The College of Science on Friday, Sept. 23, hosted its 2022 Fall Reception and Awards Presentation for Faculty and Staff at the Inn at Virginia Tech. The awards honor faculty and staff for work completed during the 2021-2022 academic year.

Winners are:

Outreach Excellence

Winner: Sudipta Sarangi, Department of Economics

This award recognizes an individual or team for outstanding achievements that contribute to the college’s outreach mission to the community-at-large, the nation, and/or the world. The award is provided by the Virginia Tech Office for Outreach and International Affairs.

Sarangi has strengthened the department’s educational, research, and outreach missions. His research papers and writings have defined him as a public intellectual with a strong outreach dimension. One example: his 2020 book, “The Economics of Small Things,” focused on easy-to-understand lessons in economics based on everyday objects and common experiences. Other examples include timely teach-ins for students and the broader community with the theme of economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic; hosting “Coffee with the Chair” sessions, which included several alumni sharing expertise with students and the local community; and participation in Virginia Tech summer programs such as 4-H Summer Camps, ROTC Camp, and the Black College Institute. Under his leadership, the department won the 2021 American Economic Association Award for Outstanding Achievement in Diversity and Inclusion. 

Diversity Award

Winner: Edna “Fanny” Jasso-Hernandez, Department of Mathematics

This award honors faculty and staff who have made significant and sustained contributions that foster diversity and an inclusive climate within the college, Virginia Tech, and in the broader community. Successful nominees should have taken a leadership role in increasing diversity, improving the university climate for diverse groups, and/or educating members of the university community to appreciate an increasingly diverse society.

Jasso-Hernandez formed a new student group, Matecharlas, in 2018 that initially focused on providing tutoring and support in English or in Spanish for Latinx students in partnership with the El Centro lounge in Squires. This program/group has been wildly successful and has expanded to include advising students about navigating the cultural landscape, as well as about courses, careers, and advanced degrees. Jasso-Hernandez is accomplishing this above and beyond her normal assignments as a mathematics faculty member and has energetically engaged the Latinx community with hundreds of hours of her time.

Certificates of Teaching Excellence

Winners: Maggie Bump, Department of Chemistry; Michael Rosenzweig, Department of Biological Sciences; Eric Ufferman, Department of Mathematics

This award recognizes outstanding faculty members in teaching of undergraduate and graduate students. 

Bump: The committee was particularly impressed with her teaching statement, with the breadth of her teaching and outreach achievements, and with the sheer number of students she has educated. Her Student Perceptions of Teaching (SPOT) scores were extremely impressive, particularly given the challenging courses that she taught. The committee added, “It is clear that [Bump has] been active in the evolution of [her] teaching philosophy and methods.”

Rosenzweig: The committee also was particularly impressed with his teaching statement and with comments from former students, such as, “Dr. Rosenzweig has not forgotten what it’s like to be a student.” His emphasis on helping students  become better learners was inspiring and his commitment to the implementation of cutting-edge pedagogy was clear and admirable. The committee stated, “You have clearly made a significant impact through the SEEDS organization, and this is a novel and strong aspect of your dossier.”

Ufferman: The committee was particularly impressed with his commitment to empowering students to take responsibility for their learning. It stated, “You clearly do an excellent job of focusing on problem-based learning and have a real talent for skipping past the basic knowledge and getting students to develop a deeper understanding of complex concepts.” The committee added that his research statement was particularly moving, demonstrating clearly his deep introspection and reflection, and the growth as a teacher that this work facilitated.

Outstanding Staff Award

Winners: Wooram Lee, Department of Biological Sciences, and Melanie Sontheimer, Dean’s Office

This award recognizes staff members whose consistent excellence advances their department, school, academy, and/or the college.

Lee joined the teaching laboratory support staff in 2013, taking over the senior post of coordinator for introductory biology teaching laboratories in 2014. The committee said, “Lee has set an exceedingly high bar for excellence in this position, which impacts the learning of some 3,000 undergraduates each year through hands-on instruction, in addition to providing a unique environment in which graduate students gain early, and often their only, experience with teaching. These are enormous responsibilities that help define the face of the department and the college at the beginning of many students’ journeys at Virginia Tech.” It added that Lee continues to make exceptional and sustained contributions to the college’s undergraduate teaching mission, including on a “massive scale” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sontheimer has been instrumental in helping the college navigate a hectic two years during the COVID-19 pandemic and since. The committee said Sontheimer repeatedly has stepped up to meet essential needs in the college: “When the university switched to remote learning, she worked diligently to transform our advising work to remote – creating advisor portals and then training students and advisors on the use of those portals.” As well, Sontheimer assumed the duties of staff workers who had to leave unexpectedly, from front office staff workers to academic advisors. Michel Pleimling, associate dean for undergraduate programs, said, “Melanie is the perfect team player, always willing to help others and share with them her deep understanding of processes and operations around undergraduate students.”

Outstanding Academic Advisor

Winners: Gordon Yee, Department of Chemistry, faculty category; April Newcomer, Department of Geosciences, professional advisor category.

Nominations for this award came from students. Academic advising is crucial for the student experience not only in terms of graduation, but for student growth and development, according to the committee. The committee consisted of colleagues across the campus who reviewed nominees advising philosophies, support letters from students and other colleagues, advising related work that they were doing on campus/regional/national/international level.

Yee: A quote from a student’s letter of recommendation: “Dr. Yee has been one of the most influential mentors I have had throughout my scientific career. I can safely say that without his guidance during my undergraduate education, I would not be where I am today. … Through his mentoring I learned how to ask myself the right questions and navigate my own life, perhaps the most impactful skill I learned at Virginia Tech. It led me to do an internship in analytical chemistry at Pfizer, post-baccalaureate fellowship in neuropharmacology at the NIH, and helped me choose the best graduate program for my career goals.”

Newcomer: A quote from a student’s letter of recommendation: “I have had the pleasure of working with April for the past four and a half years as a Geosciences undergraduate, and unequivocally support her selection as an excellent academic advisor. I believe her consistently outstanding efforts and actions are noticed by not only myself, but our entire department… Upon meeting April for the first time, and throughout following interactions, it was clear that her efforts as an advisor are nothing short of exceptional. Coming from a student’s point of view, scheduling classes, balancing credits, and preparing forms for the university are daunting tasks that, with April’s assistance, suddenly become effortless.”