Each year, the University at Albany
honors special members of its community with
Excellence Awards denoting exceptional contributions
to the life of the campus. Sixteen faculty
and staff members received this tribute in 2013.
Excellence in Teaching (Full Time)
Rita Biswas, Finance
For over twenty years, Professor Rita Biswas has taught students ranging from 20 year old juniors and seniors to 60 year old bank presidents—and she captures and retains the attention of all of them.
She is consistently among the professors rated most highly by students in the School of Business. She takes an interest in each student, learning names and showing up for out-of-classroom events to show her support of extra-curricular activities. Involvement with student's actual lives helps her make class material relate to the real world, and sends a strong signal to the students that she is interested in them as individuals.
Professor Biswas' commitment is clear through what her students say: 24 of them were wrote recommendations for this award!
Some of these students graduated 5, 10 and even 15 years ago, and yet jumped at the chance to describe the lasting impact she has made on their lives and their careers. They praise her selfless dedication, unsparingly reaching out to them beyond class time and beyond office hours to serve their needs. The thoughtfulness of her feedback is a regular theme of end-of-semester evaluations.
Professor Biswas is not an “easy teacher”: her courses cover the most quantitative and technical taught in Finance, and she requires innovative projects that keep students interested and fully engaged. Honors students returning from their internships report that the skills they learned while doing Professor Biswas' assignments put them ahead of fellow interns hailing from elite private institutions.
Professor Biswas actively recruits new students, and has led an initiative to host the New York State Mathematics League competitions at UAlbany. She has developed a transfer experience course and will teach it as a pilot program for the University.
A known authority in international merger and acquisitions and emerging markets both nationally and internationally she is an active scholar. Students see her as teacher, mentor and friend, and a role model for women in the academic and business community. Professor Rita Biswas exemplifies what a teacher, mentor and scholar can be.
Ryan King, Sociology
Professor Ryan King's guiding concern is to inspire student curiosity and foster their intellectual development. He emphasizes analytical thinking, presentation of research findings, and effective writing in his undergraduate courses and graduate seminars.
Professor King designs learning situations so students struggle with data, become more curious and gain a better understanding of how research is done. He brings in contemporary examples that have personal relevance for them. He creates an informal, friendly atmosphere, posing interesting questions, and challenging students' opinions to hone their critical thinking skills.
Students praise him for his infectious passion for his discipline, his zeal for getting them to master difficult material, and his ability to ignite a love of learning. One student wrote:
I learned more from Professor King about what it means to be a responsible, productive, and effective teacher-scholar than I did from any of my other formal training.
Another wrote: “Dr. King is the most wise, thoughtful, caring and supportive teacher and mentor I have ever seen. His commitment to the highest standards has been inspiring and motivating.”
Professor King's commitment to teaching extends beyond the classroom. He has supervised 7 undergraduate internships, directed 6 independent studies, frequently mentors in the department's Honors program and shares responsibility of departmental student advisement. He has served on over a dozen comprehensive examination committees, ch aired three MA committees, directed five graduate independent studies, chaired 7 dissertation committees and served on 7 others.
He was also a ‘charter member' of the Teaching Committee in Sociology, has organized a presentation on “Teaching Large Lectures”, and has hosted brown-bag sessions for graduate students on topics such as networking and negotiating the job market.
He has served on the UAlbany Committee on Retention, Teaching and Learning and Integration of Student and Academic Life, and participates in the Educational Opportunities mentoring program as mentor of undergraduate students. He has also developed a Freshman Seminar designed to introduce students to social science while helping them transition from high school to college.
Marcia Sutherland, Africana Studies
Professor Marcia Sutherland teaches undergraduate and graduate courses for the Department of Africana Studies. Her core belief is that learning must be a transformative, engaging experience, and that students must learn to think critically as they examine problems on the national or the global scene.
Students praise her mentorship, rigor and professionalism: Many say this is the combination that makes her a superior teacher. She incorporates her research in her lectures at all levels.
Even in large classes, she engages students by talking with them as if it were a personal scholarly conversation. She encourages students to debate divergent perspectives rooted in research, and treats them as emerging professionals.
