Four UTPA faculty members were selected this spring to receive the University Level Faculty Excellence Award in the areas of teaching, research, service and mentorship. Pictured at the award ceremony are left to right Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; University Level winners Dr. Frederic Zaidan III (mentorship), Dr. Karen Yagdjian (research), Dr. Marie Mora (service), and Dr. Victor Alvarado (teaching); Dr. Ala Qubbaj, vice provost for Faculty Affairs; and Dr. Robert Nelsen, UTPA president.
The winners of the 2014 award are: Dr. Victor Alvarado, professor, Department of Educational Psychology, College of Education, for teaching; Dr. Karen Yagdjian, professor, Department of Mathematics, College of Science and Mathematics, for research; Dr. Marie Mora, professor, Department of Economics and Finance, College of Business Administration, for service; and Dr. Frederic Zaidan III, chair and associate professor, Department of Biology, College of Science and Mathematics, for mentorship.
The University level winners were selected by an external collection committee from 25 faculty members nominated by their peers for the honors at the college level. The Faculty Excellence Award program is co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the UTPA Foundation Board. College level winners receive a $1,500 check and a medal. University level winners receive $5,000 in addition to their college level award.
UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen praised the faculty at the awards ceremony, citing them as responsible for much of the progress that has occurred during his presidency.
"Our faculty is one of our strengths. They really care about our students and give to those students constantly," Nelsen said. "We also have outstanding research going on here at Pan Am - as good as any place in America."
Read more about each University level Excellence Award winner below and view a video on each by clicking their name.
University Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching: Dr. Victor Alvarado
"Teaching has to be fun for both the teacher and the student," said Dr. Victor Alvarado, who has taught at the University since 1972. "If the students are not enjoying what you are delivering then you are not doing a good job. Teaching is an art that goes beyond just plain knowledge."
Despite being a pioneer in and master of the use of technology such as Tegrity and Blackboard in the classroom, Alvarado, who teaches graduate students in guidance and counseling, believes in the value of personal interaction with his students.
"He really makes students feel comfortable," said his colleague Dr. John Lowdermilk, associate professor and chair of the Department of Educational Psychology.
Alvarado is known for his humor and making his subject become "alive." In 2011, Alvarado won the prestigious national Summum Bonum Award for Excellence in Teaching from Crestron, Inc., an award that recognizes deserving teachers and the role their mentoring plays in the academic and personal success of students.
"For him, it is not just a job, it is what he loves to do. I think that sets him apart," one of his graduate students said.
University Faculty Excellence Award for Research: Dr. Karen Yagdjian
In their nomination for Dr. Karen Yagdjian, his College of Science and Mathematics colleagues describe the professor of mathematics as a highly effective, productive and internationally recognized researcher.
Yagdjian, at UTPA since 2004, is a world renowned expert producing pioneering results in the areas of mathematical physics called hyperbolic partial differential equations and mathematical cosmology. His publications include one research monograph, three textbooks, four book chapters and more than 80 research articles in prestigious journals. He has presented more than 30 research talks at conferences and universities around the world, including Germany, Italy and Japan.
"He clearly brings international visibility to our department and University," said Dr. Andras Balogh, professor and chair of the Department of Physics.
Yagdjian's enthusiasm toward research stems from seeing his equations' relationship to real life.
"They relate to the expanding of the universe," he said.
Dr. Yagdjian is a leader on the cutting edge, said College of Science and Mathematics Dean Dr. John Trant.
"This is where Karen's contributions become so critically important as we take these next steps into being an emerging research institution," Trant said.
University Faculty Excellence Award for Service: Dr. Marie Mora
Her extensive leadership in service is one of the many ways Dr. Marie Mora gives back to her community, her University and to her profession of economics.
"My philosophy is that I won't undertake something that I don't truly believe in," said Mora, who became a UTPA faculty member in 2002.
Mora is past president of the American Society of Hispanic Economists and currently directs the American Economist Association's program to address the underrepresentation of minorities in her field. Nationally she also serves on the Data Users Advisory Committee of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Texas Border Colonias Study Steering Committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. She has also added her extensive research expertise on Hispanic entrepreneurship and employment to the highest governing levels in Washington, D.C., including the Federal Reserve Board and the U.S. Department of Labor.
As a vice provost fellow for faculty affairs, she has also played key roles in several faculty development programs and is a team leader in the ADVANCE Program, a National Science Foundation institutional transformation grant which has led to her founding the Women's Faculty Network at the University.
"Marie Mora's service is defined by an unwavering need for action in the face of disparities, roadblocks and lack of equity," wrote her economics faculty colleague Dr. Salvador Contreras, in his nomination letter.
University Faculty Excellence Award for Mentorship: Dr. Frederic Zaidan III
Colleagues of Dr. Frederic Zaidan, current chair of biology and a top herpetologist, say he has mentored more than 300 students in the past two years and has transformed how students are advised and mentored in his department and College of Science and Mathematics.
Zaidan took on an "open advisement" policy of meeting with students unable to meet with their assigned adviser, which led to his later development, as department chair, of a new advising protocol for students with 2.5 GPA's or less to be referred to him for mentoring. As a result, student performance and retention in the department has improved significantly. More recently, he also started a monthly "Open Meeting with the Chair" for biology students.
"My philosophy is that it (advisement) is a year round process, so yes, come in and see me for that hold removal but anytime or when anything else comes around," said Zaidan, who joined the UTPA faculty in 2003.
Additionally, Zaidan is the faculty adviser and program coordinator for the Biology Gear-Up Program, a new M.S. program for local science teachers seeking a graduate degree in biology.
Dr. Kristine Lowe, associate professor of biology, said students who come to him for additional advisement or attend his open forum say they feel he really cares about them.
"That is a huge change for many of them because they see him in a position of authority, He's an administrator and they don't usually think that administrators really care about the students personally and he truly does," she said.
Other College Level Faculty Excellence Award winners were:
• College of Arts and Humanities: Dr. Aje-ore Agbese, teaching; Dr. Yanrong Chang; research; Dr. Caroline Miles, service; and Shoney Flores, mentoring.
• College of Business Administration: Dr. Jennifer Welbourne, teaching; Dr. Fuat Firat, research; and Dr. Arturo Vasquez, mentoring.
• College of Education: Dr. Michael Guerrero, research; Dr. Julia Pecina, service; and Dr. Ralph Carlson, mentoring.
• College of Engineering and Computer Science: Dr. Horacio Vasquez, teaching; and Dr. Dumitru Caruntu, research.
• College of Health Sciences and Human Services: Frank Ambriz, teaching; Dr. Yasar Tasnif, research; Norma Beardwood, service; and Fidencio Mercado, mentoring.
• College of Social and Behavioral Sciences: Dr. Servando Hinojosa, teaching; Dr. Margaret Dorsey, service; and Dr. Margaret Graham, mentoring.
• College of Science and Mathematics: Dr. Virgil Pierce, teaching; and Dr. Kristine Lowe, service.
Hear and learn more about our University and college level Faculty Excellence Award winners at the Office of the Provost for Faculty Affairs website.