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teaching award

As the 2020 Mensa Foundation Distinguished Teacher of the Year, Kenneth Walters, associate professor of psychology, shares a commitment to education, research, and mentorship.

Since its inception, the Mensa Foundation Distinguished Teacher Award has been presented to only three college professors, including Southern's Ken Walters (left). He was nominated by senior and Mensa member Paul McKee (right), who one day plans to work as a college professor.

Having served with the United States Marine Corps Infantry from 2013 – 2018, senior psychology major Paul McKee brought extensive life experience to Southern. But as a first-generation college student starting college classes mere weeks after completing active duty, McKee was also a higher education novice. A common thread of advice — “Get involved in faculty-directed research!” — led him to the office of Kenneth S. Walters, associate professor of psychology.

It was a wise move. Walters, a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist, joined Southern in 2009, relaunching his higher education career after focusing on his clinical practice for about 10 years. His research focuses include psychopathology as well as substance use and abuse among college students. In recent years, he and his students have studied depression, traumatic stress, suicidality (thoughts about taking one’s life,  suicide plans and attempts), and the non-medical use of stimulants and opioids among college students.

At Southern, Walters has mentored 45 students on his research team with impressive results. They’ve published nine papers in scientific and professional journals, delivered 12 oral presentations, and presented 76 posters at scientific conferences. Thirty-nine of Walters’ former student researchers have graduated to date — and all have been admitted to competitive graduate training programs.

The professor recruits six to nine research assistants a year, typically academically strong upperclassmen. So, it was unexpected when McKee, then a first-year Southern student, asked to join Walters’ research team. McKee’s nontraditional student background complicated matters. He did not have SAT scores or a college transcript showcasing past grades. “He did present me with a Mensa [high IQ society] membership card and an excellent writing sample. . . . I found him to be intelligent, personable, and highly determined to succeed,” says Walters.

About 300 Southern students with connections to the military are attending Southern during the fall 2020 semester, including 245 veterans, 35 National Guard/Reservists, and 20 dependents.  As a fellow veteran, Walters understands some of the challenges these students might face.

From 1987 to 1991, Walters served with the U.S. Armed Forces as an Army Ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division, and was part of the initial Operation Desert Shield campaign to liberate Kuwait. He started college in 1991 — like McKee, just weeks after his active duty ended. “To make that transition in such a short time can be challenging,” says Walters.

Kenneth Walters

Walters also knew what it was like to be a first-generation college student. “I came from a background in which higher education was neither expected nor the norm. . . . Overcoming disadvantage and humble beginnings is a commonly shared theme between me and my students,” says the professor.

Walters gave McKee a chance — and has never looked back. “He is now the lab manager for my research team, putting to good use his notable leadership skills,” he says of McKee, who is on track to graduate this spring and is applying to doctoral programs in behavioral neuroscience. “He is an extraordinarily talented young man. I have only the highest hopes for his future,” says his professor.

McKee has equally high regard for Walters — and nominated him for the Mensa Foundation 2020 Distinguished Teacher Award. The award recognizes a teacher, professor, or instructor at any educational level who has had an especially positive influence on the education or life of a Mensa member. Walters won the national honor — and is one of only three higher education faculty members to receive the award since its inception.

Membership in Mensa is highly selective. To join, you must score in the top two percent of the general population on an accepted standardized intelligence test. In the U.S., members range in age from 2 to 106 years, and include engineers, homemakers, chief executive officers, students, and more  — an almost infinite array of people all sharing one trait: high intelligence.

“The Mensa Foundation is honored to recognize Dr. Walters, whose research and instructional approach exemplifies the foundation’s mission to use intelligence to benefit humanity,” says Marie Mayer, president of the Mensa Foundation.

The organization’s commitment to the community is not lost on McKee.  Looking forward, he plans to follow in his mentor’s footsteps and become a university faculty member, inspired, he says, by Walters and others in the Department of Psychology.  “Although this list is not exhaustive, Dr. Michael Nizhnikov, Dr. Christopher Budnick, and Dr. W. Jerome Hauselt are among the most committed, stimulating, and integrous people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting,” says McKee.

He continues: “Of course, the nomination was for Dr. Walters, who embodies all that is desired in a mentor, educator, and friend. There is none more deserving of this recognition than him. He has spent his life in service of others, first in the United States Army, then as clinical psychologist, and now as a professor. It was fantastic news to hear about his winning. Dr. Walters deserves every second of this.”

