Sixteen faculty, staff and students within the Texas A&M University College of Science were recognized for recent outstanding accomplishments by Dean Valen E. Johnson at the college’s annual Faculty & Staff Meeting and Awards Presentation Wednesday (Oct. 27).
The ceremony, which honors college award recipients and serves as a forum for new faculty and staff introductions, was held in the Stephen W. Hawking Auditorium inside the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy.
Daniel Collins (chemistry), David Powers (chemistry), Jennifer Whitfield (mathematics) and M. Suhail Zubairy (physics and astronomy) were honored as recipients of The Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement College-Level Awards in Teaching for 2021 for their commitment to education and contributions to their respective disciplines. Each honoree was awarded a framed certificate commemorating the occasion and a $2,000 check from The Association of Former Students.
Sherry Yennello (chemistry) and Hannah Drake (chemistry) were honored with the college’s Undergraduate Research Mentoring Awards. Established in 2014, the award recognizes faculty members and graduate students, respectively, for their dedication, enthusiasm, accomplishments and contributions in mentoring undergraduate researchers. Each received a $500 check and a plaque of appreciation.
Sarbajit Banerjee (chemistry), Victor Castillo (Dean’s Office), McKensie Le Fevre (biology), Ryan Coll (chemistry) and Elise Walker (mathematics) were honored with the college’s Leadership in Equity and Diversity (LEAD) Awards. Established in 2016, the award recognizes faculty members, staff members and postdoctoral research associates/students who have displayed commitment to enhancing the college’s environment of mutual respect and diversity. Each received a $500 check and a plaque of appreciation.
Staff members Penny Jackson (statistics), Veronica Rodriguez (physics and astronomy) and Dr. K. Wayne Scott (chemistry) were presented with 2021 Outstanding Staff Achievement Awards. Established in 1995, the award commends the dedication, enthusiasm and accomplishments of staff throughout the college. Each received a plaque and a $500 check, also funded by The Association.
Jackson, a program manager in the Department of Statistics, has 14 years of service to the College of Science. She manages the Master’s of Science in Statistics Distance Program, serving as the primary academic advisor for all distance students, the majority of whom already have master’s or doctoral degrees in other disciplines and are working full-time while raising families. “Penny loves our nontraditional students with all her heart and enjoys seeing their faces virtually during webinars and other online sessions,” her nominator says. “She often says that rapport with students throughout their time in the program is what she cherishes the most about her job.” Penny also works with traditional students, considering that the program’s courses are available to all Texas A&M graduate students, regardless of their department of location. Collectively, she serves as the primary point of contact for more than 300 students each semester. “Penny is able to troubleshoot both common and uncommon academic issues for her students with ease and is more than ready to coordinate with her counterparts in the Dean’s Office, Admissions, Records, Financial Aid and more,” says one of her colleagues. “She takes the time to understand a student’s situation, rather than provide them with a “one-size fits all” solution.” In addition to reviewing and summarizing all distance student applications, Jackson routinely recommends and leads program improvements. This past year, she initiated efforts to adopt a new admissions system, Webadmit, and also to move all student data to Laserfische, enabling the department to seamlessly track student admission and retention for various assessment reporting and benchmarking. Perhaps more important than professors and fellow staff members, however, Jackson has the endorsement of the program’s students, including one 2020 graduate who shares the following first impression: “Penny was open, honest, and forthright. She told me the program would be tough, and it was. She told me I would be proud of the degree I earned, and I very much am. That conversation sold me on Texas A&M. The way the run their distance program cannot be rivalled by any other school, I’ve looked. I had a wonderful experience with A&M, and I’m not sure it would have been that way if Penny were not the one in her role.”
