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Faculty, staff honored at annual awards event

Western Carolina University’s Faculty and Staff Excellence Awards returned to its full capacity form Friday, April 29, after being canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and resuming in a limited capacity form last year with only nominees invited.

The annual event took place in the Hinds University Center’s Grandroom, followed by a reception in the UC’s Illusions room.

The awards program is a celebration of achievements of the university’s faculty and staff in the areas of teaching, scholarship and service. Chancellor Kelli R. Brown and Provost Richard Starnes presided over the event.

Prior to announcing the university award winners, Brown acknowledged Sudhir Kaul, a professor in the School of Engineering and Technology, who in March was named as WCU’s recipient of the UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award.

Below is a look at this year’s WCU Faculty and Staff Excellence Award winners:

Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award – Brian Gastle

fac staff brian gastle

Brian Gastle

Gastle is professor in the Department of English. He is a highly experienced educator who pedagogically grounds his courses in building the connectivity between student individualization and course content.

“Student learning outcomes in Dr. Gastle’s classes are measured through a variety of assessments and activities that are largely student driven,” Brown said. “And students are highly responsive to Dr. Gastle’s instructional methods, as demonstrated by consistently high SAI averages across multiple courses.”

Star Staff Award – Brian Boyer

fac staff brian boyer

Brian Boyer (third from left)

Boyer is a staple in the WCU campus community who often goes above and beyond the call of duty, and does so with a smile.

One of his 12 nominators wrote, “To Brian, his work is not just a job. It makes him who he is. He is constantly working and inspiring students and other staff members. He is always there for residential living staff and holds a relationship with every person he meets. Brian loves what he does, and you can really see his dedication in every job he holds as a (residential case manager). When you talk to Brian, he makes you feel a sense of purpose for yourself, and he is always encouraging. Brian Boyer is truly an amazing person, but also a very hard worker who was meant to hold the position he does."

Bright Idea Staff Award – Michael Langford

fac staff mike langford

Mike Langford

COVID-19 has had a negative impact on enrollment and persistence rates at WCU. In 2022, when the number of North Carolina high school seniors will hit a decades-long low, WCU brainstormed strategies to increase the quantity, quality and diversity of applicants.

Langford, WCU’s director of admissions, suggested to pilot waiving the application fee for the first year and transfer students for 2022 as a way to stimulate application submission and remove a barrier to admission review and offers. Doing so would mean a one-year loss in operational funds for his unit, but the idea and potential payoff for the university was shared with Executive Council, which expanded the idea to graduate school applicants as well.

“Early indicators are very encouraging,” Brown said. “As of Nov. 24, application submission from first-year students is up 20% and transfer application submission is up 7%. And diversity percentages are looking very promising. Mike’s ‘Bright Idea’ will continue to impact the university for the next several years.”

Judy H. Dowell Outstanding Support Staff Award – Melissa Allen

Allen, an administrative support associate with the Department of World Languages, has demonstrated extraordinary performance and dedication to faculty, staff and students.

One of her nominators wrote, “Without a word of exaggeration, I am thankful every single day that I wake up that Melissa is our ASA, because I know that everything that needs to be done, whether or not I’m even aware of it, will be taken care of without delay or handholding of any kind. Besides, being the backbone of the department for administrative duties, Melissa is an unwavering champion of the students to come into the office with issues, even when those issues aren’t directly related to our department. Her patience, ability to truly listen to people’s issues, empathize with them and work to solve their problems is something that I simply have to envy, because I will never be that good.”

Paul A. Reid Distinguished Service Award for Administrative Staff – Larry Hammer

fac staff larry hammer

Larry Hammer

As the university registrar, Hammer has taken on multiple leadership roles and ensured that WCU’s values are represented with his actions. He handles much of his work behind the scenes so that the registrar’s office is able to meet the needs of WCU students daily.

“He is not only an advocate for student success, but also for staff throughout campus,” Brown said. “Larry seeks the greater good for all involved and supports his staff to find their belongingness on campus. He is a staple at our university and we are so fortunate to have him as part of our Catamount family.”

Paul A. Reid Distinguished Service Award for Faculty – Enrique Gomez

fac staff enrique gomez

Enrique Gomez

Associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics, Gomez is constantly an advocate for students, staff and faculty. He often serves on committees and hosts astronomical telescope viewing for students and the community. In 2017, he was an expert leader for the Great Solar Eclipse viewing held on campus.

“Dr. Gomez is consistently finding a way to benefit the WCU campus community as a whole,” Brown said. “He works tirelessly to engage others and finds the importance of community engagement, involving current and future WCU students, while keeping the WCU value in mind.”

