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Departments, program receive exemplary awards

By Matt Winston

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 05 - September 21, 1995

This year, for the second time in as many years, Virginia Tech will formally recognize the work of departments and programs at the university for outstanding performance in the academic arena.

Two departments, the Department of English and the Department of Communication Studies, and one program, Women's Studies, will receive the University Exemplary Department and Program Award at a special celebration. The program will be today at the University Club beginning at 5 p.m.

The first three recipients of the University Exemplary Awards, the departments of Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Biochemistry and Anaerobic Microbiology, were recognized last November for their undergraduate programs that effectively link research and teaching.

This year's awardees are recognized for programs that maintain exemplary teaching and learning environments for students and faculty members. The criterion theme for the '94-'95 academic year was: "Fulfilling stated departmental or program missions through the effective and creative use of faculty time and talent."

The award, established under the university's Faculty Rewards Project, includes special recognition and honors from the Board of Visitors and an award between $10,000 and $20,000.

"This is a significant step in recognizing the teamwork displayed by the departments and programs on campus," said Peggy Meszaros, senior vice president and provost, who presented the awards. "These three particular departments are the examples of innovative concepts and ideas brought to fruition by dedicated teams of faculty and staff members, and students at Virginia Tech," Meszaros said. "When you look at faculty roles and rewards, there becomes a need to recognize excellence by groups of people and not necessarily individual achievements."

Meszaros emphasized that the overall theme of this year's awards focused on corroboration and collaboration of resources within and between departments. She said this year's awardees have combined their talents with students and other programs across campus to achieve departmental goals more effectively.

The first award recognizes the achievements of the Women's Studies Program. Ann Kilkelly oversees a very small academic and support staff in the Women's Studies Program.

However, the program's activities serve students, support research, and help develop other programs throughout the university community.

The program's interdisciplinary approach has created a curriculum that has expanded its influence to cover issues broader than the traditional academic curriculum. The Women's Studies Program has worked with departments across campus to develop Women's Month activities each year, sponsors women's studies lectures, and sponsors faculty workshops on and raises awareness of issues of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and campus diversity.

"This award is a great morale boost for the Women's Studies Program," said Kilkelly. "Receiving this significant recognition legitimizes what we do in our eyes and in the eyes of the university community. More importantly, it shines a spotlight on us so others can see us and see what we do. Now the door is open for us to expand and do more."

The Communication Studies department, headed by Robert Denton, is being recognized for its excellence in teaching and student development activities. These support research and professional activities, while nurturing productive relationships with the public and private sector. Examples include student projects in a Public Relations Case Studies class and projects done by students studying the mass-media curricula. The Case Studies class and students in the Public Relations Student Society of America successfully developed a campaign to raise awareness and financial support for the historically significant Solitude building, which now houses the Appalachian Studies program. Communication students also collaborate with faculty and staff members to produce a weekly news program which is viewed throughout the region.

Denton said, "This award recognizes our faculty, students, and staff not for the individual accomplishments they may achieve, but for the day-to-day work that each person contributes to making this department run efficiently.

"We approach our mission with the understanding that we are in a partnership with our students. Using their talents to aid in teaching, research, and outreach is not only efficient, it is logical."

The English department is being recognized for three significant efforts: outstanding teaching combined with mentoring of new faculty members and graduate teaching assistants; using computers in the classroom; and curricular revision. The department's innovative methods of teaching using and developing technology creatively is a highlight for the faculty, students, and staff in English. The department leads in the use of electronic communications. E-mail, computer bulletin boards, on-line writing, and classroom environments have changed the way students and the faculty interact and learn. And the department's mentoring program and thoroughly revised curriculum are considered leading examples of resource management.

"This award is just a reminder to us all of the need to reach outside of the departmental confines to achieve our goals," said Paul Sorrentino, associate department head of the English department.

"We hope to use the reward money to further enhance our efforts in acquiring better equipment for our on-line projects and for scholarship and faculty programs."

All three award winners expressed a desire to use the reward money to help develop faculty enrichment programs and other department projects.

Meszaros emphasized the quality of work and quality of the programs produced by all of the departments at the university.

"This recognition is by no means a statement that Virginia Tech has only three exemplary programs," she said. "Each and every department on this campus has high academic standards. These programs recognized today have displayed the ability to rise to the top. But they are examples of the kind of work our departments should strive for every year at Virginia Tech."

The Exemplary Department and Programs Award Selection Committee is comprised of representatives from each college. Next year's theme will be "developing and sustaining innovative and effective departmental approaches to introductory courses, graduate or undergraduate levels."