Rodriguez, a business coordinator III in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, has 14 years of service to the College of Science. She handles purchases and deliveries for the entire department, with a particular flair for organizing “food functions.” She also serves as the epitome of “other duties as self-assigned,” routinely stepping up in to assist with everything from departmental outreach events to grade entry. “Veronica is helping, selflessly and voluntarily, with such a huge variety of departmental programs and activities far outside her job duties that if one day she leaves, there is no way we will be able to replace her with any amount of people,” her nominator says. “We could possibly find two or three other people who could take over a myriad of her self-imposed duties, but no one will do it with such a smile, patience and grace.” While her work ethic and output are impeccable, Rodriguez is best distinguished by her attitude. To a person, professors, colleagues and students rave about her value to the department, her tireless work and her dedication, but they also talk about how pleasant and congenial she is, even in the face of difficult requests. “When I was department head, one faculty member came to me and insisted we find out if Veronica had a sibling so we could hire them, too, because Veronica was so good,” a previous department head notes. She is lauded as a model for the team player concept — an essential dynamic in the fast-paced environment of academia. “I’ve never seen Veronica take a lunch break,” says a colleague, who describes her as an inspiration to her co-workers. “Her door is always open to accept packages, provide markers for a hurried faculty member or just answer questions about credit cards, purchases or payments.” Another longtime administrator sums up the department’s collective sentiment as follows: “Veronica Rodriguez has given many years of exceptional service to the College of Science, and I think this award for her is very appropriate. It will make all of us in Physics and Astronomy very proud and happy that her dedication has been recognized.”
Scott, a technical laboratory coordinator in the Department of Chemistry, has five years of service to the College of Science as well as a bachelor’s degree (2009) and a Ph.D. (2016) in chemistry from Texas A&M. As co-manager for the organic chemistry laboratory program, he is responsible for the behind-the-scenes operations for the department’s five organic laboratory courses that serve more than 2,000 undergraduate students each year. Scott maintains all lab equipment, instruments and stockroom resources and troubleshoots any problems that occur within the labs. In a pinch, he can even teach them. As someone who once took the undergraduate classes he works to support and later taught the very classes he now trains teaching assistants to teach, Scott brings a unique perspective to his position. “Dr. Scott has a keen appreciation for the value that laboratory classes add to the student experience at Texas A&M,” his nominator says. “His pride in being an Aggie and working for the department that trained him drives him to give our students the best possible experiences in our classes.” Scott is no stranger to developing new systems to keep up with technological change, but his efforts were nothing short of heroic in 2020, when COVID-19 required the department to transition its traditional hands-on laboratory sections into virtual learning experiences. In addition to keeping the in-person labs running, he spearheaded the production of 60 experiment videos and also found a way to generate 2,000 unique data sets every week while implementing sanitation procedures for lab spaces and all equipment. “Most days, Wayne’s car beat mine into our shared parking lot, and I was coming into work early to prepare for an 8 a.m. lecture,” notes one of his colleagues. “And on Friday nights, when I had to stay until my last lab section finished at 6:05 p.m., Wayne departed after I did. He did his job and a million other little things to keep students learning in the midst of an historic pandemic.” His nominator sums things up in a way that sets the bar high for all current and future staff: “There is no one else in our program or our department who could pull off the amount of work he does as efficiently as he does. His service to the lab program exceeds what any other staff member in his position has ever done.”
Irina Gaynanova (statistics) and Nancy Teng (chemistry) were honored with the college’s Dr. Judith Edmiston Mentoring Awards. Established in 2020 by 1984 Texas A&M biology graduate Dr. Mark D. Moore in tribute to Edmiston, a longtime professor at the University of Texas at Austin and former faculty member in the Texas A&M Department of Biology, the award recognizes faculty or staff members, graduate students, and junior or senior undergraduate students for their dedication, enthusiasm, accomplishments and contributions in mentoring undergraduate students. Each received a $500 check and a plaque of appreciation.
In addition to Dean Johnson and Texas A&M Science associate deans recognizing all award winners, Johnson delivered a State of the College Address, preceded by the heads of each of the college’s five departments (Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy, and Statistics) introducing their respective new faculty.
See additional high-resolution photographs from the event within the Texas A&M Science Flickr archive.
Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or [email protected]