UMBC celebrates 2019 Presidential Faculty and Staff Award winners

UMBC’s Presidential Faculty and Staff Awards offer the campus community an opportunity to reflect on the essential contributions of university employees to making UMBC a supportive and successful learning community. This year’s ceremony, on April 3, recognized eight members of the UMBC community for their commitment to inclusive excellence.

Passion for pedagogy

Carolyn Forestiere, associate professor and chair of political science, received the Presidential Teaching Professor Award in recognition of her exemplary teaching, mentorship, and pedagogical innovation. She is known for challenging students to develop a deeper understanding of course material and to apply their learning through real-world examples. Her approach to guiding students through the process of writing a research paper, outlined in the 2017 textbook Beginning Research in Political Science, has been adopted across departments.

In accepting her award, Forestiere focused on the importance of educators actively connecting students with the subjects they are teaching by modeling excitement for each topic. “Show genuine enthusiasm in any subject that you teach…The key is to find what you’re passionate about and to try to give that to our students,” she says. “It’s that enthusiasm that engages our students.”

Sarah Leupen, senior lecturer in biological sciences, is the 2019 recipient of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents’ Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching. Her creativity and innovation in teaching have extended far beyond her own classroom, inspiring faculty across UMBC and the world.

When she arrived at UMBC, Leupen launched a Biology Teaching Circle as a space for faculty to explore and discuss pedagogy that could be implemented in classrooms across campus. She has also been involved with UMBC’s Faculty Development Center, leading workshops on a range of topics and techniques. In 2016, she received a Fulbright Award to extend her work abroad. She spent the year at Charles University in the Czech Republic, training medical school faculty in the use of evidence-based teaching practices.

In receiving her award, Leupen thanked her students for teaching her something new each day. She also echoed Forestiere’s remarks, sharing that being enthusiastic for her students takes their classroom engagement to the next level.

Innovative research

Govind Rao, professor of chemical, biochemical, and environmental engineering and director of the Center for Advanced Sensor Technology, is this year’s Presidential Research Professor. Rao is known for the collaborative nature of his work and for bringing together student and faculty researchers from across disciplines to produce innovative solutions to challenges. 

Rao described the question, “What have you done for others?” as the driving force behind his work. His lab has created low-cost sensors to monitor bioprocesses and provide crucial medical care to people in remote places and in communities with limited resources.

Lorraine Remer, research professor for the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology, received the 2019 UMBC Research Faculty Excellence Award. A leader in the field of remote sensing, Remer has received numerous accolades and awards recognizing her significant contributions to the atmospheric sciences. Recently, she was a named a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and one of the most cited researchers in her field.

Remer came to UMBC seven years ago after 21 years at NASA and a successful career in the private sector. She serves as CEO and owner of Airphoton LLC, a start-up company founded in 2012 at bwtech@UMBC business incubator.

Supporting students and promoting well-being

Liz Steenrod, program management specialist for the Language, Literacy, and Culture doctoral program, was recognized with the Presidential Distinguished Non-Exempt Staff Award. Steenrod has advanced the program throughout the past six years — a time of tremendous growth, with the program expanding to serve more than 75 doctoral students.

Steenrod has implemented new processes and practices that support faculty and students in the program, particularly tools to help graduate students see their progress and stay on track to reach key milestones. In her remarks, Steenrod highlighted how helpful and supportive people at UMBC are and the ways dedicated and hardworking colleagues have inspired her work.

Jessica Hammond-Graf speaking during the award ceremony.

Jessica Hammond-Graf, senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator for student-athlete well-being, received the Jakubik Family Endowment Award. During her more than 15 years of leadership at UMBC, she has led the advising and support of hundreds of student-athletes. Her efforts have significantly reduced the number of student-athletes earning below a 2.0 GPA. Today, more than 50 percent student-athletes earn a 3.0 GPA or higher each semester.

Hammond-Graf also created the Retriever Leadership Institute, which brings student-athletes together to develop and strengthen their leadership skills. Students focus on effective teamwork, managing conflict, and recognizing their roles as leaders at UMBC. Groups across UMBC have modeled other programs on the Retriever Leadership Institute.

In speaking at the awards ceremony, Hammond-Graf shared how the leaving things better than you find them is a value that resonated with her as a child, and that continues to motivate her work through today. “By leaving it better than you found it, you continue to move yourself, others, and the organization along a path of growth,” she says.

Shelly Graham, executive administrative assistant for student affairs, received the Karen L. Wensch Endowment Award for Outstanding Non-Exempt Staff. A member of the UMBC community for over 30 years, Graham is often the first person that people connect with when they are reaching out to Student Affairs. She provides training and support for people across campus, and handles delicate and confidential situations with professionalism and compassion.

Valerie Thomas, chief human resources officer and associate vice president for human resources, and a member of the UMBC community for 17 years, received the Presidential Distinguished Staff Award. During her time at UMBC, she has implemented several initiatives to promote the wellbeing of university employees. This includes, among other projects, growing work-life balance initiatives and co-chairing a committee that was responsible for implementing UMBC’s smoke-free campus policy.

President Freeman Hrabowski thanked the honorees by highlighting common themes in their remarks that particularly resonated with him: staff and faculty supporting each other and the passion and excitement that are core to the UMBC community. “We are celebrating…the people who make UMBC such a special community,” he said. “It’s your collective contributions that are the UMBC experience and story. You are what makes UMBC, UMBC.”

Banner image: Govind Rao speaking during the Presidential Faculty and Staff Award event. All photos by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.