SCSU 2020 Teachers of the Year
Carrie Michalski, Carolyn Thompson, and Elliott Horch

Elliott Horch, (right), an astrophysicist who was recently named as a CSUS Professor, and Carolyn Thompson, (center), who teaches geography as an adjunct faculty member, have been selected for the university’s J. Philip Smith Outstanding Teaching Award.

The award is given annually to a full-time faculty member, as well as a part-time faculty member, who have excelled in the classroom.

It is named after the former interim president and longtime vice president for academic affairs. Smith previously served in various capacities at Southern, including as dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, as well as professor of mathematics and the first director of the Honors College. He continues to serve as an adjunct faculty member.

In addition, Carrie Michalski, (left), a professor of nursing, has been chosen as the Academic Advisor Award.

During his career, Horch has developed a super-powered device for telescopes called a Differential Speckle Survey Instrument that he once described as being like “putting eyeglasses on a telescope.” It enabled astronomers to snap photos of celestial objects many times clearer than had ever been taken. He also was tapped by NASA to assist with the Kepler Mission – a project to find potential “new Earths” in the Milky Way Galaxy.

But Horch, who earned the CSU System Research Award in 2011 and the SCSU Faculty Scholar Award in 2012, also has enjoyed a stellar teaching record and demonstrated a strong commitment to student success since he began teaching at Southern in 2007.

“The direct feedback from students and comments on course evaluations indicate that he is effective at connecting with students and getting them interested in the topic,” writes Matthew Enjalran, chairman of the Physics Department.

“Elliott’s ability to motivate students to do better derives from his enthusiasm for physics, particularly astronomy, and a genuine concern for his students and the quality of their learning experience.”

Justin Rupert, a student of Horch, underscores that sentiment.

“In the classroom, Dr. Horch was always animated about the topic of discussion, a quality I’ve not come across very often in a lecturer,” Rupert wrote. “(He) never seemed to tire of teaching, even some of the more basic principles of optics and astronomy. As a student sitting in these multi-hour lectures, it was easy to be engaged and to want to learn more.”

Thompson began teaching in the fall of 2013, according to Patrick Heidkamp, chairman of the Environment, Geography and Marine Sciences Department. “She is an innovative teacher, thoughtful scholar and terrific human being,” Heidkamp said.

“Student comments were very positive and ranged from extremely knowledgeable of the subject matter and maintaining high academic standards, to extremely helpful and compassionate….I believe Dr. Thompson is more than deserving of this award.”

Lauren Thelen, a senior nursing student, agreed.

“She has provided me with immense amount of knowledge, wisdom, and support,” Thelen wrote. “During our advisement meetings, she went above and beyond the simple task of handing me a registration pin number. She would always ask me about how I was doing in my academic life and about how I was coping with the stress of nursing.”

Meanwhile, Michalski has demonstrated a strong commitment to her students and the department, according to Chelsea Ortiz, information and admissions coordinator for the Nursing Department.

“She not only makes herself available to her assigned advisees, but also devotes time for other students seeking support in our programs,” Ortiz said. “She is a great representation of who we are as educators and nurses both on and off-campus.”

 

Richard Zipoli, Associate Professor, Communication Disorders, and Chelsea Harry, Associate Professor, Philosophy

The Board of Regents for Higher Education — which governs the 17 Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) — has recognized 18 CSCU faculty as recipients of the 2017–18 Board of Regents Teaching, Research, Scholarly Excellence Awards and Adjunct Faculty Teaching Awards. The awards were presented at the Fourth Annual CSCU Conference on Student Success and Shared Governance.

The awards are campus-wide recognitions of excellence in teaching or research, as well as creative and scholarly work by CSCU full-time, junior faculty and part-time faculty members. Six system-wide awards are granted to campus award winners in teaching, research, scholarly excellence and adjunct faculty teaching.

Board of Regents Teaching Awards are presented to faculty from each of the state universities and community colleges. Two system-wide teaching awards are given to faculty who best exemplify high quality teaching, one each from the community colleges and universities. The recipient of this year’s Board of Regents System-Wide Teaching Award for the universities is Dr. Richard Zipoli, Associate Professor of Communication Disorders.

Board of Regents Research Awards are granted to faculty among Central, Eastern, Southern and Western Connecticut State Universities. A single system-wide research award is given to the individual who best exemplifies high quality research among the four universities. This year’s Board of Regents System-Wide Research Award was given to Dr. Chelsea Harry, Associate Professor of Philosophy.

