on Family Relations' Professional Issues on Aging Focus Group.
Chandler has also collaborated with community artist Mina Estrada on the choreographic project "I Carry This in Me," which explores the creators' Mexican American fathers and ancestors.
Denise Celestin, a dance faculty colleague, calls Chandler's work "is innovative, cutting-edge, cross- and multi-disciplinary, socially relevant, universally themed and visionary."
Chandler's other achievements include having two duets, "Anam Cara" and "nosuchSymbiosis" performed at the Kennedy Center, being rehearsal mistress for nationally and internationally known guest artists, collaborating with several local art galleries and venues, and presenting at numerous dance organizations and conferences. She is on the policy board for the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) and is involved in diversity, inclusion, equity, and access work for NDEO and at WSU.
Excellence in Community Research
Heidi Cornell, associate professor of special education, Department of Intervention Services and Leadership in Education, College of Applied Studies
Heidi Cornell earned a Bachelor of Science in general elementary with a minor in learning disabled (2002), a Master of Science in special education (2005) and the doctorate in special education with a minor in educational leadership (2015), all from the Indiana University in Bloomington. She joined the WSU faculty in 2016.
For Heidi Cornell, doing research that individuals and organizations can use to improve educational and life outcomes of diverse learners is one of the reasons she became a professor. She’s wasted no time doing that.
Since joining the WSU faculty in 2016, Cornell has done research with major organizations in Wichita that provide disability services, as well as Wichita public schools and other school districts. In 2021, she founded the Achieving Results in Special Education (ARISE) Research Collaborative at WSU to serve as a link between research and practice for schools and the community.
As a research partner with the national Special Education Research Accelerator, Cornell collaborates with special education faculty across the country to conduct high-quality, large-scale and open replication studies, noted Jody Fiorini, the ISLE department head.
Cornell’s recent project with the Wichita-based Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation (CPRF) is a prime example of how community-based research can help both organizations delivering services and individuals improve their lives. CPRF is a nationally recognized leader in helping individuals with disabilities of all types achieve employment and independence goals.
Since spring 2021, Cornell has been working with CPRF to create the new Guided Independent Living Assessment (GILA) program designed to give parents some peace of mind and enable young adults with disabilities the opportunity to live independently.
"They (the CPRF) were hearing from parents that they were reluctant to allow their young adult children with disabilities live on their own and they needed a program that would assess the young adults and help teach them some skills," Cornell said.
After being unable to find an appropriate program elsewhere that it could adapt or replicate, CPRF president and CEO Pat Jonas approached WSU, knowing such a partnership would provide a credible, evidence-informed program that could become a national model, said Janis Krohe, CPRF vice president of employment services and research.
The six-week GILA program is being piloted this spring. Cornell will continue to evaluate and refine the program to ensure it remains evidence-based
"There’s a lot of back and forth that goes on when developing a program like this," she said.
Cornell’s belief in the need to engage in applied community-based research led her to create the ARISE Research Collaborative. Through the collaborative, WSU faculty and students can conduct research to establish evidence-based practices, provide evaluation and consultation services and also provide free evidence-based resources to professionals and the community.
Besides the GILA program, ARISE collaborative projects include research addressing cultural issues in special education services — led by fellow 2022 WSU faculty award-winner Dosun Ko — and a review of technology-delivered math interventions being used in rural schools. Cornell is the assistant principal investigator for Ko’s project. The two have also researched racial disparities in school discipline in a Wichita public middle school.
"She has an admirable skill set as an educational researcher," Ko said.
While working on her master’s degree and before earning her doctorate, Cornell was a special education teacher in an Indiana school district for nearly a decade.
Young Faculty Scholar
Crystal Dozier, assistant professor, Department of Anthropology, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Crystal Dozier earned the Bachelor of Arts with honors from The University of Chicago in 2012, and the Master of Arts and doctorate in anthropology from Texas A&M in 2016 and 2018, respectively. She joined the WSU faculty in 2018.
Several foil-wrapped tubes sit on tables in the Archaeology of Food Lab in Neff Hall, waiting for lab founder and director Crystal Dozier and anthropology students to sift through the tubes' 1,000-year-oil soil sediment contents, looking for clues of leftover foods.
