Excellence Awards

Each year, the University at Albany honors special members of its community with Excellence Awards denoting exceptional contributions to the life of the campus. Thirteen faculty and staff members received this tribute in 2011.


Excellence in Teaching (Full Time)

Joanne KaufmanJoanne Kaufman, Sociology

Professor Kaufman’s reputation as an excellent teacher is remarkable given the Department of Sociology’s overall reputation for excellence in teaching and advising. She is a dedicated and effective teacher at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels, taking her role seriously and putting time and energy into teaching and mentoring.

Professor Kaufman has taught many different courses including large introductory classes, writing intensive classes, a senior seminar; and graduate research classes. In all of these settings, she creates a learning environment where students are encouraged to participate and raise critical issues. Both student and peer evaluation of her teaching show that her methods are successful in stimulating students’ interest and helping them learn. In the past three years, her evaluations have regularly been above the departmental average for both undergraduate and graduate courses. The scores are exceptionally high on the items “challenged you intellectually” and “held you to high standards”. Open-ended comments include such praise as “by far THE BEST sociology professor,” “I didn’t want to miss class because the class environment was different than other classes,” “This is an awesome class,” and “Joanne Kaufman is literally the best professor I’ve ever had.” One student stated that Professor Kaufman was the reason that she decided to make sociology her minor. Graduate students stress her dedication and generosity in helping them become successful researchers, and praise the guidance she provides as they prepare papers for conference presentations and submissions to academic journals. Her TAs talk about how much they learn about encouraging students to participate, and facilitating dynamic classroom discussions.

As one of her colleagues remarks: “Professor Kaufman is central to both the undergraduate and graduate programs. Her commitment to teaching embodies all that is best in the teacher/scholar model that is so highly valued at the University at Albany.”

Christine WagnerChristine Wagner, Psychology

Professor Wagner gives of her time to her students and her department. She has served as Graduate Director for the Biopsychology/ Behavioral Neuroscience Program, has developed new courses for the curriculum, takes on overloads in teaching and helped design the minor in Neuroscience. She draws on expertise from biology, chemistry, and Psychology, to give students cutting-edge training in a rapidly growing discipline.

At the heart of Professor Wagner’s teaching is her ability to convey enthusiasm about her subject and to generate student interest in a complex area of knowledge. Regardless of the size or level of class, she engages her students in challenging, rigorous study of behavioral neuroscience, achieving outstanding results. She teaches an introductory Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience class of over 200 students. The course is by nature interdisciplinary, requiring her to explain complex biological brain functions to an audience with little background in the sciences. Student evaluations show that she successfully conveys such complex information and engenders student interest. Her ratings are consistently above the mean and the average for the department.

Professor Wagner uses primary literature and her own research as the major teaching tools. Students read original research papers, delve into them, learn from them and critique them. One student in her undergraduate advanced Behavioral Neuroscience course, wrote, “It was more like a graduate student journal club… it was tough, challenging, and fun.” A peer observer notes “Professor Wagner has generated an environment within which the students can learn and grow, and has taught them priceless skills – reading, critical thinking and the ability to express their thoughts clearly.” Dr. Wagner is rightfully proud of her sustained training of graduate students who work in her lab, transforming them into independent, critical thinkers and budding scientists in their own right.

Professor Christine Wagner exemplifies the best that our faculty members offer to their students— a committed teacher-scholar, who continually explores new research and publications in her field to engage students in learning, in the classroom and in the lab.


Excellence in Teaching (Part Time)

Craig Hancock Craig Hancock, EOP

Craig Hancock teaches in the Educational Opportunity Program and is known as the teacher who goes out of his way to help. Students line up outside his office, confident that they will find expert guidance on their papers. Many of these students are not even in his classes, yet Dr. Hancock takes time for them.

Dr. Hancock designed the curriculum for the intensive writing program for EOP. Students attend class daily, participate in study groups, and meet with him for one-on-one conferences. Dr. Hancock assumes the lead in creating the lessons for the intensive summer writing course in the Pre-College Summer Program, and trains all summer program writing staff members and peer educators.

