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Awards for Academic Excellence

We are deeply honored to announce this year’s recipients of the Awards for Academic Excellence. These awards recognize faculty and librarians who have made outstanding contributions to teaching, research, scholarship and social justice. The extraordinary work and dedication of these faculty members and librarians contributes to the vibrancy of intellectual life on our campus, the richness of our educational offerings and the success of our students. Their work is an inspiration to all of us.

Award Recipients

Faculty/Librarian Lifetime Achievement Award

This annual award is intended to honor distinction in the full range of faculty and librarian professional roles achieved over the span of an individual’s career at Bridgewater State University.

2023 Recipient
Dr. Stephen Nelson
Department of Secondary Education and Educational Leadership

Dr. Nelson’s work in higher education spans 51 years and ranges from director positions to dean of students to lecturer and adjunct professor to research associate and, specifically at BSU, up through full tenured professor. He has published nine books, all focused on higher education administration. He has published 31 journal articles and 42 op-ed articles and has 29 invited papers and presentations. He has received two Faculty and Librarian Research Grants and three Small Research Grants from CARS/CART. He also received a Kellogg’s Foundation Grant to support his research on college and university presidency. His teaching includes courses such as Seminar for Educational Leaders of the Future, Educational Leadership and Managerial Effectiveness, Research Applications for School Leaders, Selection and Development of Educational Personnel, Applied Research, The Teacher as Researcher, and C.A.G.S Leadership Research Project Paper Capstone. His service to the discipline includes reviewer, editorial board member, and contributing editor of several journals; consultant, speaker, workshop leader, conference organizer, and center associate on alcohol issues, education, and student life; and previous founder and president of the New England College Alcohol Network. Dr. Nelson has impressively deep understanding of higher education administration, he is a recognized voice within the discipline, and there is a clear coherence to his scholarship.


Class of 1950 Distinguished Faculty Research Award

The Class of 1950 Distinguished Faculty Research Award was created through an endowment established by the class on the occasion of its 50th reunion. This award is presented annually to full-time faculty members or librarians and recognizes two distinct categories of work, published books (monographs, edited volumes, textbooks, etc.) and scholarly papers or creative works, both published or presented during the previous year.

2023 Recipient
Dr. Michele Wakin
Department of Sociology

Awarded for the book Homelessness in America. This book examines the history of homelessness in the U.S., shining a light on the key issues, events, policies, and attitudes that contribute to homelessness and shape the experience of being homeless. It places special emphasis on exploring the myriad problems that force people into homelessness, such as inadequate levels of affordable housing, struggles with substance abuse, and gaps in the U.S.' social welfare system. In addition, it explains why some demographic groups are at heightened risk of homelessness. The committee noted how the concept of this book is much more profound and timely than any others currently published. Dr. Wakin has worked on this for a long time and it is clearly part of a long-term research trajectory. This book is an overarching work that synthesizes much information; it includes sections of the book written directly by Dr. Wakin, chapters written by experts, and contributions by those who have experienced the crisis. It is explicit about what homelessness looks like today and moves beyond the misconception of homelessness being traditionally older males by depicting children and young adults. It is an important narrative showcasing the contemporary stories of the homeless, including up to and during the pandemic, providing a much-needed contemporary perspective. 

2023 Recipient
Dr. Theresa Jackson
Department of Psychology

Awarded for the article “I LOVE This: An Exploration of How Self-Objectification Predicts Support for Menstrual Suppression” in the journal Women’s Reproductive Health. This study was designed to explore factors that predict support for menstrual suppression, a practice that only has medical benefits for those who have severe menstrual complications; instead, it reflects cultural messages of disgust and shame that encourage menstruators to hide evidence of its occurrence. This is a truly stellar project and brave topic to research and publish. Dr. Jackson has weaved her work on this topic into her undergraduate researchers’ work, helping to create a new generation of scholars willing to take this on. Given today’s political pressures related to women’s health and reproductive rights and care, the committee commends this timely topic with landmark potential.


Presidential Fellowship Award

This highly competitive annual award affords a faculty member the opportunity to focus exclusively on research for an entire academic year. In addition to two semesters of course release time, recipients are granted a budget of up to $10,000 to pay for travel expenses, equipment, books or other related materials. Preference is given to faculty members who have an original proposal for research or creative activity, whose scholarly work is poised for significant growth and who have a carefully designed plan for the use of their release time. Upon completion of the fellowship year, the awardee is expected to present a public lecture or presentation to the campus community.