University Scholar Award – Luiz Felipe Lima Da Silveira

fac staff luiz silveira

Luiz Felipe Lima De Silveira

Silveira is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology. His scholarship is in the field of entomology, specifically fireflies. Silveira has been called a “rising star,” and has already described 22 new species.

“Besides being an accomplished scholar, he is an engaged mentor and teacher to graduate and undergraduate students at WCU, to K-12 students whom he encourages to pursue STEM fields and to graduate students abroad whom he co-mentors in Brazil, Portugal and Colombia,” Brown said. “Just Like the fireflies that he studies, he is a shining light to the many underrepresented students and scientists whose career development he fosters.”

Excellence in Teaching Liberal Studies – Ben Steere

fac staff ben steere

Ben Steere

Steere, an associate professor and director of Cherokee Studies, motivates his students to be critical thinkers and global citizens. He is skillful at linking challenges and changes that were experienced by people thousands of years ago with things students may be seeing or experiencing today.

“Ben demonstrates a commitment to empowering students with an intellectual toolkit and facilitating non-ethnocentric analyses of the social phenomena to foster an awareness of cultural diversity and an understanding of how one’s actions impact others, and the world. Ben’s enthusiasm is truly infectious in helping students to become curious lifelong learners,” Starnes said.

Innovative Scholarship Award – Travis Rountree

fac staff travis rountree

Travis Rountree

Rountree, assistant professor in the Department of English, spearheaded a scholarship of engagement project, the “Jackson County LGBTQ Collection at Western Carolina University.” The project took on the important and ambitious task of constructing WCU’s first LGBTQ archive. Working to introduce students to methods for establishing an archive, to put into practice an interactive and engaged pedagogy, and to deepening the ties among underrepresented communities on WCU’s campus and the surrounding community, Rountree and his team, which included students, conducted interviews, collected ephemera, began constructing a database, and presented their project throughout 2020-21.

“Dr. Rountree’s project brought together broad interdisciplinary scholarship experts on oral history at WCU, an attentiveness to intersectionality, and a growing LGBTQ community in Jackson County. His project shows the power of engaged scholarship when put into the service of giving students voice and agency in their education and how those practices build community beyond the campus.”

Excellence in Community Engagement Award – Scott Eldredge and Lori Oxford

fac staff scott eldredge

Scott Eldredge

Eldredge, an associate professor and department head in the Department of Communication, and Oxford, an associate professor in the Department of World Languages, share this award.

Over the last seven years, Eldredge and hundreds of his students have worked with more than 70 community partners providing much needed communications and public relations expertise. “Working with community partners helps students learn in ways that are difficult to replicate in a classroom or laboratory setting,” Eldredge said. “Concepts discussed in the classroom are brought to life as the students practice the skills needed to excel in the field of communication.”

Oxford is an advocate for inclusivity and cultural respect. Her work not only focuses on the Spanish language, but also on teaching inclusivity through engagement. She works to leverage one of WCU’s greatest resources, students, to serve local needs by way of translation services.

“Dr. Oxford has been innovative and dedicated in engaging Spanish language students at their level of fluency to provide a meaningful learning experience while increasing the capacity of Vecinos,” said Marianne Martinez, executive director of Vecinos.

Student Nominated Faculty of the Year Award – Keith West

This semester, students were polled for nominations of faculty who they deemed worthy of this honor. Twenty-six faculty were nominated, representing 18 departments across five colleges. During SGA elections in March, more than 1,000 students chose the finalists for the 2022 Student Nominated Faculty of the Year Award.

One student said of West, an instructor in the School of Teaching and Learning, “He always makes class enjoyable and exciting to learn. Never a dull moment. If you need anything, he is always there and super caring.”

Program of the Year Award: Academic Program – School of Nursing

fac staff nursing


The nursing program continues to produce incredible nurses to serve our region and beyond. Community support is their number one priority, especially with the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic where nursing students were the leading force behind volunteer efforts at WCU’s regional vaccine clinic. This program is crucial in addressing shortages in the nursing workforce.

“Undoubtedly, this program admits and graduates excellent students, but the faculty who teach in the program are committed to making a difference in the profession of nursing through teaching, scholarship and service,” Starnes said. “What truly distinguishes this program is that faculty strive to help students find joy in the process of learning and becoming nurses.”

Program of Excellence/Irene Welch Award: Administrative Program – Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning

fac staff ccesl

Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning staff were heavily involved in the non-clinical aspects of WCU’s regional vaccine clinic. They were strategic partners in the day-to-day operations of the clinic. Additionally, the CCESL staff were responsible for campus voter initiatives in the 2020 presidential election and managed to register voters and get students to the polls at the highest rates the university has ever seen. It was also involved in securing a large, multi-campus grant to hire students to be Catamounts Care Advocates, which helped promote student engagement and healthy practices in 2020-21.