Professor Sutherland works closely with her graduate students as they prepare papers for journals and national conferences. As a result, they often see her as a ‘mentor for life', contacting her for advice and guidance on their professional careers long after they have graduated. Under her mentorship, students have won national and international prizes for their publications, and many teach at prestigious universities.
Professor Sutherland serves on many dissertation committees and advises UAlbany graduates completing doctoral degrees at other institutions. She has served as advisor for Master's students in Rockefeller College, the Department of Latin American and Caribbean Studies and the Department of Psychology.
Because they have been touched by Dr. Sutherland, her students possess a commitment being change agents. They assume leadership positions as entrepreneurs, professors, teachers, school administrators, lawyers, politicians, performers, writers, social workers, and community activists.
She is also an active scholar, having authored or co-authored over 30 articles and book reviews, two books and acting as reviewer for several journals and presses. Professor Sutherland has received the highest recognition by the National Association of Black Psychologists, the Distinguished Psychologist Award for Scholarly Advancement of Black Psychology.
Katherine Van Acker, English
Katherine Van Acker has taught in the Journalism program since 2002 and developed a wide variety of courses. Her teaching is an essential component in the photography in both the Journalism and Documentary Studies curricula.
In all of her courses, Ms. Van Acker raises ethical and other issues that photographers regularly face. Her aim is not just to teach hands-on photography skills, but to give students a context that will sustain them for their entire career. She ensures that students learn to embrace the hard questions, and at the same time remain sensitive to individual differences that exist in a multi–cultural society.
Ms. Van Acker takes the time to conduct individual conferences with her students, meeting them where they are and then spurring them on to higher levels of performance. Students praise her knowledge, professionalism, and high standards. Most of all, they are impressed with her passionate belief in them as individuals, and with her tireless encouragement to work hard for success.
She has achieved a reputation as a challenging but very fair instructor who will work diligently to help her students, and whose enthusiasm for photo-journalism is contagious. She asks her students to produce a multi-media project nearly every week—a very ambitious schedule of assignments—and then she works actively with them to ensure they can pull it off.
Former students are grateful to Ms. Van Acker for teaching them the most modern technology and the skills they actually needed when they got out into the field. They report that their own investigative reporting is inspired by Ms. Van Acker's sense of ethics. They each say that the rigorous preparation she provided, and the independence and creativity she fostered as they prepared projects has had a lasting impact on their personal and career success.
Shu-han Yeh, East Asian Languages and Cultures
Ms. Shu-han Yeh teaches as a full-time lecturer in East Asian Studies. Her dedication to students and her passion for language teaching are inspiring to everyone who knows her. Each semester, she teaches three language courses, and then she teaches two additional courses on a voluntary basis!
Students praise Ms. Yeh's patience and efforts to make sure they understand course content. Because she teaches language courses, her classes meet every weekday, yet she still goes well beyond her office hours, regularly meeting students individually outside of class. Students enjoy her classes tremendously, and most of them—inspired by Ms. Yeh—eventually go to China or Taiwan for advanced study.
Students praise Ms. Yeh's high expectations and her insistence that students can do more than they expect of themselves. She is patient and thorough, and succeeds at delivering rigorous and demanding material in ways that resonate with students.
As one put it: “Sometimes students take a class that they hear is difficult and challenging but worthwhile because of an extraordinary professor. For me, Chinese was that difficult class and Ms. Yeh was that extraordinary professor.” Students have taken part in speech contests and competed for and won scholarships for study abroad programs because Ms. Yeh expected them to be able to do so.
Ms. Yeh shows her devotion to students and student learning in other ways. She has helped establish UAlbany's prestigious study abroad program in Sichuan, China. With an average of 20 students attending every summer, the number of Chinese majors and minors in the department has doubled in the last few years, largely due to her efforts.
She serves as the faculty counselor of the Chinese Student Association. And she has also enrolled in a Ph.D. program on Curriculum and Instruction and expects to earn this degree this year.
Excellence in Teaching (Teaching
Mohammad Qneibi, Chemistry
Mr. Mohammad Qneibi has taught labs in Organic and Physical Chemistry. He makes sure students not only know what they are doing and how to do it, but that they understand why they are doing it. Because of his skill with students, he has already received the Arthur Long teaching award, which is the Chemistry department's highest honor for teaching assistants.