2023 Recipient
Dr. Castagna Lacet

Department of Social Work

Awarded for Dr. Lacet's project titled “Personal to Professional Development (P → PD) Program for Creating an Equity-Minded Community: Climbing from Personal to Professional Development.” This project will assist faculty and librarians in creating an equity-minded culture for teaching and learning at BSU. In partnership with The Office of Teaching and Learning and other offices, this program has the potential to create substantial impact on BSU’s mission to advance equity, justice, and belonging. This will be achieved by bringing participants through four levels of committed engagement. The P→PD framework acknowledges that faculty and librarians, regardless of where they are at in their own equity-minded journeys, will be able to more effectively address equity in teaching, pedagogy, programming, policies, and the overall culture of BSU by participating in a community with a shared commitment to their own personal growth in cultural humility, equity, and justice. By completing this framework, faculty and librarians can then serve as facilitators for others in their circle of influence who have not yet engaged in this framework. The P→PD framework will first be implemented as a 2023 summer institute. The Fellowship will allow Dr. Lacet to fully develop the modules and materials for the program after testing it with a small population in the summer. It will simultaneously allow her to enhance her leadership skills through planned participation in leadership training. It will also serve to address the Racial Justice Taskforce Recommendations for professional development in equity-mindedness.


Dr. Robert A. Daniel Award for Racial Justice, Equity, and Inclusion:
Supporting the Success of Racially Minoritized Students Attending BSU

Bridgewater State University is a nationally recognized leader in student success because of our demonstrated ability to close racial equity gaps in graduation rates (The Education Trust, 2015; The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2021). Despite our commitment, BSU’s Racial Justice Taskforce Report identified additional work is needed to support the success of racially minoritized students enrolled at BSU. Efforts that facilitate academic access, retention and success for racially minoritized students are a critical institutional priority. This award recognizes the efforts and achievements of full-time tenure track/tenured faculty members and librarians who facilitate the success of racially minoritized students. This award carries the name of the late Dr. Robert A. Daniel, an artist and pioneering educator, who was the first African American professor hired at BSU.

2023 Recipient
Dr. T. Kevin McGowan
Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education

Dr. Kevin McGowan, Associate Professor in the Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education, is a well-known faculty leader for racial equity and justice at Bridgewater State University and beyond.  Dr. McGowan brings to bear his steady and thoughtful leadership to BSU’s work for racial equity and justice and the success of our students in numerous ways.
As an educator and scholar, he informs his work with critical race theory and practice.  As an instructor in BSU’s Introduction to African American Studies Elementary and Early Childhood Education courses, he aids students in learning to critically think about the social construction of race. 

When writing about his scholarship, Dr. McGowan shared that his work explores the role of empathy through a critical race theory lens.” The emphasis placed on Dr. McGowan’s scholarship is evident in a few of the titles of his work: Stepping out of the ivory tower: An antiracist university-community partnership; Disrupting white supremacy in schools: A case study; Promoting and sustaining anti-bias classrooms through empathic teaching and learning practices; Examining curricula through an equity lens. A sought-out speaker across the region and nationally in his discipline, Dr. McGowan has provided many workshops intended to support others in their racially equitable student success competency development. 

Dr. McGowan’s leadership for racial equity and justice is also evident in his wide range of service activities.  He serves as the co-chair of the Racial Justice and Equity Council for faculty and staff engaged in implementing recommendations from the Racial Justice Task Force.  He is also co-facilitator of the Student Racial Justice and Equity Council.  Dr. McGowan has served as the Academic Director for the Martin Richard Institute for Social Justice (MRISJ) since 2021; prior to that he served for four years as a faculty associate for the MRISJ.  

In her nomination letter in support of Dr. McGowan’s application for this award, Dr. Melissa Winchell, Associate Professor of Secondary Education and Educational Leadership and a collaborator with Dr. McGowan in numerous projects stated that when doing the work for racial equity and justice Dr. McGowan has earned “faculty respect and appreciation….He approaches every faculty member, no matter where they are at in their equity learning, with empathy and understanding.  Kevin is a bridge builder.”

2023 Recipient
Dr. Christina Hodel
Department of Communication Studies

“I define student success as a sense of belonging” wrote Dr. Christina Hodel, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies in the first line of her application for this award.  Dr. Hodel’s work is an exemplar of equity-minded efforts in and out of the classroom to ensure that students are supported in their personal and academic success.