The samples come from an archaeological site in Boxed Springs in east Texas for which Dozier is the principal investigator. Dozier is also co-director of the WSU field school at the historical Native American city of Etzanoa, discovered by her colleague Don Blakeslee, in 2017 near present-day Arkansas City, Kansas.
Dozier, who is the graduate coordinator for anthropology, teaches and works on research projects in the lab. Five undergraduate students and five graduate students are also conducting research projects using the lab.
"The strength of the lab is in identifying residue, especially microfossil components, left on pottery," Dozier said. "Here I can train the students how to analyze for that."
Dozier shares another tidbit about the lab's physical space: There are many skeletons in the closet, all of them animals including the news-making mammoth fossil that was found during construction of the Kellogg roadway through Wichita in 2005. Those artifacts are used in the intro to archaeology general education class, which Dozier teaches.
Since she's been at WSU, Dozier has unearthed some interesting finds about historical dietary habits, including finding evidence of wine and caffeine in 500-year-old pottery. When she analyzed "a 1,500-year-old chunk of desiccated human poop" and found someone had eaten a whole venomous rattlesnake, the discovery garnered articles in the Smithsonian and National Geographic magazines and a mention on the popular NPR show, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me."
She also gets scholarly attention, noted her colleagues. In less than four years, she's published eight peer-reviewed journal articles, two refereed academic book chapters, five technical reports and three chapters in an active-learning textbook, said anthropology chair Peer Moore-Jansen.
Her lab, which brought "a totally new and innovative addition to the anthropology program," Moore-Jansen said, has obtained 16 grants and more than $67,000 in external funding.
Dozier is also making a mark on the teaching of anthropology and archeology.
In a profile published in the magazine of the Society for American Archaeology "the SAA Archaeological Record" in May 2021 she talked about the future of the field needing to embrace not only the tried and true basic, tactile skills of fieldwork but also how to navigate and activate the effects of social media on archaeological work and how to engage with new forms of remote sensing and noninvasive data recovery techniques.
A SAA member since 2013, she chairs the organization's curriculum committee and is spearheading an interview project to see how to better prepare future archaeologists.
Dozier, who as a 16-year-old did a one-year internship at the Field Museum in Chicago, has served as Wichita's city archaeologist since 2019, reviewing all permit requests that involve city property or known archaeology sites that might be impacted by work. As part of that work, for example, she and 12 students did a survey of Chisholm Creek Park last fall when the city wanted to pave a walkway near an archaeological site.
As a first-generation student herself, Dozier is part of WSU's first-generation coordinating council.
Excellence in Accessibility
John Hammond, senior educator, Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
John Hammond earned the Bachelor of Science in Education in mathematics and a minor in computer science in 2006 from Missouri State University and a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri in 2012. He joined the WSU faculty in 2012.
Stories of how a teacher played an influential part in the direction of a student's life are plentiful. But in John Hammond's case, it was a student who helped trigger his dive into creating accessible material to be more inclusive in his classes for all populations.
In the spring semester of 2020, Hammond spent hours working with one of his students who is blind to create a better Braille version of the open-source textbook Hammond had authored. The web-based textbook provides a more affordable, and therefore more accessible, text for his students in his discrete mathematics course.
"Accessibility had been something I was interested in … and working with Andrew kind of kicked it off. I realized this is incredibly important because someone who is one of the smartest people I've ever met wasn't able to access the textbook," Hammond said.
When the semester ended, the student wrote on his Student Perception of Teaching Effectiveness evaluation, "His book is the most accessible online textbook I've ever seen. You can tell that he put a lot of time into making every element of the text readable via a screen reader."
Hammond has since made presentations about creating an open source and accessible system at the 2021 Conference on Higher Education Computing in Kansas and the 2022 Kansas Open Educational Resources Conference.
Hammond, who chairs both his department's accessibility committee and the Faculty Senate's accessibility committee, also has taken a broad approach to accessibility by taking his larger courses in calculus and discrete mathematics to what's known as a hyflex environment. In the hyflex model, students are able to attend synchronously in-person or online. For those who can't attend, he embeds the class videos into the class discussion forum.