Mr. Qneibi's students describe him as enthusiastic, approachable, friendly, fair and devoted to student success. They also say that he is determined to hold them to high expectations.
Students commend him for his ability to put them at ease, and the valuable study skills they have learned from him. One student wrote “when first enrolling in the course, I was nervous, knowing the difficulty of the material. Despite my apprehension, Mohammad made this course highly enjoyable.”
Another wrote: “Mohammad always held me to a high standard of learning…he never failed to make me work harder to reach my true potential.” They praise his ability to create examples of increasing difficulty to prepare them well for exams. They particularly appreciate his talent for helping them visualize chemical reactions by creating charts and figures from which they can draw conclusions.
Mr. Qneibi's interactive style, involving students in discussions and getting them to pose questions shows his deep desire to see them succeed. He regularly spends time working individually with students, in the lab and outside of class. He talks with them about their interests and encourages them to take the next steps in their own research and education. Former students, now in graduate schools across the nation, enthusiastically wrote to describe the inspiration they received to continue their studies, even after they were no longer in Mr. Qneibi's classes.
Steve Sin, Political Science
Steve Sin teaches with large numbers of Political Science students. He sees it as his mission to help students think critically and objectively about the problems that face the world today.
Students respond well to his classes, praising his passion, dedication, sense of humor, and ability to get them to care about the subject as much as he does. One student wrote: “Steve has this uncanny ability to cultivate a comfortable environment where ‘out of the box' thinking can evolve.” Another wrote: “he broadened my way of looking at the world, and taught me to question things that had never crossed my mind before.”
Part of his ability to get students to care comes from the fact that he cares very much about his students. Students and faculty regularly comment on his approachability. He will go over an assignment and coach a student until they both see that the student has understood the material and can succeed in next steps. As a result, students return to talk with Mr. Sin about study skills in general, and for career planning advice.
Faculty praise Mr. Sin's initiative, creativity and command of innovative teaching strategies. He has developed rubrics for grading that have been adopted by faculty into their own syllabi. He has designed simulations that have been so successful that they have now become what happens in all sections of those classes.
In addition research publications, Mr. Sin has co-authored an article on pedagogy that focuses on active learning exercises that help students understand comparative politics.
Graduate students value Mr. Sin's knack for creating a collegial environment in the department, and find his approaches to teaching inspiring. He has been a key figure in growing the Graduate Association of Political Science and creating a collaborative spirit among graduate students.
Excellence in Research and Creative Activities
Shawn Bushway, Criminal Justice
Dr. Shawn Bushway's record of scholarship is extraordinary in quality, quantity, and breadth of influence. His research has three distinct strands: recidivism and reentry; economics and crime; and criminal justice processing.
He has made influential contributions in all three of his core research areas. With an unusual ability to visualize and execute challenging research, he addresses key deficiencies in existing knowledge. He is a leading scholar nationally and internationally, and his work always has important policy implications.
Dr. Bushway's outstanding skill as a quantitative scholar, his thoroughness and sophisticated analysis lead to groundbreaking insights. And he is able to communicate why these insights matter in terms to which policy makers can relate. Seldom does one meet a scholar whose work so thoroughly weaves empirical research with real-world implications.
His work is fundamentally multi-disciplinary: he hosted an NSF-funded Symposium on Crime and Justice that brought together an who's who of sentencing scholars and policymakers. His leadership this front led to his appointment on the New York State Permanent Sentencing Commission.
Dr. Bushway has secured grant funding in excess of $3 million dollars. He is developing a proposal to support a Research Coordinating Network designed to advance the collaborations that started at the Symposium. He has published in many of the best journals in Criminal Justice, including Criminology, the top publication in the discipline and the Journal of Quantitative Criminology. He published two edited books, more than a dozen chapters, and nearly 50 peer-reviewed journal articles. He has delivered more than 70 presentations, and been invited to participate in high level discussions by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the American Bar Association, the Institute for the Social Sciences at Cornell, among others.
The influence he has had on criminal justice, sociology, public policy, and economics, cannot be overstated.
In addition, his commitment to service and teaching has been deep and time-consuming—and much too extensive to detail here. It is difficult to imagine how he does it all!
