Faculty excellence: A habit recognized at UTPA
Posted: 05/08/2013
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The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, "we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."

Pictured at UTPA's Faculty Excellence Awards ceremony May 3 are left to right Dr. Ala Qubbaj, vice provost for Faculty Affairs; 2012-2013 Faculty Excellence Award University level winners Dr. Zhijun Qiao (research), Dr. Lokenath Debnath (service), and Dr. Constantine Tarawneh (teaching); Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; and the award ceremony's speaker Tom Torkelson, CEO, IDEA Public Schools.
At The University of Texas-Pan American, that habit of excellence was recognized May 3 when three faculty members received the University's top award for excellence in three categories - teaching, research and service. Twenty-two faculty were honored with college level excellence awards that also included mentoring.

Winners of the 2012-2013 University level Faculty Excellence Awards were: Dr. Constantine Tarawneh, associate professor of mechanical engineering, College of Engineering and Computer Science, for teaching; Dr. Zhijun Qiao, professor of mathematics, College of Science and Mathematics, for research; and Dr. Lokenath Debnath, professor of mathematics, College of Science and Mathematics, for service.

"These awards acknowledge the great work of our faculty. It celebrates their success and the their contributions to UT Pan American and the success of our students," said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Havidán Rodríguez.

Rodríguez presided over the awards event, where Tom Torkelson, CEO of the IDEA Public Schools, gave the luncheon address.

Co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the UTPA Foundation Board, the awards ceremony first recognizes faculty nominated by their peers in the areas of teaching, research, service and mentorship at the college level. Among those, a University level winner is then selected by a committee of peers outside the University.

College level winners receive a $1,500 check and medal. University level winners receive a $5,000 check in addition to their college level award. There was no University level Excellence Award in Mentorship winner this year.

Read more about each University Level Excellence Award winner and view a video on each by clicking their name.

University Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching: Dr. Constantine Tarawneh

At UTPA since 2003, Tarawneh has taught 17 different graduate and undergraduate courses, and developed four new graduate courses and two new technical electives. He has also advised and mentored more than 2,100 students through various campus activities, programs and research opportunities, including his significant work with the railroad industry.

Consistently rated highly by his students, Tarawneh is a tireless recruiter and advisor to students in helping them to obtain internships and jobs. Since he became the Mechanical Engineering Graduate Program director in 2006, the number of students has increased significantly.

"He (Tarawneh) really strives to get his students to perform to the utmost of their potential," said his department chair Dr. Robert Freeman.

His mechanical engineering colleague Dr. Stephen Crown describes him as having "a "contagious passion for doing whatever is possible to help students learn and succeed."

"You have to be able to have your teaching styles have a good balance between stuff that can be written on the board, stuff online and stuff that is engaging to students like practical hands-on discussions so you can reach out to all of the students in the class because not everyone learns the same," said Tarawneh, who has won an Outstanding Faculty Award in his college six times and one of the inaugural Outstanding Teaching Awards from The University of Texas System Board of Regents in 2009.

University Faculty Excellence Award for Research: Dr. Zhijun (George) Qiao

Qiao, who was a research fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory before he came to UTPA in 2004, is a world leader in an important area of mathematical physics called integrable systems and has a number of mathematical models named after him, i.e. the "Qiao equation."

His accomplishments in research, which has applications in fields as diverse as telecommunications and turbulence, include two monographs and 112 articles published in prestigious international journals. Qiao has also given more than 70 research talks at International and national conferences on behalf of UTPA.

In addition, Qiao has supported more than 20 undergraduate and graduate students through his external research and educational grants regarding radar image reconstruction on which he serves as principal investigator.

"He asks his students to work hard, to lead seminars, to produce things," said Guillermo Garza, math department lecturer, referring to Qiao's teaching contributions. Qiao said he appreciates the recognition.

"It stimulates faculty to do research, and even deeper research," he said.

University Faculty Excellence Award in Service: Dr. Lokenath Debnath

Debnath served as chair of the Mathematics Department from the year he arrived at UTPA in 2001 until 2011.

Under his leadership, a program was established to enhance passing rates of introductory math courses, a Ph.D. program in mathematics was submitted and approved by The University of Texas System Board of Regents, and a mathematics faculty mentor program and external review process for faculty evaluation were developed and implemented, among many other achievements to enhance mathematics education.

"He constructed this department from basically a service department into one of the best mathematical departments in the state," said Dr. John Trant, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics.

Debnath extended his service beyond the department, college and University to a national scale by serving as the founding managing editor of the International Journal of the Mathematics and Mathematical Sciences. His many undergraduate and graduate level text books and research monographs are relied upon worldwide.

Debnath has been called "driven" in his mission to make a difference.

"I am a professor. I teach and I also write books and papers to expand knowledge, to create knowledge so others get benefit from that," Debnath said. "Students are our assets for our future generations. We inspire them, we stimulate them, we try to impart knowledge and educate them so they can become successful in their lives."

College level Faculty Excellence Award winners:

• College of Arts and Humanities: Dr. Marcy McMahon, teaching; Dr. Ramiro Rea, service; and Dr. Richard Phillips, mentoring;

• College of Business Administration: Dr. Vishal Midha, teaching; Dr. Francis Andoh Baidoo, research; and Dr. Lai Liu, service;

• College of Education: Dr. Ralph Carlson, research; and Dr. Hilda Medrano, service;

• College of Engineering and Computer Science: Dr. Constantine Tarawneh, teaching; Dr. Artem Chebotko, research; Dr. Robert J. Jones, service; and Dr. Karen Lozano, mentoring;

• College of Health Sciences and Human Services: Dr. Karen Chandler, teaching; Dr. Shawn Saladin, research; Dr. Will Baker, service; and Dr. Charlene Blankenship, mentoring;

• College of Social and Behavioral Sciences: Dr. Thomas Pozorski, research; Dr. Gary Montgomery, service; and Dr. Sheila Pozorski, mentoring; and

• College of Science and Mathematics: Dr. Narayan Bhat, teaching; Dr. Zhijun Qiao, research; and Dr. Lokenath Debnath, service.

New Faculty Mentor Award: Dr. Sonia Hernandez

Later in the day, Dr. Sonia Hernandez, associate professor of history in the College of Arts and Humanities, was awarded this year's New Faculty Mentor Award. Under a New Faculty Support Program established in 2007, Hernandez is giving guidance to Dr. Maritza De la Trinidad, who started at UTPA in the fall 2012 semester as an assistant professor of history.

De la Trinidad describes Hernandez, whom she meets with weekly, as a great role model taking everything she does "seriously and to heart."

"She has provided me guidance, advice and support in navigating the tenure process at UTPA including teaching, service, and scholarship, both at the departmental and university level," De la Trinidad said. "She has so much on her plate and handles everything with humility and grace."

Hernandez, who received $500 and a plaque, said she focused on teaching and research in her mentoring of Trinidad to help her better navigate the tenure process at UTPA.

"When I started in the Fall of 2006 the University did not have a mentoring system in place. I really commend the university leadership for doing this because it helps retain great faculty and helps them stay on track to eventually achieve tenure and continue being a productive teacher-scholar," she said.

View information about the many past Faculty Excellence Award Winners here.