Scholarly Development Assignment Program

The program assists faculty members in improving their competence as scholars by providing a period of leave to pursue scholarly work. These assignments are based on the quality and feasibility of activities proposed for the assignment. Recipients and their projects:

Robert Ferguson, associate professor in the Department of History, is completing archival research for a monograph titled “The New Rust Belt: Environmental and Environmental Decline in the Land of Eden.”

Christopher Hoyt, associate professor in the Department of Human Services, is writing a book tentatively titled “A Wittgensteinian Critique of Evolutionary Psychology.

Brent Kinser, department chair and professor in the Department of English, is doing editorial work on “The Carlyle Letters Online” and a National Endowment of Humanities Scholarly Editions Grant and completion of an Edition of Carlyle’s Selected Essays for Oxford University Press’ World’s Classics editions.

Pavel Wlosok, professor in the School of Music, is recording original music and touring the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland; presenting masterclasses at the Academy of Music in Krakow, Poland, funded by the Erasmus Plus program from the European Union Education Fund; recruiting international students to WCU.

College of Arts and Sciences

Board of Governors College of Arts and Sciences Teaching Award – Channa De Silva, associate professor, Department of Chemistry and Physics

College of Business

Board of Governors Creative and Innovative Teaching Award – Audrey Redford, assistant professor, School of Economics, Management and Project Management

College of Education and Allied Professions

Board of Governors Award for Superior Teaching – Alleyne “Ally” Bromell, assistant professor, Department of Psychology

College of Engineering and Technology

Board of Governors Distinguished Teaching Award – Amber Thompson, assistant professor, School of Engineering and Technology

David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts

Board of Governors College of Fine and Performing Arts Teaching Award – Peter Savage, assistant professor, School of Stage and Screen

College of Health and Human Sciences

Board of Governors Innovative Teaching Award – Tim Eckerd, assistant professor, Department of Physical Therapy; and Chad Hallyburton, assistant professor, School of Health Sciences

Provost’s Scholarship Development Award

Brook T. Alemu, assistant professor, School of Health Sciences

Beth Young, assistant professor, Department of Social Work

Jane Dell, assistant professor, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources

Diane Styers, associate professor, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources

Gauhar Sabih, assistant professor, Kimmel School of Construction

Robert Steffen, associate professor, Kimmel School of Construction

Timothy Eckerd, assistant professor, Department of Physical Therapy

Todd Watson, professor, Department of Physical Therapy

Jessica Graning, assistant professor, Department of Physical Therapy

Joseph Tang, assistant professor, School of Engineering and Technology

Andrew Ritenour, assistant professor, School of Engineering and Technology

Scott Rowe, assistant professor, School of Engineering and Technology

Nelson Granda-Marulanda, assistant professor, School of Engineering and Technology

Xizhen Schenk, assistant professor, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources

Mark Lord, professor, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources

Sean O’Connell, associate professor, Department of Biology

Darrius A. Stanley, assistant professor, Department of Human Services

Hunter Library

Hunter Scholar Award – Ben Steere, associate professor, Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Graduate School and Research

Hunter Scholar Award – Joseph Pechman, associate professor, Department of Biology

Retired Faculty and Staff

May 2021 through April 2022

Robert Adams (Phased Retirement), School of Engineering and Technology

Brian Buchanan, Facilities Management

Diana Catley, Human Resources and Payroll

Michael Caudill, Department of Communication

David Cowan, Facilities Management

Mark Dehart, Book and Supply Store

Wanda Dills, Residential Living

Terry Domagalski (Phased Retirement), Economics, Management, and Project Management

Cheryl Farrell, Registrar

Thomas Frazier, Printing Services

John Freeman, Facilities Management

Rick Fulton, Office of Athletic Programs

Bruce Henderson, Psychology

Glenda Hensley, First Year Experience

Marianne Hollis, School of Health Sciences

Jon Jicha, School of Art and Design

Pam McFarland, Admissions

James McLachlan, Philosophy and Religion

Sharon Metcalfe, School of Nursing

Jon Passow, University Police

Mickey Randolph (Phased Retirement), Psychology

Marissa Ray, School of Teaching and Learning

Pan Riggs, Sponsored Research

Reggie Rogers, Controller’s Office

Sandra Saunders, Department of English

David Strahan, School of Teaching and Learning

Bill Studenc, University Communications and Marketing

Thomas Walawender, University Police

John West, School of Music

John Williams, Anthropology and Sociology

Office of Web Services