Cristian Lenart, Mathematics
Dr. Cristian Lenart started his career as a computer scientist but he has since enjoyed a very successful career in mathematics research and education. He is one of the world's leading experts in modern Schubert Calculus, a subfield of enumerative geometry. During the last decade, he expanded the scope of his research to include Combinatorial Representation Theory, becoming one of the leaders in this field as well.
He is an outstanding researcher with wide mathematical interests and a curious and original mind. His broad background and pleasant personality enable him to communicate with scholars from different areas of mathematics, sharing his insights and appreciating theirs.
Professor Lenart has published over 30 research papers in refereed journals, including several papers in top journals such as the American Journal of Mathematics, Advances in Mathematics, and the Transactions of the American Mathematical Society. He has tremendous momentum in his current research, with several papers submitted for publication. The quality of his research results is exceptionally high and widely praised.
Individual research grants are extremely competitive in the area of pure mathematics, and professor Lenart's funding history is especially strong and impressive. He has had continuous support from the National Science Foundation since 2004.
He has been invited to present his research at numerous national and international conferences, and at the top mathematics research institutes in the world. He has been invited by the NSF to serve on proposal review panels, and co-organized several special workshops and sessions for the American Mathematical Society. Because of his strong background in computer science, Professor Lenart has also written software packages that are used by his students, and his worldwide colleagues to tackle difficult numerical problems that arise in their research.
Professor Lenart is not only an outstanding researcher, he is also a valued teacher and mentor, and a good citizen in the broad mathematical community.
Marina Petrukhina, Chemistry
Professor Marina Petrukhina is an extremely talented and productive researcher. Her research interests are multi-disciplinary, examining catalysis, materials science and nanochemistry. Her work is at the very forefront of her field: she is creating a new research area, and is recognized nationally and internationally in both the inorganic and organic scientific communities.
Professor Petrukhina has applied fundamental research to practical problems relevant to the environment and energy. She focuses on the chemistry of a new class of carbonaceous molecules. Her recent work—published in the journal Science—established a new paradigm for lithium ion encapsulation, making possible breakthroughs in energy storage and electronics based on novel carbon-based materials.
Her work on portable chemical sensors for hydrocarbon detection has the potential to improve the environment and life for communities. It will lower the cost of construction budgets and improve health and environmental safety through monitoring of hydrocarbons in groundwater and soil.
Since 2001, Professor Petrukhina has attracted over $2 million dollars in external research funds, including a prestigious NSF Career Award. She has published two book chapters; received two patents; written three major reviews; and published 85 articles in top notch scientific journals. In the past year alone, she has published 15 new manuscripts!
She has a world-wide and world-class record of invited lectures and seminars at respected institutions, and professional service as conference chair and editor.
Professor Petrukhina is also known as an excellent mentor: she created a program for training young chemists, and has mentored 15 graduate students, 11 postdoctoral fellows and visiting scientists, and over 20 undergraduate students, many of whom have gone on to pursue PhDs at prestigious universities.
She works toward greater participation of underrepresented groups in her research programs: she strongly encourages women and minorities into careers in chemistry and actively seeks funding for them.
Excellence in Academic Service
Richard Fogarty is an extraordinary citizen. He has served in his department as Undergraduate Director and over a dozen committees. He pioneered the on-line pre-advisement system, cutting transfer conferences in half. He was the key figure in reorganizing the undergraduate major. He helped frame the department's responses to the general education program, taking care of everything that a major change entails in the life of a department.
At the University level, he has served as Senator; Chair of the Committee on General Education; Chair of the Undergraduate Academic Council; member of the General Education Assessment Committee; Chair of a subcommittee of the Strategic Planning Implementation process; member of the CLUE Planning Group on Promotion and Tenure and co-chair of the Travel Funds Committee.
Rick's sense of integrity and equity, his willingness to step up, and his sense of humor, make him one of the most sought-after faculty members when new groups are being formed. He takes on complex projects, winning respect by focusing on the University's mission, working inordinately hard, and courageously standing up to have the collegial conversations needed for positive change.
He always aims at what is best for students: His lecture for the Explore UAlbany program challenges students to think critically about their own stereotypes. He helped to create a Living Learning Community for freshmen interested in pre–law—developing co–curricular offerings, ensuring that freshmen take the right History courses, and finding faculty and graduate student mentors.