Last year, Dr. Hancock introduced a new model where students take a non-credit developmental course paired with a credit-bearing Composition course. This model combines support for students with tangible progress toward degree, and generates student enthusiasm and engagement. With all this, he found the time to write his own acclaimed grammar textbook, and is a contributing author in two other textbooks.

Dr. Hancock dedicates himself to helping those who might have been written off as hopeless. He gives new chances to people who go on to bright futures. One student commented:
“I would not be the Founding Principal of the first all-girls, public charter high school in New York State if Dr. Hancock did not begin his impact on my life 20 years ago. I came to him as a young, pregnant freshman with mediocre writing skills and unclear academic plans. Dr. Hancock’s careful attention to his teaching craft, and the intellectual and social development of his students had a profound influence on my desire to become a better writer, thinker and educator.”

Barbara RioBarbara Rio, Social Welfare

Barbara Rio has been a grounding influence for Social Welfare students for over a decade, teaching key courses in the major and serving as the main link to students’ field experiences. She is one of the first instructors students encounter and students and alumni regularly cite the lasting influence of her teaching on them. They praise her talent for blending support and challenge so that students can take appropriate risks as they learn. Ms. Rio is respected and liked by her students while holding them accountable for high standards.

Ms. Rio continually reflects on how to improve the quality of the curriculum, developing important improvements for her courses and those of her colleagues. She was instrumental in increasing student engagement by piloting Team Based Learning in her courses, and working with colleagues to implement this approach throughout the curriculum. She redesigned the undergraduate field seminar to increase its academic rigor, to unanimous acclaim by the faculty. She serves on many School and University committees and with community-based agencies, always with an eye toward supporting student learning. She plays the central role in orienting new instructors to the undergraduate curriculum, continually working to create community across courses in the major. She is a standard setter for excellence, a guide for students as they prepare for their community roles and an exceptional classroom teacher. Ms. Rio’s syllabi and teaching materials were key evidence to demonstrate how the School meets reaccreditation standards. Her courses show exemplary construction and sensitivity to students’ developmental capacities. They emphasize students’ potential to undertake critical thinking assignments and demonstrate respect for diverse points of view.

Ms. Rio consistently concerns herself with the intellectual, professional and personal growth of her students.


Excellence in Teaching (Teaching Assistant)

Dawit DemissieDawit Demissie, Information Studies

Mr. Demissie teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in the College of Computing and Information. He has the distinction of having been nominated by a group of students who were so excited about his teaching that they banded together to organize a nomination. One support letter stated: “Purely because of his unique teaching style and wit, we all took something extra from the course. Dawit brought material most of us have never heard of before and made the material almost second nature to us…because of this class I chose to become a TA in the Informatics Department, and I continue to practice the skills I learned from his class.”

Mr. Demissie is always prepared to meet students individually, even sacrificing his weekends to do so. But this does not mean that he is “easy”: on the first day of class he makes it clear to students what he expects from them throughout the semester as well as what students should expect of him. He has high standards for himself and his students, as they work to achieve academic excellence.

Mr. Demissie has a wonderful rapport with his students. His ratings on student evaluations underscore that he is a gifted instructor. He commands real respect from the students, who give spontaneous positive feedback to the department about his teaching. One student wrote that because Mr. Dawit counseled him not leave the University, he is now a senior and will graduate in a few days with an Information Science major and a Business minor.

Mr. Dawit is able to communicate complex ideas in his classes, is generous with his time and attention to students, and inspires them to reach higher than they thought they could. He combines a pleasant personality and sense of humor with self-discipline, perseverance, a passion for teaching, intellectual curiosity, and a deep commitment to scholarship.

Matt VogelMatt Vogel, Sociology

Mr. Vogel has demonstrated excellence in teaching as a TA in Sociology. He works hard to design effective assignments, and provide engaging classroom interaction. He provides multiple types of exercises and assignments and works with students to ensure that they can demonstrate their knowledge and have opportunities to improve. He purposely designs flexibility into his courses to better address their needs. His course materials demonstrate his creativity in evaluating students and challenging them to not just know the material but to develop a deeper understanding through detailed investigations and applications.

