College of Science faculty, staff honored with teaching, service awards
June 7, 2021
Multiple College of Science faculty and staff recently were honored with awards from both the college and university levels.
Certificates of Teaching Excellence
Rachel Arnold, assistant professor, Department of Mathematics; James Spotila, professor, Department of Geosciences; and Diego Troya, associate professor, Department of Chemistry.
Arnold was recognized for her strong track record teaching difficult courses with great results; high Student Perceptions of Teaching (SPOT) scores and comments; her development of a GTA training program and a new faculty training program; authoring teaching handbooks and revised textbooks; and her presentation at national conferences.
Spotila has taught more than 5,000 students in large enrollment non-major courses with great results in attendance and SPOT courses. He also is director for the Department of Geosciences graduate program; developed one new course and revised the senior seminar course to include ethics and service-learning components; and has served on the University Curriculum Committee for General Education during Pathways development.
Troya has authored two textbooks with solution manuals and provided these resources free of charge to his students. He has created and maintained a YouTube channel with roughly 500 instructional videos; maintains high SPOT scores, and has received many student comments/letters detailing how he is approachable. He also created the Virginia Tech Undergraduate Research Mixer, and has collaborated with graduate students on their research projects.
College of Science Award for Outreach Excellence
Jordan Metzgar, curator for the Massey Herbarium and a lead instructor for plant taxonomy, Department of Biological Sciences.
Metzgar was nominated for a variety of outreach efforts which include improving digitized internet access to herbarium specimens, working extensively with local libraries and schools to promote botanical literacy, and growing Virginia Tech’s student-led natural history organizations and outreach events, especially during the COVID pandemic.
College of Science Diversity Award
Giti Khodaparast, professor, Department of Physics, and an affiliated member of the Academy of Integrated Science’s nanomedicine and nanoscience programs.
Khodaparast was honored for her long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, including mentorship of the Ladies of Robeson, the Women in Physics Society chapter for Virginia Tech; outreach efforts in regional schools; working with students in the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program (MAOP); mentorship for many years of a diverse cohort of students in her research lab; and the hosting of the American Physical Society Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at Virginia Tech in 2017.
College of Science Outstanding Staff
Ben Pfountz, IT specialist, Department of Psychology; and Betty Wilkins, graduate program coordinator, Department of Physics.
Pfountz has the responsibility to develop and maintain state-of-the-art computer and network services throughout the department. According to his nomination packet, his “expertise is critical to the productivity of Psychology faculty and graduate students. In a department of 28 faculty and 55 Ph.D. students, there is always a hardware, software or data security issue.” The committee nomination letter stated that, “[Pfontz’s] job increased exponentially with the COVID-19 pandemic as he worked tirelessly to enable faculty and graduate students to be able to work on research and teaching remotely and securely. … Ben successfully and efficiently was able to develop and negotiate the necessary security solutions.”
A staff member for 15 years, Wilkins has dedicated herself to the quality of service for both graduate and undergraduate students alike. Among her accomplishments are developing and providing continued support for the department’s National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates program, creating a Roundtable for graduate coordinators from other departments, working to provide personal and professional care seminars for the department’s graduate students, creating an English conversation group for international students in the department, and serving as chair of the College of Science Staff Association.
College of Science Staff Service
Charlotte Parks, recruiter and academic advisor, Academy of Integrated Science.
Parks was honored for her efforts that go above and beyond the “normal” responsibilities of a recruiter and academic advisor to provide extraordinary support for the Virginia Tech undergraduate community, including writing postcards by hand during the recruitment period to an individualized commitment to each advisee. She also has a deep dedication to the success of all students, especially underrepresented, international and first-generation students, many of whom attribute their ability to successfully navigate Virginia Tech to her, Parks’ nomination packet stated.