At the same time, Rick is an established scholar of French history and noted teacher. National organizations, including the Social Science Research Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities and many journals show the high regard historians have for his intellectual contributions by asking for his help as reviewer. Last year he earned the Dean's Outstanding Teaching Award.
Rick Fogarty exemplifies the engaged life of a scholar, a teacher and a citizen.
Susanna Fessler, East Asian Languages and Cultures
Dr. Susanna Fessler has achieved an outstanding record of service at all levels.
Under her leadership of East Asian Studies, the department witnessed substantial growth. It received a $1.9 million Freeman Foundation Grant; a Korean Foundation Faculty Enhancement Grant and a Japan Foundation Library grant. She serves on many search and tenure committees, designs and manages listservs and blogs for students, and produces the department's brochures and web-page.
In the College of Arts and Sciences she has co-chaired the Tenure and Promotion Committee, and served as vice-chair and then chair of the CAS Faculty Council. At the University level, she served on the Undergraduate Academic Council, was Vice-Chair and Chair of the University Senate; chaired the Governance Council; and chaired the University Policy and Planning Council. She has served on the University Council, the NY SUNY 2020 proposal review committee; the Provost's Strategic Planning Implementation Steering Committee, the Presidential Search Committee and she co–chaired the Presidential Transition Advisory Committee.
She also serves in ways that directly affect the experience of students: she chaired the Sub–Committee on Honors and the Curriculum, and the Committee on Academic Freedom, Freedom of Expression, and Community Responsibility. She has presented in the “Tenure Trek” series designed to help junior faculty succeed. She finds time to serve her discipline nationally as outside reviewer for tenure cases, and peer reviewer for academic journals and presses. She is a member of the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources. An accomplished scholar, she continues to maintain an active publishing schedule.
Professor Fessler's determination to conduct reasoned and collegial discussions, even in turbulent times, is outstanding. Her clear-headed composure, and her insight and candidness help committee work go forward productively. She is fearless, selfless, and concerned about equity. She takes seriously the responsibilities of leadership, addressing even the most controversial issues in a straightforward, direct and honest manner.
Her intellectual and personal characteristics are those we seek to foster in all of our students and faculty. Professor Fessler's dedication and unwavering commitment to the University are rare and valuable, and merit this Award for Excellence in Service.
Excellence in Librarianship
Mr. Gregory Bobish is an innovative and approachable teacher, scholar and practitioner of information literacy.
He teaches 4-5 sections of UNL 205X each semester, cheerfully taking on a heavy workload of lecturing, grading and meeting with students. He has recently adopted Team-Based Learning (TBL) as his primary pedagogical method and he is consistently the highest rated library instructor at the University Libraries. At the same time, Mr. Bobish finds time to become proficient with new communications technologies. He has pioneered the use of these technologies in the classroom, both as teaching tools and as examples of information literacy concepts. He has advanced the concept of information literacy as a necessary lifelong skill in his classes and for his colleagues.
Mr. Bobish serves as the University Libraries' liaison to High School student groups. He oversees all of the arrangements for visits from these groups and has spent countless hours working with Albany High School's International Baccalaureate Program. He has served as Secretary/Chair Elect for the Library Faculty and Chair of the University Libraries' Emerging Technology committee. In this role, he helps the Libraries use new technologies to provide information resources to the University at Albany's tech savvy student population.
He also provides service to the State University of New York Librarians Association where he is the treasurer and worked with the Internal Revenue Service to ensure that the organization did not lose its non-profit organization status.
Nationally, Mr. Bobish is a member of PRIMO the Peer-reviewed Instructional Materials Online committee of the Instruction Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries. He provides examples of best practices in learning objects to his fellow instruction librarians across the country.
In his scholarship, Mr. Bobish explores new technologies for their use as instruction delivery tools to achieve expected learning outcomes. He provides practical examples of information literacy exercises for each outcome and his conclusions help to encourage instruction librarians to use social media and other interactive technologies in their classrooms.
Mr. Bobish presents sessions on information literacy and emerging technologies locally, regionally and nationally.
