By Julia Duvall
Amid the hustle and bustle the end of the spring semester brings, Western Carolina University’s campus community paused to celebrate during the afternoon of Thursday, April 27 for the annual Faculty and Staff Excellence Awards ceremony.
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 which was held in the Hinds University Center Grandroom.
“As we reflect on where we are as a university, this annual celebration of the extraordinary work that is accomplished each and every day by our faculty and staff also affords us the opportunity to look back on the challenges and successes of the academic year quickly coming to a close,” Brown said.
Prior to announcing the university award winners, Brown acknowledged Yanjun Yan, an assistant professor in the School of Engineering and Technology, who in April was named as WCU’s recipient of the 2023 UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award. This award is presented by the Board of Governors to one tenured faculty member at each of the University of North Carolina system’s 17 institutions.
Below is the list of 2023 award winners:
Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching award - Katie Zejdlik
Zejdlik is a professor in WCU’s Anthropology and Sociology Department and is very intentional in her course design and pedagogy to be transparent, student centered by connecting all elements of a course and setting clear expectations for her students for success.
“Dr. Zejdlik demonstrates empathy and inclusiveness in her teaching and both her students and colleagues had many positive things to say about her and her teaching,” Brown said.
Star Staff Award – Christy Ashe
Christy Ashe is from the Office of Special Events and consistently proves that she
will go above and beyond and do it all with a smile while inspiring her team and those
“Ms. Ashe embodies everything the Star Staff Award is about,” Brown said. “If you’ve ever interacted with Christy, you know what I’m talking about. She does so much more than what her job requires of her, and we are so grateful for what she does to inspire others and personify the catamount spirit.”
Bright Idea Staff Award – Sibley Bryan
Sibley Bryan is from the Math Tutoring Center and had the idea to ensure students are being placed in the appropriate math courses the first time, so they are in a course appropriate for their skill and knowledge in mathematics and that they will not pay for a course that ultimately is not necessarily. This also helps students identify the course they are most prepared for.
“Math placement tests impact continuing, transfer, and new students each year and this was an important valuable change that aligns with WCU’s dedication to “academic excellence, affordability, and access,” Brown said. “The Bright Idea shared in this nomination will have a far-reaching and long-lasting impact at Western Carolina University.”
Judy H. Dowell Outstanding Support Staff Award – Anne Aldrich
Aldrich, executive assistant to the office of the provost, exemplifies the qualities of dependability, cooperative spirit and loyalty to the university. As noted in her nomination she is involved in “running the Summer Institute for Admin Professionals, spearheading the Week of Kindness, leading Gallup Strengths or just doing her day-to-day tasks and she does it all with a bubbly personality.
“I can't think of someone more deserving than Anne,” Brown said. “She will always ‘go the extra mile’ in her dedication to WCU.”
Paul A. Reid Distinguished Service Award for Staff – Cory Causby
Throughout his 23 years at WCU, Causby has worked his way up from a staff position in human resources to his current role as associate vice chancellor for human resources and payroll. As a Bryson City native he was described as the quintessential 'local guy who done good' in his nomination. His peers note that he is “steady, competent, unflappable, and immensely well respected.”
“Dr. Causby skillfully navigated WCU through the HR trials of the COVID pandemic and offers wise counsel to the Chancellor and Executive Council on a range of staff and faculty topics,” Brown said. “The committee felt that his leadership at all levels of the university system, his demonstrated dedication to WCU, and the respect and esteem held for him by his peers make him this year’s top choice.”
Paul A. Reid Distinguished Service Award for Faculty – Cyndy Caravelis
Caravelis is from the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice serves on the Board of Directors for the Center for Domestic Peace, a nonprofit organization that provides direct support to victims of interpersonal violence and is part of several organizations around the region that focus on de-escalation and pre-crisis intervention. Alongside her therapy dog Atlas, the first domestic violence therapy dog in Jackson County, Caravelis escorts domestic violence victims to court. Atlas regularly accompanies her to WCU classes, local schools, and other community organizations to teach about domestic violence facts and services.