Dr. Hodel has actively engaged in professional development focused on evidence-based equitable pedagogies and worked to infuse them into her teaching in order to support students and promote “better learning”.  She utilizes strategies intended to aid students in researching and sharing information about film histories that are often untold due to discrimination and marginalization.  She has also partnered with students as they actively participate in reflecting on and increasing the representation of diverse racial and other identities in course materials.  Dr. Hodel’s work brings attention to intersectionality to ensure that students are supported in all of their identities.  

After utilizing equity-minded pedagogical strategies, Dr. Hodel reports that her course assessments indicate improved student learning and decreased intergroup prejudice. Eighty-five percent of the students in the course Race, Class and Gender indicated they were more aware of and working on their biases, and 78% felt the classroom was a safe place to “talk about race and support one another” as a result of the course innovations utilized by Dr. Hodell.  As a testament to Dr. Hodel’s equitable teaching practices, she reports that the semester she implemented some of these activities, “not a single student dropped the course, something that had never happened before”.   

Dr. Hodel’s racial equity work also extends to her department.  As part of her service as a member of the Department of Communication Studies’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, she analyzed nearly 200 films or scripts used by the department in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation.  The results are being used by a number of departmental members “to examine our learning materials”.  Dr. Hodel responded to the data by further diversifying the material she uses in her courses and indicates that students have responded with both appreciation and increased attention to issues related to race in their course assignments.

Dr. Hodel’s commitment to continuing the work of supporting the success of racially diverse students and their white peers was summarized in the concluding sentence in her application materials: “My reformation efforts thus far proved a passionate commitment to achieving equity in college access and outcomes for students, and I look forward to continuing my efforts.”


Presidential Award for Distinguished Teaching

This award recognizes outstanding performance and/or innovation in teaching at either the undergraduate or graduate level. It is presented annually to no more than two Bridgewater State University faculty members who have taught as full-time faculty at the university for at least four years.

2023 Recipient
Dr. Halina Adams
Department of English

The committee was in awe of Dr. Adams and, upon observing her class sessions, believed they were in the presence of someone with a gift for teaching. She knew all of her students in the introductory-level course that was observed, including their name, their strengths, and what sort of person they were. She went 1-by-1 through the classroom and knew exactly which way to push each student toward maximum learning. The students were all incredibly motivated and prepared for the class session observed. Everyone was participatory and ready to discuss the concepts of the day. In another class observed, Dr. Adams was helping students prepare for the upcoming midterm. It was an interactive session that included both a general review and jeopardy-style questions that allowed them to earn extra credit, which everyone received. She showed great interest in ensuring every student knew the material and was successful on the tasks of the course. In yet another class observed, Dr. Adams took great care to record the questions offered by anyone in the class about an upcoming assignment (a testament to the fact that the students truly felt comfortable asking these questions), acknowledged this contribution to helping the class understand it better, and then proceeded through each question in a way that offered additional teaching to that point and advice for the specific aspect of the assignment. She had examples from previous semesters ready to show with guiding comments on the side (anticipating many of their questions) to help this new group of students understand both the “how” and “what” of the assignment. The learning environment of Dr. Adams’ classroom was welcoming and calming, a place where students could ask questions and participate, a place where they could feel like themselves and talk to Dr. Adams as a mentor. The course materials presented by Dr. Adams, such as syllabi and assignments, were clear, inclusive, and written as an invitation to learn 

2023 Recipient
Dr. Xiangrong Liu
Department of Management and Marketing

Dr. Liu had positive class sessions which were engaging to the students and provided a supportive environment for the somewhat difficult material being learned. She made the class session interactive by going step-by-step through problem sets and asking students to participate in each step of solving them. She used some problem examples as a model for the class, and some that she asked the students to try on their own, and all of which were just like the homework they would have afterward. She made the topic of market forecasting interesting and fun by infusing relevant anecdotes and easy to learn structures for working through the multi-step problems. As students worked out problems on their own, she asked for students to share their answers and participate in some of the steps to solving it; upon doing so, she seemed to know the students by name and if they might struggle with the task. To help model how to solve the problems, Dr. Liu easily moved between the whiteboard and projector with an organized presentation to help students understand why this problem solving was important and how to actually do it. The pace of the course was slow, and exactly as the students needed. Dr. Liu expressed faith in her students’ abilities to solve the problems they were working on in class and would do for homework and directly said this during the class sessions. Additionally, Dr. Liu does an impressive amount beyond the classroom that contributes to student learning, including leading the CUBEs program and being the co-coordinator of the Sustainability Program, both of which she infuses into her courses through projects and content.


