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UTPA faculty honored for excellence in teaching, research and service
By Gail Fagan, Public Affairs Representative
(956) 665-7995
Posted: 05/09/2011
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The University of Texas-Pan American recognized faculty members who have contributed their best to advance the success of students and the University at the Third Annual Faculty Excellence Awards ceremony held May 6.


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Three faculty members at UT Pan American received a 2011 University level Faculty Excellence Award at a ceremony May 6. They were recognized for their commendable performance in teaching, research or service. Pictured left to right are Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, provost and vice president for academic affairs; University Level Faculty Excellence Award recipients Dr. Jessica Raley (teaching), Dr. Lokenath Debnath (research) and Dr. Cristina Villalobos (service); and Dr. Ala Qubbaj, vice provost for faculty affairs.

“This event is about celebrating the excellence of our faculty, celebrating the contributions of our faculty, celebrating what makes UT Pan American a great institution,” said Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “This is the way we will continue to move forward to make important contributions not only to our institution, not only to the Valley but nationwide and internationally as well.”

Co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the UTPA Foundation Board, the awards recognize excellence by faculty in teaching, research and service in all seven colleges as well as a top University level winner chosen from the list of college level winners in each of those categories. College level faculty winners received a $1,000 check and a plaque. University level winners received a $3,000 check and a plaque in addition to the college level award. Winners of the awards are selected by an external committee.

Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching: Dr. Jessica Raley

Raley joined the UTPA faculty in 2008 and is an assistant professor of communication studies in the College of Arts and Humanities' Department of Communication.

Raley designed and led the learning academy that prepares graduate students to teach at the college level. She is recognized for incorporating cognitive, behavioral and affective learning objectives in the department’s communication courses and has provided students unique opportunities in research at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas in Austin using Faculty Research Council and Faculty Development Program grant funds.

Raley said she gets great personal satisfaction from seeing a student transform in her classroom from a person unsure of themselves to one who pushes themselves and strives for excellence.

“I think the most rewarding thing about teaching is being able to get students to feel confident in their abilities and in their skills and to get them to recognize how smart and capable they are of succeeding," Raley said.

She said she learns a lot from her students as well when they bring their suggestions or outside experiences into the classroom.

"I wouldn't trade that. That part is invaluable," Raley said.

Faculty Excellence Award for Research: Dr. Lokenath Debnath

Debnath has been a professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics in the College of Science and Mathematics at UTPA since 2001. He does research in pure math, applied math, math education, history of mathematics, and engineering. He also studies tsunami and tornado waves.

A Senior Fulbright Fellowship recipient twice, Debnath has published more than 300 refereed research papers and 25 advanced graduate level books and research monographs in his career, several of which are used at top universities. He is the founding editor of the 32-year old International Journal of Mathematics and Mathematical Sciences and has served in editorial capacities on 12 other national and international mathematics, physics and engineering journals. He has received many National Science Foundation research grants and directed more than 40 undergraduate and graduate research students at UTPA.

Debnath said he brings some of his research into the classroom and encourages them to do more of their own research.

"I try to help them," he said. "Helping students is definitely a great personal satisfaction - helping these students to graduate, helping them do research, write papers and books and to go into a Ph.D. program to become a teacher or teach academic areas. I'm very happy and proud of my students."

Faculty Excellence Award for Service: Dr. Cristina Villalobos

Villalobos came to UTPA in 2001 and is an associate professor of mathematics in the College of Science and Mathematics' Department of Mathematics.

Her outstanding mentorship has helped a significant number of students successfully enter doctoral math programs at leading universities, including Rice, Texas A&M University and Iowa State. Her service to the University has been conducted at all levels including as a member or participant on national advisory boards and panels, an organizer on national conference committees and a reviewer of many grant proposals. Recently, she was a co-principal investigator of a U.S. Department of Defense Award of $3.7 million to establish a Center of Excellence in STEM Education at UTPA.

Villalobos said she recognizes the talent many of her students have and encourages them to go outside the Valley to conferences and other professional development experiences.

"They are doing well on exams. They ask good questions. I see potential in them," she said.

"I send them off to summer research programs initially so they can learn more about doing research in math and to go off to other places besides UTPA."

She said her service on outside committees results from needs that are there.

"You do it because you want to help out. You feel there is a need there and you can provide something positive back to an individual," Villalobos said.

College Level Faculty Excellence Awards:

• College of Education: Dr. Isela Almaguer, teaching, Dr. Anita Pankake, research, and Dr. Layne Jorgensen, service

• College of Arts and Humanities: Dr. Rebecca Mitchell, research, and Dr. Brian Warren, service

• College of Business Administration: Dr. Sibin Wu, teaching, Dr. Andre Mollick, research, and Dr. Kai Koong, service

• College of Engineering and Computer Science: Dr. Javier Kypuros, teaching, Dr. Constantine Tarawneh, research, and Dr. Arturo Fuentes, service

• College of Social and Behavioral Sciences: Dr. Sheila Pozorski, teaching, Dr Guang-Zhen Wang, research, and Dr. Grant Benham, service

• College of Health Sciences and Human Services: Dr. Sandra Hansmann, teaching, Dr. Catherine Faver, research, and Dr. Shawn Saladin, service

• College of Science and Mathematics: Dr. Jose Gutierrez-Gonzales, teaching.

A video highlighting the top three award winners was also presented at the ceremony, which was moderated by Dr. Ala Quabbaj, vice provost for faculty affairs, who coordinates the annual event. UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen and UTPA Foundation Board member Morgan Talbot, attorney, Talbot and Talbot also spoke at the ceremony.

Nelsen said upon The University of Texas System Board of Regents member Robert Stillwell’s return from a recent visit to the campus, where he met with administrators, faculty and staff, Stillwell wrote the UT System Chancellor and the Board of Regents chair about his impressions of the University. Nelsen said Stillwell's first comment was about how much UTPA accomplishes with so little resources. Stillwell’s next comment, Nelsen said, was about the great love UTPA students have for the faculty here.

“What you do is amazing and you do it with such big hearts and because you want to do it,” Nelsen said. "You are making a tremendous difference in this Valley and this world. I am proud to work with you.”

View the videos highlighting the three 2011 University level Faculty Excellence Award winners here.