Sixteen faculty members in the six colleges at The University of Texas-Pan American were recognized for excellence in one of three categories - teaching, research and service - at the first Faculty Excellence Awards Program ceremony May 1. Three of the 16 college-level honorees were chosen by a National Selection Committee to be recognized at the University level.
Recognized for the University-level Excellence in Teaching Award was Dr. Kimberly Selber, assistant professor of communication (advertising). She has served as adviser for Panorama student magazine for the past six years, leading this student-produced publication to earn a long list of state and national awards for their work. An owner operator of her own freelance advertising firm, Selber more recently took on an additional role as an executive-in-residence for University Advancement.
Humbled by the recognition, Selber thanked her department colleagues, husband and daughter for their support and talked about her excitement when working with students on projects and the rapport she tries to establish with them to help them meet high standards she sets.
"One of the goals I set for myself when I started to teach is to not just teach students about a subject but to teach them where the bar was and when you learn where the bar is you can then say 'how can I exceed that?' I want them to feel comfortable and comfortable enough so when I start pushing them they don't say she's too hard and I don't want to go to class anymore," she said.
One of her undergraduate students, Marshall Lott, whom Selber served as a mentor and who will enter the master's program in advertising this fall at The University of Texas at Austin, said he is struck by her connectivity with students.
"She has an amazing way of connecting with her students - students on all levels. I think that is a unique quality she carries," he said. "She also has this quiet way to encourage really good work and I think that stems from the connections she makes."
Dr. Karen Lozano, mechanical engineering associate professor who holds the Julia Beecherl Professorship in Engineering, was recognized with the Excellence Award in Research. Specializing primarily in the area of nanotechnology, Lozano oversees the largest research group on campus. She has been awarded 34 grants and has filed five patents since joining UTPA and has earned prestigious awards of recognition from the National Science Foundation and other organizations. Lozano called her chosen career "wonderful" saying it gives her the enjoyment of developing new things.
"I get a chance to be creative and actually try new materials and new applications. Most importantly, I have the opportunity to share time with students. I want kids to know how wonderful engineering is," said Lozano, who also gave credit to her family's support and to the people she works with, including students who have participated with her in research.
Undergraduate engineering student Anim Silva said Lozano is always available for any of her students.
"She brings out the best in each person she comes across. She has inspired me and has definitely been a big role model for me in what I do and what I am studying," she said.
Faraon Torres, a graduate student in engineering, also praised Lozano's dedication to students.
"She has given many students like myself the opportunity to work with high-tech instruments and to develop new materials. She works side by side with us and she is also a great mentor in guiding our research and explaining concepts," he said.
Dr. Ala Qubbaj, associate professor of mechanical engineering and provost fellow, has served on more than 30 University committees or task forces over the past five years and also on local school boards and a number of national and international professional committees. He led the UTPA Faculty Senate from 2003-2006 and as a faculty fellow in the provost's office since 2007 designed and implemented the New Faculty Support Program. Qubbaj said he is happy to see the success of the New Faculty Support Program, saying he enjoys working with faculty across the campus.
"When it comes to service it is never about a single individual but rather the collective effort of dedicated individuals who deeply care about this university - many who go without credit or recognition," he said. "I feel honored, humbled and grateful for this selection."
His faculty colleague, Dr. Timothy Mottet, professor in communication studies, said in Qubbaj's roles as former faculty senate president and working as a provost fellow, he has developed a huge network.
"Ala is plugged into the University. He has helped me tremendously in terms of networking and who I need to talk with to resolve problems whatever they might be. Also, because of the programs he develops and with the individuals he brings to the university and the ideas, it allows us to talk about teaching and I don't think we do enough talking about teaching and learning," he said.
Qubbaj served as a faculty adviser to Glenda Esquivel, an engineering graduate student, who said he has been very helpful to her despite his busy schedule.
"He takes the time to help me out even if it's during his lunch break if that is the only time he has available," Esquival said. "He's not just helped me with research but he also helped me to come back to school for my master's. I'm a single parent. He took it on himself to give me the opportunity ... and being flexible because I have a lot of responsibilities outside of school."
Other college-level honorees included Drs. David Sturges, John McBride, Robert Freeman, Noreen Graf and Jerry Polinard in teaching; Drs. Tim Mottet, Karen Watt, Irmo Marini, and Dejun Su in research; and Drs. Dora Saavedra, John Sargent, Louis Semper and William Turk in service.
A selection committee within each college determined the college-level honorees from the nominations received and a National Selection Committee established by the provost selected the university-level award recipients from those recognized at the college level in each category.
Also recognized during the event was Dr. Kenneth Buckman, associate professor in the Department of History and Philosophy and director of the Rafael A. "Felo" and Carmen Guerra Honors Program, who was just named in April a 2009 Piper Professor by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation. The foundation honors 15 professors from across Texas during each academic year for their dedication to the teaching profession and for their outstanding academic, scientific and scholarly achievement. As a Piper Professor, Buckman was given a $5,000 honorarium.