Biology professors Kevin Hamed and Walter Smith have been colleagues for years -- they share a professional interest in green salamanders -- but never expected to be together for something like this: a formal luncheon honoring them as among Virginia’s most esteemed faculty.
Hamed, a professor at Virginia Highlands Community College, is an expert on Appalachian salamanders; Smith teaches at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise and also specializes in rare amphibians in Appalachia.
But instead of trekking through mountain mud, there they were in an elegant ballroom of the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond among a crowd of 120 including legislators and college presidents, dressed in suits and ties rather than the dungarees they typically wear in the field.
Hamed and Smith were among a dozen educators from two- and four-year institutions honored at the 31st Outstanding Faculty Awards, presented by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. The awards were celebrated at a formal luncheon February 16.
No croaking frogs or buzzing bugs for them on this workday. Instead a harpist plucked gentle melodies.
“This is such an amazing opportunity when you’ve got so many educators represented from across the state today,” Hamed marveled, looking around the room. “It’s so cool when you’ve been working with someone for three years and then we’re in the same room today, together.”
The awards honor Virginia’s best faculty for their work in research, teaching and mentorship. Public and private institutions of higher education from across the Commonwealth nominate faculty members each year. Those nominees are screened by a statewide panel of peer reviewers and a final review board selects the recipients.
“The Outstanding Faculty Awards recognize faculty members who ... help make the Commonwealth such a great place to live and work,” SCHEV Director Peter Blake said to the audience of 120.
Guests at the luncheon included Governor Terry McAuliffe, Secretary of Education Dietra Trent, legislators and representatives from business and higher education. Under the ballroom’s high ceiling, they dined on fish and chicken, followed by a chocolate-mousse cake studded with berries.
Hunter Applewhite, president of the Dominion Foundation, which has sponsored the awards for 13 years, praised the recipients.
“Each year I’m amazed by the dedication of these teachers and inspired by their efforts to help young people lead full, creative and productive lives,” Applewhite told the crowd. “The stories we hear -- of devotion and passion -- there’s nobody in this room who doesn’t have a story about changing a student’s life.”
Guests including college presidents and family members dine in a ballroom at the Jefferson Hotel. (Photo: Pierre Courtois)
The faculty members represent an array of disciplines including political science, marketing, theater, English and computer and biomedical sciences. Some have taught for decades; others, such as the two Rising Star recipients, are in the early years of their careers. Each received a $5,000 award from the Dominion Foundation.
Some of the recipients were recognized for advancements in research and innovation, others for bringing new aspects of education to underrepresented communities. Salamander researcher Hamed, for example, was commended for his work in getting biology students into the field resulting in data used to change local, state and federal land-management decisions.
The 12 recipients represent the full range of scholarly work from engineering and biology to the arts. For example, Old Dominion University’s Jennifer Michaeli developed undergraduate and graduate naval architecture and marine engineering courses, while Kelly Bremner enhances students’ communication and collaboration skills through theater courses at Emory & Henry College. Anatoly Radyushkin studies and teaches physics at Virginia Tech, while author John Gregory Brown, director of creative writing at Sweet Briar College, created a series that brings world-renowned writers from around the world to his small liberal-arts school.
Introducing the governor, Education Secretary Trent said the recipients exemplify what it means to be an outstanding faculty member. “We thank them for their service to students, to their institutions, and to the Commonwealth,” she added.
In his remarks McAuliffe discussed a recent trip to California during which he had convinced Nestlé USA to move their headquarters to Virginia. Nestlé “said they chose Virginia because of the education system,” McAuliffe said. “I could not have brought all these businesses to Virginia without the best education system. Thank you -- you’re what makes us the best workforce on the globe.”
(Photo: Pierre Courtois)
McAuliffe, who often notes the thousands of unfilled cybersecurity jobs in Virginia, made a point to recognize recipients in the audience who specialized in cybersecurity and computer science -- Margaret Leary of Northern Virginia Community College and Daniel Menascé of George Mason University.
To close the event, SCHEV chair G. Gilmer Minor III, CEO emeritus of medical-products firm Owens & Minor who has been appointed to the higher-education council for eight years, spoke warmly of the recipients’ work.
“When I think of my education, I couldn’t even imagine the courses some of y’all are teaching,” Minor, a Virginia Military Institute alumnus, told the awardees. “And thank God you’re there, because you’re teaching and influencing the new leaders of our world. This is more than a job for you, it’s a commitment to the future.”
Minor reflected on his excitement eight years ago at his first Outstanding Faculty Awards ceremony, and added: “Here I am eight years later, getting all tingly, thinking about all of you here today. Thank you for what you’re doing for your students and schools and America and the rest of the world.”
Learn more at schev.edu/OutstandingFaculty.
2017 Outstanding Faculty Awards Recipients
Kelly June Bremner
Professor of Theatre, Emory & Henry College
John Gregory Brown
Julia Jackson Nichols Professor of English, Sweet Briar College
Theresa B. Clarke
Professor of Marketing, James Madison University
Stephen J. Farnsworth
Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, University of Mary Washington
Michael Kevin Hamed
Professor of Biology, Virginia Highlands Community College
Professor of Information Technology, Northern Virginia Community College
Caroline Parsons Lubert
Professor of Mathematics, James Madison University
Daniel A. Menascé
University Professor of Computer Science, George Mason University
University Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Sciences, Virginia Tech
Jennifer Grimsley Michaeli*
Assistant Professor of Engineering Technology, Old Dominion University
Professor and Eminent Scholar of Physics, Old Dominion University
Walter Hammond Smith*
Assistant Professor of Biology, The University of Virginia’s College at Wise
(* indicates Rising Star award recipient)