"This model has helped me meet the students where they are and has been helpful both for students who had to miss because of COVID quarantine, but also routine issues such as finding a babysitter or having a regular illness, and … (has) helped interact with neurodivergent students like myself for whom communicating in a group is very difficult," Hammond said.
Hammond has discovered that some students prefer posting questions in the chat feature, even if they're sitting in the classroom.
Thalia Jeffries, associate professor in the Department of Mathematics, Physics and Statistics, praised Hammond for being an early adopter of accessibility, even before his experience creating the Braille version of his textbook, and helping the entire department create accessible documents. Hammond also was a go-to resource when the department's personnel needed a crash course in online teaching in order to take more than 100 courses fully online during the pandemic.
"Here too, John quickly emerged as one of our department's leaders. He was able to do this because he already possessed considerable computer and technology skills, but he also wanted to do it," Jeffries recalled.
Young Faculty Risk Taker
Dosun Ko, assistant professor and elementary education program chair, School of Education, College of Applied Studies
Dosun Ko earned a Bachelor of Science in elementary education and a Master of Education in elementary educational methods from Seoul National University of Education in South Korea in 2008 and 2011, respectively. He joined the WSU faculty in 2020, after earning a doctorate in special education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that same year.
Dosun Ko knew WSU would be the right fit for him when he learned of the elementary education program’s vision to better serve all students, including students who have been historically marginalized and particularly those with disabilities.
He’s also been the right fit for the School of Education, according to chair Jim Granada. He calls Ko a "change agent" whose enthusiasm has infused energy to even his own work.
"I need my department to move from being comfortable to being more creative and innovative, and to do so often requires taking risks. Dr. Ko has led the department in those efforts," Granada said.
Ko’s risk-taking is based on realizing that his own education didn’t prepare him for being more inclusive in school classrooms and his awareness of barriers faced by students because of cultural or racial identities.
For seven years, from 2008 through 2015, Ko taught in two South Korea elementary schools that focus on inclusive education. Inclusive education is built on the philosophy that every child has the right to quality education and learning. It’s a concept promoted by many, including UNICEF, and is resulting in curriculum and program reviews in schools and universities, WSU included.
While the schools where he taught embraced the concept, Ko said he found his knowledge and skills were lacking. He’s working to change that for both future and current educators.
As the elementary education program chair since 2021, Ko is overseeing the transition of the current degree program into the elementary education unified (EEU) degree program to better prepare future educators to address the academic, social, emotional and behavioral needs of all students in kindergarten through sixth-grade, including those with disabilities. The program will have two tracks: general education and special education.
"Historically, a general education program didn’t include special education coursework … but we want to ensure that (education students) at least accumulate some relevant experience and skills to help students with disabilities in their general education classroom. There are moral and ethical reasons to doing this," Ko said.
To get ready for the EEU degree program, Ko has developed or substantially improved several courses, including ones on self-care, diversity, and professional collaboration, according to Granada. Working with an adjunct faculty member, Ko has co-designed and introduced a course on universal design for learning.
Given the lengthy process for introducing new education programs, which in Kansas must also be reviewed by the state’s Department of Education, the EEU program likely won’t launch until 2025, Ko said.
Ko’s community applied research also reflects his belief that schools need to be more culturally responsive and equity-oriented. Following on his dissertation that looked at finding solutions for racial disparities in school discipline and special education classifications experiences by American Indian students in a Wisconsin school, Ko undertook a similar project involving Black students in a Wichita public school.
Under Ko’s leadership, he and his team are building stronger relationships with the Wichita schools, Granada noted, helping find solutions to address the pandemic-related learning loss in reading skills of early elementary students and optimize clinical learning experiences for WSU education students.
Academy for Effective Teaching
Bryan Lehecka, associate professor, Department of Physical Therapy, College of Health Professions
B.J. Lehecka earned the Bachelor of Science degree in kinesiology from Kansas State University in 2006, the Doctor of Physical Therapy from Wichita State University in 2009 and a doctorate in orthopedic and sports science from Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions in 2018. Lehecka started as an adjunct for WSU in 2010 and joined the faculty full time in 2012.