Presidential Award for Distinguished Part-Time Teaching

This award recognizes excellence in teaching by full-time temporary faculty who have taught as a full-time temporary faculty member at BSU for at least three of the last six years. The award is presented annually to one faculty member, currently serving in a full-time temporary role.

2023 Recipient
Professor Joseph Doyle
Department of Physics, Photonics and Optical Engineering

Professor Doyle has a student-centered learning environment and is a well-rounded academic, colleague, and team-player. As his nominator explains, “His background is diverse, and he has mastery of many subjects. The main course he teaches for our department is Exploring the Universe, a [course that fulfills the core] curriculum science lab requirement. He also teaches several highly enrolled seminar courses, such as a SYS on the Science of Star Wars, and a FYS on The Exploration of Space….He brings a great breadth of knowledge into all of these disparate courses and is able to weave his knowledge to instill a love of learning for his students. … Joe’s enthusiasm for science and his ability to generate curiosity in his students is extraordinary. He can show students the wonder of our universe.” Prof. Doyle is clearly an asset to his department. His department chair notes, “[He] is a passionate communicator of science with the public. He regularly assists in the physics department’s public outreach through the observatory or with Open Lab Night or other CASE activities. [He helps] to lead book club discussions at the Bridgewater Public Library…. He just loves talking about science and science ideas with everyone, and he is very good at it. Our majors know Joe, and he talks with them on the observing decks and around the department, positively influencing our entire department culture.” 

2023 Recipient
Professor Thomas Smith
Department of English

Part-Time Faculty, Department of English – Professor Smith is clearly thoughtful about his approach to teaching. He is a huge asset for students transitioning to BSU, important to the BSU community, has a strong emphasis on continual improvement, and a strong commitment to assessing student progress during the semester and working hard to meet the needs of the BSU community and his students. As his nominator explains, “What I think makes Tom so successful as a writing teacher is that he cares deeply about the success of his students. This drives him to think seriously about the kinds of writing assignments he asks his students to do. … Tom uses technology in savvy ways and asks students to compose in genres and in mediums that more closely resemble the kind of writing they will do in careers and in the world. This immediately engages students in the writing….[Additionally,] Tom always conferences with students about their writing, another…high-impact practice that he is not required to do but does because he is committed to helping students become the best writers they can be.” As another of his colleagues expresses, “The engagement Tom has with our first-year students is nothing short of extraordinary. He is dedicated to their success and constantly seeks ways to ensure that first year experience is valuable to them. Teaching [first year writing] is not easy by any means, and Tom is one of those hand-picked to teach enhanced sections of FYW, meaning he works with our most vulnerable students.” 

Dr. V. James DiNardo Award for Excellence in Teaching

The Bridgewater Alumni Association established this award in 1984 in honor of Dr. V. James DiNardo, executive vice president and professor emeritus. The award is presented to a full-time faculty member whose contributions include mastery of subject matter, enthusiastic teaching style and personal attention to students.

2023 Recipient
Dr. Lisa Litterio
Department of English

Dr. Litterio has spent her time at Bridgewater working collaboratively within and outside of her department. With colleagues in her department, she produced workshops helping students understand the usefulness of an English degree and currently co-coordinates the first-year writing courses. Across campus, she can be seen collaborating with programs such as CUBEs, Career Services, and the College of Graduate Studies. She has held leadership positions on campus, including that of co-coordinator of Writing Across the Curriculum. Dr. Litterio’s teaching is often focused on real-world application of writing skills, such as grant writing, business writing, and technical writing. She extends student writing beyond the classroom, traveling with her students to sites such as the New England Holocaust Memorial, Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial, and the Black Heritage Trail. Her colleague and nominator wrote, “Dr. Litterio’s empathy and interest for students extends through her teaching and policies. She meets one-on-one with students in all of her classes…she is flexible with deadlines…and her assessment policies focus on process rather than product.” The success of her teaching is evidence in her student nominator’s letter: “I continue to register for her courses because she is a dedicated professor who is knowledgeable of the subject matter, cares about her students, supports students throughout the semester, and effectively teaches the subject matter [in a way] that is suitable to everyone.”


Presidential Award for Excellence in Collaboration to Improve Teaching

This award recognizes innovation in the development of teaching programs that meet well documented need(s) and have significant impact. Examples include, but are not limited to, collaborative teaching assignments, faculty, librarian and staff collaboration projects, teaching innovations specific to faculty development programs, curriculum development and/or revision, improvement in the quality of teaching through assessment or other means and new academic program initiatives.