Mr. Vogel cultivates a supportive and informal environment that engages students in dialogue. Even in large classes of over 120 students, he makes the classroom a place where all students feel involved and respected. He encourages student excitement, challenging them to think critically. In all of his classes, Mr. Vogel receives student evaluations that are much higher than departmental averages. He goes out of his way to work with students individually: patient with students who struggle and providing more advanced students with additional readings and material to help them continue their development. His high evaluations are not due to showmanship or easy material. They are a reflection of his skill, enthusiasm, and knowledge.

Mr. Vogel is broadly committed to teaching. He served on the SUNY Albany Middle States Evaluation sub-committee on Institutional Assessment and Student learning, and on Sociology’s Teaching Committee, helping to organize teaching workshops each semester. He co-presented a paper at a national conference focused on teaching theories and is always actively working to improve his teaching by attending departmental workshops, those offered by ITLAL, and teaching related talks at national conferences.


Excellence in Research

Iris BergerIris Berger, History

Professor Iris Berger’s career exemplifies the high standards of the Excellence in Research and Creative Activities Award. Through her many publications, Professor Berger has fundamentally shaped the fields of African history, gender history and working class history for four decades. Early on she emerged at the forefront of a dramatic transformation when the study of history began to look at the lives of everyday people. She has been a pioneer in the fields of social history and the history of African women. She overcame cultures with no written traditions, unorganized and underfunded archives, and societies with closed political systems. To do so, she mastered multiple languages, and traveled the globe to conduct interviews where no other documentation was available. She draws on many other disciplines such as anthropology, archeology and linguistics to ask new questions about the people she studies. Her efforts have resulted in a sustained, prolific record of publication recognized for its excellence by her peers.

She has been elected Vice President for Research of the American Historical Association, the largest and most eminent historical association in the world. Professor Berger has published three single-authored books with a fourth to come out soon. She has co-authored a fifth book and co-edited a collection of essays that set the standard in her field. She was associate editor of Oxford University Press’s Encyclopedia of Women in World History. She has published 28 articles, including some that are considered as having set standards in her field and that continue to be read by students and scholars. Her publications have appeared in her field’s most prestigious, top-tier journals and she has presented scholarly works in over 115 international conferences.

JoAnne Carson JoAnne Carson, Art

Professor JoAnne Carson’s work in the fine arts has earned the respect of colleagues throughout the art world. She has a record of achievement that many academics strive to emulate, but do not often attain. Professor Carson started her career as a painter and has moved toward three-dimensional sculpture. In the process, she has left nothing behind---her sculptures and wall reliefs build on the expressive use of color that was the hallmark of her paintings. With one foot rooted in painting and the other pushing the boundaries of sculpture, she embraces the contradictions that arise from blurring the distinctions between the two. In her work there is a whimsical exuberance that captivates viewers, while drawing them into consideration of the darker aspects of life’s forces.

Her exhibition record includes the most respected venues in the field, recognized for their broad impact in the visual arts. Professor Carson has presented 14 solo exhibitions and countless group exhibitions at highly regarded museums and galleries such as the Washburn Gallery, the Ruth Siegel Gallery, the Plus Ultra Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Academy Museum. Her work has garnered the attention of the most esteemed curators and critics in the field, and reviews of her exhibitions have appeared in the most prestigious national arts media.

Professor Carson’s work is included in distinguished public collections nationwide including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Fort Worth Art Museum, the Joslyn Art Museum and the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation. She has received many awards including the Ellin P. Speyer Award from the National Academy Museum, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ highly competitive Purchase Prize in Sculpture.