While working as a physical therapist full time with what is now Ascension Via Christi, B.J. Lehecka “somewhat fell into teaching” when the College of Health Professions needed an instructor in 2010, said Lehecka.
“I said ‘I’d love to try because I think I can affect so many more patients,’” referring to the ripple effect that occurs as the students he teaches go out and become physical therapists.
Lehecka loves the creativity needed to effectively teach in the classroom.
“One of the most exciting and important things I’ve learned in my recent decade in the professing profession is this balance of Aristotle and Plato,” Lehecka wrote in his teaching reflection statement for the Academy for Effective Teaching. “Sometimes we need an Aristotle, a scientist grounded in what we can see and feel, somebody to show us the studies, give us the numbers, lay out the facts and provide concrete details. But sometimes we need a Plato, an artist, a composer, somebody or something that motivates us from another place.”
Along with teaching, Lehecka has grown to love research. His research tends to focus on the glutes. It can be humorous to tell people he studies butt muscles he said, but “they are powerful muscles. They can affect low back pain, hip pain, knee pain and other things too.”
His current research involves studying the glutes as related to jumping and strength and the effects of hip variables on low back pain. He has about four to six students working with him on those projects, and he also advises student research projects.
Lehecka has had more than 20 articles published since 2011 and has done nearly 10 scientific and professional poster presentations, including at the 2016 International Conference and Expo on Novel Physiotherapies in London.
A career highlight happened in 2014, Lehecka said, when he and some WSU students went to Haiti on a working trip organized by a local orthopedic surgeon. Lehecka did some teaching at a nursing school and saw patients in a hospital.
“It was eye-opening,” said Lehecka about his first time being in a third-world country.
Lehecka didn’t decide to study physical therapy until the second semester of his sophomore year at Kansas State University when he needed to receive therapy after breaking his arm.
“But it really wasn’t until I did the cadaver lab … and saw this miracle that is us,” that he realized the potential his career could have in helping others, Lehecka said.
Lehecka continued to see patients while teaching at WSU — working about half time as a physical therapist — up until 2016 when he gave up being a clinician to focus on his dissertation.
Lehecka has been honored twice before for his teaching. In 2020, he received the Kansas Physical Therapy Association Award in Academic Excellence and in 2015-16, he won the College of Health Professions’ Dolores, Etta and Sidney Rodenberg Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Excellence in Research
Vinod Namboodiri, professor, School of Computing, associate director for research engagement, College of Engineering
Vinod Namboodiri received the Bachelor of Engineering in instrumentation and control engineering from Gujarat University in Ahmedabad, India, in 2000, the Master of Science in computer science from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, in 2003 and the doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Massachusetts in 2008. He joined the WSU faculty in 2008. He won an Academy for Effective Teaching Award in 2014 and the Leadership in the Advancement of Teaching Award in 2015.
Ranging from researching smart grids to his current projects in wayfinding apps for those with disabilities, Vinod Namboodiri has racked up an impressive record of grants and scholarly publications.
During his career at WSU, he has received more than $3 million in funding, with more than half coming from the highly competitive National Science Foundation, noted Gergely Zaruba, professor and chair of the electrical engineering and computer science department. According to the NSF website, it tends to fund little more than one-fourth of the proposals it receives.
In 2021, Namboodiri led an NSF Convergence Accelerator workshop to help the agency identify areas where it could invest within the areas of disability and assistive technologies. Top researchers from all around the country and from large tech corporations such as Microsoft and Google attended. The workshop resulted in NSF investing around $25 million in this area.
Namboodiri himself is leading a multi-year, multi-institutional $1.1 million project awarded by NSF to further work on an adaptive wayfinding app called CityGuide.
Because of gaps in traditional GPS systems, CityGuide is being created to provide people with disabilities with capabilities for exploring and navigating.
Namboodiri and his research team, which currently includes three doctoral, two master's and one undergraduate student, are gathering more proof-of-concept data on the app. Project collaborators include Nils Hakansson from WSU, Wichita-based Envision, which is a nonprofit serving those with vision challenges, the city of Wichita and researchers from Kansas State and Texas A&M.