Excellence in Professional Service
Diana Edelson, College of Computing and Information Sciences
Ms. Diana Edelson is an extraordinary UAlbany citizen. She works part time for the College of Computing and Information Science as Director of Finance and Administration. She manages the College's budgets, coordinates budgets for three departments, and deals with outside organizations with whom we have a financial relationship. She knows the ins and outs of the rules for each of our fund sources, and coordinates all personnel activities. Diana is single–handedly responsible for our exceptionally well-run administrative office.
Diana is also the founding Director of the College's Research Development Office. She worked to define and implement the services that enable the College's faculty to be more effective in grant–writing. She provides individualized support for proposal preparation and project execution. She helps with personnel actions, travel, re–budgeting, and fiscal management of successful grants. Diana has made this process so smooth that, since the Office was created, the number of faculty in the College who have received grants has jumped from five to seventeen, and annual research expenditures has more than tripled.
Diana accomplishes everything with a combination of professionalism, diligence, intelligence, and creativity. She does whatever is necessary and her answer is typically “I'll get it done.”
This fall, the secretary for the Computer Science and Informatics departments resigned mid-semeste. I started talking with the chairs to identify gaps in support and develop a temporary solution. The answer to most of my questions was “Oh, Diana's on top of that.” She helps chairs search for adjuncts, moves class rooms and meeting times, trains students on PeopleSoft, and provides support to advisors. She is a major reason that the departments are getting through this crunch, though none of these tasks have anything to do with her job.
Diana Mancini, Criminal Justice
Ms. Diana Mancini works hard to ensure the School of Criminal Justice maintains its stature and that UAlbany is a good place to work. As Assistant Dean, she performs with skill, efficiency and grace. She has been instrumental in the School's strategic planning efforts, creating and maintaining databases, managing the website, planning events, and supporting the School's students and faculty. Her commitment is unparalleled: I often receive an email from her at 2 a.m. as she works to ensure that every detail of an event or project is flawless.
She is consistently optimistic, and willing to push forward when it counts. No matter how much work she has to do, she regularly volunteers to serve on university committees where she sees a way to make a difference.
She has participated in the Community Service Month Planning Committee and she co-chaired its Marketing working group.
She has been a member of the CLUE Working Group on Professional Staff Retention, and of the Strategic Planning Implementation team on Faculty and Instructional Development.
She recently assumed the role of Project Administrator for the School of Criminal Justice's “Justice & Multiculturalism in the 21st Century” initiative. She worked successfully with Professor Frankie Bailey on proposals for funding from the SUNY Explorations in Diversity and Academic Excellence Award and the UAlbany Diversity Transformation Award.
Her dedication is known within the community: when the New York State Police wanted to explore the development of student chapters for a new professional organization, they contacted Ms. Mancini to put the wheels in motion. Not only did Ms. Mancini involve students, she also successfully received funding to send two of them to the organization's annual symposium at West Point.
In each of her roles, Ms. Mancini brims over with practical ways to make the University at Albany a better place. She pitches in to do the actual work it involves to change practices and policies that improve all of our lives.
Excellence in Support Service
Bernadette Socha, Music
Ms. Bernadette Socha provides the University at Albany with outstanding skills and a customer service attitude that stands out among her peers.
Ms. Socha is known for her willingness to go above and beyond expectations to help her department, other departments, and the College of Arts and Sciences meet the challenges of administration.
As the sole support staff for the Department of Music, Ms. Socha serves as the primary administrative staff person, bookkeeper, and main contact. She maintains the website, constructs eye-catching recruitment brochures which are displayed in high schools in the region; and prepares creatively designed posters for the Department's Colloquia. She oversees the work-study students, ensuring they are doing appropriate work—and they come back year after year because of the positive experience they have with her.
Her colleagues are in awe of her command of office procedures and her efficiency, thoroughness and professionalism. She has built a beautifully organized and efficient apparatus for helping our students and faculty.
Ms. Socha has designed and presented a workshop for the all-secretary meetings in the College of Arts and Sciences, receiving enthusiastic reviews and grateful thanks from the Dean's Office.
When the Art Department Secretary left her position, Ms. Socha cheerfully added the purchasing and scheduling duties of an entirely new department to her workload until a new secretary could be found! The Chair of Art wrote feelingly “...her aplomb rescued me from panic and kept things moving smoothly even when they had every excuse to fall apart.”
Faculty, students and staff consider Ms. Socha an indispensable member of the College of Arts and Sciences team.