Fatemeh (Shadi) Shahedipour-SandvikFatemeh (Shadi) Shahedipour-Sandvik, College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering

Dr. Shahedipour-Sandvik is a highly accomplished scientist and researcher in a broad set of fields ranging from nano-device engineering, to Quantum dots and wires for ultra-sensitive sensors and laser structures. She is recognized as a pioneering leader in the development of GaN-based technology and is well known in the Material Science and nano-electronics research communities. She has dozens of ongoing projects with researchers in both academe and industry, and has participated in many conferences worldwide. She has built, from scratch, a very large research program at UAlbany, with which she has raised more than $3 million in funding. She has filed several patent applications and published over 60 research articles in leading journals. She has also authored two books on the Solid State Lighting Materials and Compound Semiconductors for Energy Applications. Her research has produced both experimental and theoretical understanding of electronic and optoelectronic materials and devices. Together with her research team, she has helped advance many of the cutting edge technology and approaches needed to aggressively study new areas of nanotechnology. She has an outstanding record of acquiring funding for this groundbreaking research and has received acclaim for solving both fundamental and applied science and engineering problems. Her publication record and scholarship rank in the top 10% of people at a similar career level in the field.

Dr. Shahedipour has received numerous awards and fellowships, among them the SUNY Promising Inventor Award, the Outstanding Research Paper Award from the Materials Research Society and the Governor’s Women of Excellence Award from the NY Governor’s office.

Istvan KecskesIstvan Kecskes, Educational Theory and Practice

In hiring Professor Istvan Kecskes, the Department of Educational Theory and Practice hoped he would energize its programs in second language learning, and help the Department regain an international reputation for excellence in that field. This hope has been fully realized. Professor Kecskes has published over 60 highly regarded books and articles, 15 computer programs for language learning and has become the “founding father” of the field of intercultural pragmatics. In addition to his prolific publication record, he has been editor of the journal Intercultural Pragmatics, and a book series, the “Mouton Series in Pragmatics”.

Professor Kecskes approaches old questions in his field with new eyes, and has revolutionized our understanding of first and second language learning. He developed a new theoretical model used by his and other disciplines, and gathered data from a longitudinal experiment examining the effects of foreign language learning. His original and innovative analyses of linguistics and language teaching and learning have led to a better understanding of the cognitive-linguistic consequences of fluency in more than one language. His focus on pragmatics of language use and learning in cross-cultural contexts led to the development of his Dynamic Model of Meaning which treats communication as an interplay of past and present experience. His groundbreaking work contrasts with those who prioritize the immediate context of communication, and has opened up new understanding of how meaning is constructed. As a fellow scholar said: “Dr. Kecskes’ book is a must read for whoever is interested in the explosion of fields as varied as theoretical linguistics, cognition, communication studies, pragmatics, second language acquisition and bilingualism.”


Excellence in Academic Service

Alan Wagner
, Educational Administration and Policy Studies

Service and generosity are the hallmarks of Professor Wagner’s professional life. He makes enormous contributions to his department, his School, the University and the community. As chair he never sought teaching reductions, engaging fully in the educational and research missions of his department and School. He has served as a core member of the Comparative and International Education Policy Program; spearheaded the solicitation and administration of two grants from the Ford Foundation totaling over $500,000; led the partial transfer of the University at Buffalo’s international higher education research program to UAlbany; served on the board of the Capital Area School Development Association; and brought the Secretariat of the Comparative and International Education Society to UAlbany—a feat which has brought international attention and prestige to our School of Education.

Professor Wagner is known as someone who genuinely cares about his students and his colleagues. He steps in to help whenever and wherever needed, no matter the cost to himself. Even as chair he routinely volunteered as interim advisor, taught extra classes, chaired dissertation committees and acted as extra reader for dissertation proposals. For his support of students, he has received a Disability Services Award from the Disability Resource Center. He serves on many prestigious advisory boards, among them the International Comparative Higher Education Finance and Accessibility Project, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the World Bank’s Project on Lifelong Learning Policies in Latin America, the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, and the UNESCO European Centre for Higher Education.

Not content with working internationally and locally, he worked with SUNY New Paltz to design a doctoral program for a region needing educational leaders. Its students are all now working in New York’s public educational institutions, a result only possible through Professor Wagner’s constant stewardship.

During these challenging times when too many people doubt the returns-on-investment of public universities, we cannot exaggerate the importance of engaged scholars whose service is informed by, and contributes to, knowledge development in the service of humankind. Alan Wagner is an exemplary engaged scholar: he is the example of a servant leader. It is this leadership philosophy which makes him a worthy recipient of this award.