A prototype is scheduled to go online in May in WSU's Wallace Hall, where the wireless beacons needed to communicate with the app have been installed, Namboodiri said. The goal is to get more WSU buildings outfitted to communicate with the app, he said.
Depending on the size of a facility, the cost of installing wireless beacons in a facility can be less than installing a single wheelchair ramp, Namboodiri said. Outfitting Wallace Hall has cost around $2,000, he estimated.
While Namboodiri initially embarked on this project with the idea of helping those with vision challenges, this app could have wider implications, noted Hakansson, an associate professor in the biomedical engineering department.
It could help individuals with limited mobility or those with memory conditions and even the general population (in the case of an emergency evacuation, for example), according to Hakansson and Namboodiri.
In other work with the NSF, Namboodiri has sat on the agency's review panel for research proposals. That experience has helped give him insight into the kind of research being done elsewhere and how to write more successful proposals.
Hakansson, who won the WSU Excellence in Community Research Award in 2018, credits Namboodiri with being a great mentor and role model in the area of research.
Appointed in fall 2021 as the associate director for research engagement for the School of Computing, Namboodiri is actively mentoring junior faculty in the school, said Janet Twomey, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering.
Namboodiri has published more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and conference proceedings papers, with his work receiving more than 2,000 citations according to Google Scholar, Zaruba said.
Excellence in Teaching
Manira Rani, associate engineering educator, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Engineering
Manira Rani earned the Master of Science in Zoology in 2003, the MS in international fisheries management in 2005 and the MS in computer engineering in 2011. She joined the WSU faculty in 2012 as an adjunct faculty member before joining the faculty full time as an educator in 2015.
Based on feedback and endorsements from her students and from her colleagues, Manira Rani has what it takes to be an influential educator.
Consistently, the teaching and quality of her courses get high marks in WSU’s Student Perception of Teaching Effectiveness evaluation instrument.
"She has some scores that are in the high 90s, which is not very common," noted Preethika Kumar, an associate professor in the electrical and computer engineering department and a two-time winner of WSU-level teaching awards. "Apart from demonstrating good teaching capabilities and a good command of the subject matter, through these evaluations, one can see that Manira is very personable with her students. She was especially rated high on her rapport with students."
After observing Rani’s classes, John Watkins, another EEC professor, and Edwin Sawan, professor emeritus and a member of WSU’s Academy for Effective Teaching, came to similar conclusions: that Rani has exceptional teaching skills and admirable rapport and respect from her students.
Rani modestly accepts their compliments, noting that those professors are ones who have motivated her with their teaching styles.
For Rani, once she enters the classroom, all her focus is on her students and ensuring no learner is left behind, she said. She proudly notes she knows each one of her students by name, no small feat when there are about 70 students in each of her three classes each semester.
More than one student has emailed her to note their appreciation for her dogged determination to help them understand the material.
"I haven’t had any professors at WSU go as far as that to help me be successful," wrote one.
Getting unsolicited comments like that "is the best part of being a teacher," Rani said.
Based on student feedback and emails, she’s helped many a student put aside their worries about taking Intro to Digital Design, a gateway class that helps College of Engineering students define their education and career paths.
The students have also shown their endorsement of her teaching effectiveness. In 2018, she won the Nikola Tesla Award, given by the WSU student chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) to an outstanding faculty member. In 2019, she was designated favorite teacher by the WSU IEEE Eta Kappa Nu honor society.
When WSU moved to online classes during the pandemic, Rani took great care to design her courses for effective learning, and later asked Carolyn Speer, manager of instructional design and access, to review them.
"Wow. Simply wow. These courses are beautiful, inviting, complete, largely accessible and well organized," Speer wrote, calling one a model course.
Rani isn’t resting on her laurels when it comes to her courses’ quality and design. Rani is now working on integrating the concepts of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging into her classes.
"We need to apply that lens," she said. "You might be there but your voice isn’t being heard," which can lead to a lack of retention, she believes.
To inspire, engage and advance the number of women engineers, Rani also plans to soon launch an IEEE Women in Engineering affinity group at WSU.