“Her nominators emphasize that Dr. Caravelis doesn’t just teach about social justice issues; she is committed to helping students feel safe, heard, and protected during their time here at WCU,” Brown said.
University Scholar Award – Turner Goins
Goins, a Jeannette Hyde Distinguished Professor, is a nationally renowned expert in Native Aging and Public Health. Goins’ approach is guided by principles of co-learning, mutual benefit, and long-term commitment – always partnering with communities she works with from start to finish. She is also a highly engaged mentor and teacher to graduate students at WCU and beyond and is described in her letters of support as a ‘collaborator’, ‘mentor’ and major contributor to the relevant science and scholarship in her field.
“In her 10 years at WCU, Dr. Goins has contributed to the education and scholarly development of students and junior colleagues as well as having direct impacts on WCU, our community, and the broader western North Carolina Region,” Brown said. “She has secured over $2.5 million in sponsored research funding, and along with associated research has served aging populations in our region, especially those of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.”
Excellence in Teaching Liberal Studies - Katharine Mershon
Mershon, from the Department of Philosophy and Religion, cultivates a fantastic dynamic with her students and connects with them on professional and personal levels. She organizes the course content well, exudes enthusiasm on various topics, and fosters respectful discourse. The students in her classroom are very engaged with both instructor and peers.
“Dr. Mershon is very affirming of her students, recognizing each by their names and thanking them for their contributions to the class,” Starnes said. “The students were so engrossed in the class that they wanted to stay and get their thoughts out even when the class time came to an end, which is a true testament to a wonderful professor.”
Innovative Scholarship Award – Jane Eastman and Brett Riggs
“The Sky at Watauga: An Archaeological Exploration of Cherokee Astronomical System and Calendrics,” project seeks to recover and restore key elements of pre-contact Cherokee astronomical and calendrical systems by using physical landscape evidence defined in the archaeological record and thus creates opportunities to partner with Cherokee communities in their rediscovery of their astronomical and scientific heritage. Simulations using spatial data mapping and field archaeology highlighted the ways Cherokees and other Indigenous peoples have brought cosmic forces into their lives.
“Dr. Eastman and Dr. Riggs have produced exemplary scholarship of engagement with their project,” Starnes said.
Excellence in Community Engagement Award – Ashlee Wasmund
Wasmund is the program director of musical theatre and dance in WCU’s School of Stage and Screen and the founding producing artistic lead of Calliope Stage Company – a nonprofit professional theatre company in Sylva. Through the creation of Calliope Stage, Wasmund collaborates from mutuality, respect, and reciprocity with students, faculty, staff, and community members to cultivate a community gathering space where all are welcomed and encouraged.
“This is an outstanding example of community-engaged teaching, learning, and partnering,” Starnes said. “We are proud to recognize Ms. Wasmund with this year’s Excellence in Community Engagement Award for her time, talent, and efforts, and most of all, for the positive impact these efforts and collaborations have within our community.”
Student Nominated Faculty of the Year Award – Alesia Jennings
Jennings is from the Department of Chemistry and Physics and her student nomination states, “Dr. Jennings deserves this award because she goes above and beyond for students. She treats everyone with respect and makes every student who walks into her classroom feel important and loved. She is passionate about her job, loves what she does and is very educated in her field. She deserves this award for her hard work in the Chemistry department and at WCU!”
“The student nominated faculty of the year award is given annually to a professor who exhibits passion and excellence in teaching,” Starnes said. “Congratulations to Dr. Jennings.”
Program of Excellence Award— Academic Program - Forensic Anthropology Program
WCU’s Forensic Anthropology Program was established in 2003 and since then has experienced consistent growth in student enrollment, retention, community engagement, and national recognition. Additionally, the forensic anthropology program houses WCU's "body farm,” the Forensic Osteology Research Station (FOREST). The FOREST was the second human decomposition facility in the world and continues to serve as a unique outdoor teaching and research facility as well as a green burial option for the surrounding community. The program also houses the John A. Williams human skeletal collection. This research collection created from the willed-body donation program draws forensic anthropologists throughout the U.S., for both research and study, as it is one of only a few ethically sourced human skeletal collections. The work they do in service to the first responder community is also exceptional from hosting experiential training for federal, state and local officials as well as work they do with K9 cadaver dog handlers provides a great help to external partners and fantastic learning opportunities for WCU students.