Excellence in Professional Service

Suzanne LanceSuzanne Lance, NYS Writers Institute

Ms. Susanne Lance has had a substantial, and heretofore unheralded influence on the culture and quality of life of the University at Albany. She joined the New York State Writers Institute two decades ago after distinguishing herself in other positions, including service to author Toni Morrison during Ms. Morrison’s tenure at UAlbany in the early 1980’s. Ms. Lance is the Writers Institutes’ financial officer, organizational manager, manager of plans and projects, and primary event coordinator. She oversees production of the Institute’s graphics, its media contacts, and the increasingly important management of its media archives, which will make the video and audio tapes of nearly 1000 eminent Institute visitors available to the public in an on-line library. She co-ordinates the appearances of the Institute’s guests which include foremost journalists and science writers, emerging poets, former governors, prominent historians, Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists and film and television stars. She coordinates the biennial State Author/State Poet award ceremony. She oversees the Summer Young Writers Institute for high school students. She coordinates efforts to increase support from community organizations and granting organizations from around the state and the nation. Cherished by many at the University, Ms. Lance remains modest and helpful to all who have contact with her. She is affable and comforting. She has the grace to suffer fools and saints alike. She has a gift and talent for doing the right thing, and she has the requisite sense of purpose to reach for often unattainable peaks. In so doing, she leads her colleagues to reach and achieve. Quite simply, she is an inspiration for us all.

Holly Barker-FlynnHolly Barker-Flynn, Residential Life

A product of SUNY, Holly Barker-Flynn joined UAlbany in 1985, initially as a Residence Hall Director. Through a series of positions he acquired broad administrative experience in the areas of facilities, operations, budget and finance, all of which prepared him for appointment as Assistant Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences in 1999. In his current role, Steve serves as the College’s chief administrative officer, responsible for managing the College’s budget, financial and personnel matters. Steve also supervises staff in the Dean’s Office and regularly meets with clerical and professional staff across the College to provide a forum for questions and concerns as well as a platform for collaborative problem-solving. Steve is widely regarded as a role model for other fiscal managers and assistant deans on campus. He is committed, organized, dependable, great to work with, someone who “doesn’t just show up but often has a leadership role.”

In addition, Steve is a reliable volunteer, willing to serve in tasks that have no direct bearing on his assigned duties but benefit the University. His expertise and personality make him an attractive candidate for service on campus-wide search committees and professional development workshops and activities related to academic leadership, campus diversity and cultural issues. His experience and perspective as an end-user is highly valued by everyone involved in the development and improvement of core management systems.

The overall evidence for this nomination is marked by statements of admiration and respect for Holly Barker-Flynn’s extraordinary dedication, high degree of professionalism, and personal integrity and fairness. He is a perfect recipient of the 2010 Excellence Award for Professional Service.


Excellence in Support Service

Brett McLaughlinBrett McLaughlin, University Police Department

Brett McLaughlin embodies the idea that police officers are not part of an outside force, but vital members of the University and community. He is known for his great personal and professional integrity, and is well suited to a career where teaching and mentoring comprise a greater role than just enforcing laws.

Mr. McLaughlin regularly takes on extra roles too numerous to list here: He is a member of the color guard, representing the department in full dress uniform at funerals and campus functions. He is a Field Training officer, providing orientation and mentoring to newly hired officers. He is a member of the bicycle patrol, an integral part of the effort to reach out to the university community. He works closely with residential life staff to educate students and hold them accountable to community standards. He cares about the well-being of students—even the challenging ones. Students who have met him make comments like “that cop was a pretty good guy” or “he treated me fairly”. He knows they are developing adults. One of his roles is to educate and assist with that development.

Officer McLaughlin leads the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) program, a self-defense and safety awareness program for men and women. Under his supervision, RAD has increased its courses for students, faculty and staff, and provides training to police and public safety personnel from surrounding communities, colleges and universities. He started RADkids, offering training to children to prevent abduction and sexual abuse. He is an example of going ‘above and beyond’ to carry out the university’s longstanding commitment to community engagement. Because of his dedication, our RAD program has been recognized nationally as a model for what community policing can be.


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