Excellence in Accessibility
Donna Sayman, associate professor, Department of Intervention Services and Leadership in Education, College of Applied Studies
Donna Sayman received the Bachelor of Arts in music ministry and a minor in English literature from Southwestern Assemblies of God College in Texas in 1980, and the Master of Science in special education and her doctorate in occupational education from Oklahoma State University in 2003 and 2009, respectively. She joined WSU faculty in 2015.
While working in K-12 schools as a special education teacher and coordinator, Donna Sayman realized she could do more to help students with learning disabilities. By pursuing her doctorate and teaching in higher education, she could help address special educator shortages and train and teach future special educators about accessibility and equity.
Kari Sutter, one of Sayman's former students and now the head of a special education department at a local public school, said, in her estimation, Sayman is "killing it in the special education field, fighting the good fight, standing up for those that do not have a voice and training people like me to do the same. What we do matters. I learned that from her."
Sayman's advocacy has been infectious, Sutter said, as she finds herself emulating Sayman's enthusiasm and helping mentor other special educators in her district.
Another student credits Sayman with changing her entire view on education, accessibility and learning.
"She's a huge reason why I am the educator I am today," the student wrote.
By incorporating universal design principles for learning and accessibility into her classes, Sayman models how that can be achieved in her students' future classrooms as well as those of her colleagues. Sayman is also part of the Faculty Senate's accessibility committee.
Jody Fiorini, chair of the Department of Intervention Services and Leadership in Education (ISLE), said Sayman has "a contagious enthusiasm and a collaborative approach. The best side effect to working with Dr. Sayman is that we all are able to learn along with her. As she develops strategies that work to make both online and face-to-face courses more accessible, she shares this knowledge with the rest of her colleagues and as a result, the entire department is both more comfortable and more competent in providing accommodations for students with disabilities."
"Beyond merely teaching, Dr. Sayman has also included her students with disabilities in her research and presented with them at national and state conferences. Together, she and her students have gone on to inform other teaching professionals and teacher educators about ways to assist students with disabilities to be successful."
In 2016, when WSU's special education (SPED) master's degree programs were being moved online to attract more students to address special educator shortages, Sayman became an online faculty fellow and received Quality Matters training. In fall 2017, the high-incidence, low-incidence and gifted programs debuted in an online platform.
Sayman worked with ISLE colleague Heidi Cornell to develop and pilot a two-year alternative certification program, another initiative to address special educator shortages. The program is a pathway for SPED licensure for paraprofessionals with a four-year degree in any subject.
As the SPED graduate coordinator, Sayman helped introduce a required service component into the graduate programs, which have an enrollment of about 200 students throughout Kansas and elsewhere.
One service project has involved students in WSU's SPED program serving as mentors in an Envision summer camp for students with vision impairments. Because of that partnership, the nonprofit was able to increase the camp's capacity, while WSU students got hands-on experience working with assistive technology.
Excellence in Research
Nickolas Solomey, professor of physics, Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Nick Solomey earned the Bachelor of Science degree in physics and mathematics from Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, in 1983, the Master of Science in physics from The Ohio State University in 1987 and the doctorate in physics from the University of Geneva in Switzerland, in 1992. He served as a post-doctoral research associate and as a research scientist at the University of Chicago from 1993 through 1998 and 1998 through 2000, respectively. He was on the physics faculty of the Illinois Institute of Technology from 2000 to 2007 until joining the WSU faculty.
While reaching for the stars is a phrase often used for describing motivation, Nick Solomey finds his inspiration in the sun.
In April 2021, NASA announced it was awarding $2 million to Solomey to develop a neutrino detector that could eventually be launched into space and fly close enough to the sun to measure solar neutrinos and conduct other experiments.
Neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in the universe but are challenging to study since they rarely interact with matter, according to NASA. Solar neutrinos are a byproduct of the sun, created by its nuclear core.
The grant was one of five that the U.S. space agency awarded as part of its NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program.
What makes Solomey's project so innovative?
'"No neutrino detector has ever flown in space, and Dr. Solomey was the first to recognize that a space-based detector flying close to the sun will be able to conduct unique science experiments that would otherwise be prohibitive for Earth-based detectors," explained Atri Dutta, WSU associate professor of space dynamics.
Also, understanding the sun has become a high research priority for NASA because of its importance to our planet, Solomey said.