Zipoli has been described by a colleague as “one of the most talented and dedicated teachers in the School of Health and Human Services” — one who never seeks to lower his teaching load, who takes on extra assignments, is a scholar, is always available to students and truly shines in the classroom.

One colleague put it this way: “He reminds me of a talented music conductor in the way he interprets content, delivers that information to his students and inspires them to perform in exceptional ways. He is patient, creative, passionate, and encouraging to students.”

Zipoli’s area of expertise focuses on communication disorders and reading difficulties in school-based settings. He uses technology in creative and effective ways and blends lecture with discussion and other best practices for student learning and engagement.

In addition to his dedication and talent in teaching, Zipoli is a scholar. His area of expertise focuses on communication disorders and reading difficulties in school-based settings.

“During his tenure at our institution he has produced an impressive range of peer-reviewed products that include journal publications, national conference presentations, and regional conference presentations,” a colleague wrote in nominating Zipoli.

Zipoli’s research efforts are never done to garner personal recognition, but rather to produce knowledge that has immediate value for practitioners and children, a colleague wrote.

Zipoli advises student researchers “in the same thoughtful manner that he teaches students in his courses. He displays tremendous humility, takes on a graceful, yet firm supporting role, elevates students and builds their confidence,” the colleague wrote.

Zipoli, in reflecting on the honor of his nomination, wrote first of his love of teaching, calling it “easily . . . the most rewarding of my varied roles within higher education.”

He says that many of his students’ lives have been impacted by a communication disorder involving a sibling on the autism spectrum, or a grandparent with impaired speech and language following a stroke. “Their dedication to serving persons with disabilities has made the long hours of preparation, teaching, clinical supervision, informal advisement, and research mentoring well worth the effort,” he wrote.

Zipoli earned a Ph.D. in educational psychology – special education at the University of Connecticut, and both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in communication disorders from Southern.

 

Although Chelsea Harry arrived at Southern only five years ago, “she has been a remarkably productive scholar in disparate fields, showing an intellectual rigor and ingenuity that merits recognition,” a colleague wrote.

Harry has one book already, two others under advanced contract, and nine articles that have appeared in books or journals, with a tenth under revision.

But it is the quality of Harry’s work and the prestigious publications in which it has appeared that outshine the impressive quantity, colleagues say.

Her fields of specialization are the philosophy of nature, ancient Greek philosophy, and Post­ Kantian German philosophy.

Harry has already established herself as an internationally recognized leading expert in the field of Aristotelian studies. Her book, Chronos in Aristotle’s Physics: On the Nature of Time, was published by Springer in 2015. The book was selected for a prestigious “Author-Meets-Critics” session at the American Philosophical Association Central Division meeting in Chicago in February.

Harry’s book on non-human animal flourishing has the potential to be a game-changer in her field and “It is easy to see that Dr. Harry’s work will have an impact on the field of philosophy and in the contemporary debate over animal rights,” a colleague wrote.

A second colleague wrote that in five years at Southern, Harry “has demonstrated an exceptionally high level of scholarship that has been recognized both by Southern and her peers in the discipline of Philosophy.”
Her work is already making an impact in her areas of research, and her scholarship has garnered research grants every year she has been at Southern.

In addition, she has been a recipient of the Joan Finn Junior Faculty Research Fellowship, which gave her the time to work on a translation and commentary on the writings of the important German philosopher F. W. J. Schelling.

Harry has become a speaker in demand, and keeps a busy conference schedule, having presented papers at 16 different national and international conferences.

“Last year a paper she authored was accepted into a highly competitive and prestigious workshop in Ancient Philosophy at Humboldt University, Berlin,” one colleague noted. “The pace of her conference presentations and invited talks is hard to match in our department.”

In addition to being successful in receiving grants, Harry is also known as a person who is always supportive of her colleagues’ research in the Philosophy Department and across the institution.

Dr. Harry “contributes immeasurably to the intellectual culture at our institution by organizing colloquia that are attended by students and faculty alike,” a colleague wrote.

She was awarded tenure in August 2017.

Harry received exceptional international recognition when she was an invited and fully funded participant in the 3rd Ancient Philosophy Workshop for Female Graduate Students and Early Career Researchers in 2016, at Humboldt University in Berlin.

Harry holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Duquesne University; a master’s degree with distinction in comparative philosophy from University of Hawai’i at Manoa; and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, magna cum laude, from The George Washington University.