“The Forensic Anthropology Program is a model of how scholarship can be engaging, innovative, and practical,” Starnes said. “The program is a credit to WCU and one that deserves recognition for the work they do. What truly distinguishes this program is that faculty strive to help students find joy in the process of learning and becoming nurses. This is reflected in the long-term success of students as well as the camaraderie that can be felt among the professors and the student body.”
Program of Excellence Award – Administrative Program – Irene Welch Award - Department of Student Community Ethics
The Department of Student Community Ethics works with the WCU community to educate students about student rights and responsibilities as stated in the WCU Code of Student Conduct. DSCE staff strives to make WCU a positive living and learning environment through outreach and education to the university community. In the past year DSCE has made incredible strides to become more student centered and serve as a resource for students, campus partners, and the community in a way it hadn’t been before. The staff work hard to support colleagues preparing and serving on hearing boards.
“DSCE strives to be a place where students will be heard and supported,” Starnes said. “In instances where a student is held accountable for behavior, the accountability comes with compassion, care, and respect. The staff frequently refer students to appropriate resources on campus and write student of concern referrals when they see that a student is in need. The DSCE staff and the team of campus partners that collaborate on this mission are deserving of this recognition.”
Other University Honors
Scholarly Development Assignment Program
The purpose of this program is to assist members of the faculty in improving their competence as scholars by providing a period of leave from usual work assignments to pursue concentrated scholarly work. These assignments are based on the quality and feasibility of activities proposed for the assignment.
Roya Scales, professor in the School of Teaching and Learning, College of Education
and Allied Professions.
Scales will be working as a full-time reading interventionist at Cullowhee Valley School during the spring 2024 semester. Her focus will be to work with struggling readers and collect data on reading growth and effective teaching strategies. Scales plans to use this data for publications in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as well as in a proposed book for Guilford Press on explicitly teaching reading.
Holly Pinter, associate professor in the School of Teaching and Learning, College of Education and Allied Professions.
Pinter will be completing a draft of a textbook on middle school education. This project will involve collaboration with the CEAP dean and an English language arts teacher. Pinter will be the sole or co-author of 13 out of 17 chapters and will serve as the editor and corresponding author for the publisher, Routledge.
Brian Railsback, professor in the Department of English, College of Arts and Sciences.
Railsback will be creating a book proposal for a literary biography on John Steinbeck. He plans to conduct two months of research work at major Steinbeck archives, create an outline for the book and complete the first chapter to secure the interest of a literary agent and publisher. The tentative title for the book is “John Steinbeck: The Wide Horizon.”
Robert Clines, associate professor in the Department of History, College of Arts and Sciences.
Clines plans to conduct archival and library research in Rome, Italy which will enable completion of his current book manuscript, “Ancient Others: Race and Empire in Italian Renaissance Humanism.”
Nicolas Passalacqua professor in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences.
Passalacqua will be working on the second edition of the book, “Ethics and Professionalism in Forensic Anthropology.” The first edition acted as an introduction to the concepts of ethics and professionalism in the discipline and the second edition will update and expand on the original content in response to the increased awareness and practical use of ethical principles in forensic anthropology. Passalacqua will be responsible for most of the writing and is currently working with the University of Florida Press on a contract for the volume.
Angela Dills, distinguished professor in the School of Economics, Management and Project Management, College of Business.
Dills will be drafting three essays using multivariate regression to explore the effects of public-school regulation on various outcomes during the 2022-2023 academic year, as part of a grant. The research will use machine learning and state regulatory documents to estimate regulatory intensity and explore whether attendance-related and safety-related regulations affect schools with higher and lower attendance rates and safety measures. Dills plans to turn these essays into an academic book during her leave, describing public school regulation and its effects.
Shannon Thompson, professor in the School of Music, David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts.