"It provides all the energy provided on Earth."
The project has the potential to revolutionize the way scientists study the sun and provide new insights into particle physics.
A high-energy particle physicist, Solomey has done research at one of the world's largest and most respected scientific research centers, the CERN in Switzerland. He's also conducted research at the Fermilab, America's equivalent of the CERN, in Illinois, and is currently involved in two neutrino research teams at Fermilab.
Solomey gained early attention in particle physics research years ago when he took the matrix of how different quarks (fundamental particles in physics) interact and changed one of the measurements using his hyperon beta decay experiments. The result established a new accepted standard for measuring quark interactions.
Solomey's latest NASA grant is a follow-up to the 2018 grant he received as one of 25 early-stage technology proposals funded nationwide by the NIAC program. The results of the earlier grant showed that the proposed technology for Solomey's detector — a miniaturized satellite called a CubeSat — could work in space.
With the current grant, Solomey and his research team, which includes three WSU graduate students, will work toward being able to launch the CubeSat on a rocket and test it in Earth's orbit, possibly in summer 2024.
"And then we'll be ready to ask NASA to fund a bigger $325 million project," Solomey said.
Solomey is the editor of the conference series on Hyperon, Charm and Beauty Hadrons and the author of "The Elusive Neutrino," published in 1997 as a science book introducing particle physics to the public and high school students.
Solomey is one of WSU's most-cited researchers, having published more than 200 refereed articles in physics journals, with many related to particle detector research he did with 1992 Nobel Prize physicist Georges Charpak, who was his graduate adviser at the CERN and University of Geneva.
Excellence in Online Teaching
Laura Zellers, Regier, Carr, and Monroe faculty fellow in Accountancy and senior educator, School of Accountancy, W. Frank Barton School of Business
Laura Zellers earned the Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Accounting in 1996 and a master's degree in accounting and information systems in 1997 from The University of Kansas. She has been a member of the WSU School of Accountancy faculty from 2000-02, 2005-08 and since 2009.
When WSU's Barton School of Business was designing its fully online undergraduate business degree in 2016, Laura Zellers was tasked with creating three online accounting courses that are part of the business degree core classes. It was the School of Accountancy's first foray into offering any of its classes online.
Zellers, a certified public accountant, approached the task much like she did with any accounting work: She got up to date on what was needed, paid attention to the details of what would be most effective and put in a strong work ethic.
"Immersing myself into the world of online teaching definitely took me out of my comfort zone, but I knew that I needed to take advantage of all of the resources at my disposal to create the best possible courses for my students," she said. Among her challenges were how to convert what she called "old-fashioned" methods of working out problems on a whiteboard and having very structured lectures into effective classes delivered online.
She started working closely with WSU's Instructional Design and Access (IDA) staff and took two Quality Matters courses, one of which was taken in conjunction with her being selected as a WSU online faculty fellow for the 2017-18 academic year. She also was appointed to the business school's online task force.
Without her leadership in creating online versions of those initial online accounting classes, the Barton School would not have been able to offer its online undergraduate business degree that is available in four majors, said John Perry, associate dean of the Barton School.
Zellers received gold star reviews from the IDA team for both of her introductory accounting courses (ACCT 210 and 220). While the 220 class has been in the queue for QM certification, budget constraints have stalled the process.
Zellers has listened to feedback from colleagues, the IDA team and her students to make continuous improvements to her online courses. She learned students tend to focus on coursework on the weekend so she's adjusted to that by making herself available to answer questions. She's also willing to schedule virtual meetings to help students.
"She is always attentive to student concerns, willing to dig deeper into issues students are having that are beyond students' control, such as publisher software, and can relate to students when there is a problem," said student Eric Holmes, who has taken Zellers' classes in person, online and in hybrid form.
It comes as no surprise that her accounting and business school colleagues turned to her for help and information on how to transition to remote formats during the pandemic.
In summer 2020, she set up the first fully online section of one of the accountancy school's most rigorous courses, ACCT 310 Intermediate Financial Accounting.
In response to student demand following the pandemic, the School of Accountancy is creating an online pathway to its accounting major, said Perry. Again, Zellers is taking the lead, creating online versions of two upper-level accounting classes.