Thompson plans to produce and publish a recorded album of her performances of music by women composers transcribed for clarinet and bass clarinet from music originally written for other instruments. She also plans to produce and publish the sheet music of her transcriptions of chamber music by women composers and two of her own compositions for the clarinet choir.
Erin Tapley, professor and director of the School of Art and Design, David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts
Tapley plans to enhance her creative scholarship and teaching breadth in fiber arts by applying to peer-reviewed solo exhibition venues and incorporating her research into the creation of a new special topics course in fiber art. Additionally, Tapley aims to expand her international connections in fiber art and K-16 pedagogies to establish exchange programs with higher education institutions in South America and prepare for a potential Teaching Fulbright Scholar Application to Peru in 2025-2026.
College of Arts and Sciences
Board of Governors College of Arts and Sciences Teaching Award - Candy Noltensmeyer, associate professor in the Department of Communication.
College of Business
Board of Governors Creative and Innovative Teaching Award - Mary Beth Deconinck, associate instructor in the Department of Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Hospitality & Tourism and Sports Management.
College of Education and Allied Professions
Board of Governors Award for Superior Teaching - Alvin Malesky, professor in the Department of Psychology.
College of Engineering and Technology
Board of Governors Distinguished Teaching Award - Yang Zhang, assistant professor in the 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 - Erin Adams, interim co-director, program coordinator and professor of Interior Design in the School of Art and Design.
College of Health and Human Sciences
Board of Governors Innovative Teaching Award: Brook Alemu, assistant professor in the School of Health Sciences and Susan Braithwaite, assistant professor in the School of Health Sciences.
Hunter Scholar Award - Luiz Felipe Lima Da Silveira, assistant professor in the Department of Biology, College of Arts and Sciences.
Graduate School and Research Million Dollar Circle Award
Cathy Grist, professor in the Department of Human Services
Brett Riggs, Sequoyah distinguished professor of Cherokee Studies in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology
Paul Yanik, associate professor in the School of Engineering and Technology
Provost’s Scholarship Development Award
Britt Bintz, forensic research scientist in the Department of Chemistry and Physics
Robert Clines, associate professor in the Department of History
Heather Coan, associate professor in the Department of Biology
Maria Gainey, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics
Luiz Lima da Silveira, assistant professor in the Department of Biology
Sarah Pedonti, professor in the Department of Human Services
Jamie Wallen, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics
Retired Faculty and Staff - May 2022 – April 2023
Debbie Stepp, Facilities Management
Nancy Brendell, Controller’s Office
Lisa Gaetano, Internal Audit
Winford Gordon, Psychology
Matthew Liddle, School of Art and Design
Frank Lockwood, Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Jerry McCall, Facilities Management
David McCord, Psychology
Marti Newbold, Center for Career and Professional Development
Sabine Rundle, Biology
Debby Singleton, Human Services
Jack Summers, Chemistry and Physics
Aaron Carter, Facilities Management
Ray Knight, Cat Tran
Buster Deitz, Facilities Management
John Hawes, Coulter Faculty Commons
Nancy Phillips, Human Resources and Payroll
Marty Ramsey, Alumni Affairs
Lee Smith, Facilities Management
Lisa Laurenzo, Human Resources and Payroll
JoAnn Marvel, Hunter Library
Susan Skibbe, Residential Living
Chuch Reavis, University Police
Barbara Anders, Parking Services
Judy Berglund, Social Work
Keith Corzine, Residential Living
Keith Dills, Facilities Management
William Frady, Information Technology
Patty Harley, Educational Talent Search
Collen Hayes, School of Nursing
Leroy Kauffman, Accounting, Finance, Information Systems & Business Law
Mark Kossick, School of Nursing
Charles Marth, Chemistry and Physics
Pamela Meister, Mountain Heritage Center
Cindy Nicholson, Information Technology
Susan Swanger, Accounting, Finance, Information Systems & Business Law
Andrew Inman, The NC Arboretum
Dina Towey, Undergraduate Admissions
Shirley Finegan, University Bookstore
Della Cole, Facilities Management
Timothy Grindstaff, Facilities Management
Donald Hair, Facilities Management