2023 Recipients
Dr. M. Caitlin Fisher-Reid, Department of Biological Sciences
Dr. Heather Marella, Department of Biological Sciences

Awarded for their work on BIOL 123: Becoming a Biologist – The development of BIOL 123 was originally funded by a BSU Academic Innovation Grant in 2018-2019, and although they had to pivot given the pandemic and the effects of that on learning modalities and student enrollment trends, they have been able to settle into a format of the course that works well for their students and provides an equitable foundation to begin the biology major. There is clear intentionality behind the course content that enables learning practical lab skills using real organisms (bean beetles!) and career guidance through profile videos and a handbook made by their co-PIs of the grant. Dr. Fisher-Reid and Dr. Marella co-teach the course, and student feedback suggests they are excellent role models in one of the first courses students take in the major. Due to the success of the course, it has been added as a required course for all biology majors, and because it does not have any pre- or co-requisites like some of the other first year courses in the major, students who are not ready for the other introductory courses can still take this and begin their biology journey. They have established baseline data from before the course was in place and collect ongoing enrollment and retention data related to the course, all of which show positive outcomes.


Innovations in Teaching with Technology Award

The Innovations in Teaching with Technology Award focuses on technology innovations in teaching by full-time, full-time temporary or part-time faculty in their face-to-face, online and HyFlex courses.

2023 Recipient
Dr. Susan Eliason
Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education

In 2022, Dr. Eliason adopted the ActiveFlex model, an innovative variation of the HyFlex model that offers students a choice each week to attend class in person or to watch the recorded video lecture through the campus’s Panopto lecture capture system and complete a learning activity that substitutes for in-class participation.  Regardless of the modality adopted by students, Dr. Eliason ensured that students would engage with one another outside of class time through their Blackboard course site and their Flip asynchronous video presentation platform
This innovative hybrid method is applicable across many disciplines and provides a much more manageable approach for faculty who find the standard hyflex format (simultaneously teaching to in-person students and live students via Zoom) to be too demanding. The ActiveFlex model also highlights the value of student choice, an evidence-based Universal Design for Learning practice that promotes learning by increasing greater student autonomy, accessibility, and engagement. Indeed, the data Dr. Eliason collected of her class demonstrated higher achievement of course learning outcomes and greater student engagement.


Faculty & Librarian Award for Excellence in Academic Advising

2023 Inaugural Recipients

Dr. M. Nikki Freeburg
Department of Counselor Education

Dr. Freeburg is adept at assessing difficult situations for students quickly and with care and providing advice that holds the best interests of them at the forefront of her decision making. She advises students not only on course registration needs, but also research opportunities, internships, and other experiences that will help expand their learning and career opportunities. Her graduate student nominator gushed, “Dr. Freeburg’s passion, enormous intelligence, and belief in her advisees’ ability to grow and flourish in this program (not to mention her fiery brand of humor!), is a gift that I wish every graduate student were able to access from a faculty advisor.”

Dr. Caitlin Finning-Golden
Department of Accounting and Finance

Dr. Finning-Golden personally contacts and connects with every single student on her advisee list, which given her large advisee load and role as chairperson, is quite a feat! She uses technology to help advance her department’s efforts at advising and support students who need alternate ways to connect with their advisors. Dr. Finning-Golden was nominated by all of her department colleagues, and as they eloquently point out, “[Dr. Finning-Golden] is always available for brainstorming or simply supporting ideas to best inform and assist ACFI students in understanding their career options. She frequently has dialogues with the Management & Marketing department about required ACFI courses to assist them in advising their majors and minors. [And she] proactively mentors new faculty in the advising process…[to ensure] an ongoing, deep student-centered culture in our department.”

Dr. Suanne Maurer-Starks
Department of Health and Kinesiology

Dr. Maurer-Starks recognizes that advising is more than just helping students with their selection of courses; it includes career planning, navigating the department, and creating a sense of positive community and recognition among students. Dr. Maurer-Starks was nominated by an undergraduate student, who illuminated, “I have so much appreciation for Doc Suanne not only as an advisor and professor, but also as a role model. She acknowledges that the students she advises and teaches are more than just sponges of knowledge that come and go from the classroom. She recognizes and respects us as individual human beings that have different backgrounds, different responsibilities at home, different goals, and different experiences, and I have infinite gratitude for her for this.”

Dr. Sarah McQuarrie
Department of Music

Dr. McQuarrie goes above and beyond the call of advisor to ensure each of her students is on the right path of courses to match their career goals. If students are facing personal or academic difficulty, she is there for them with community and campus resources and moral support and pushes them to be the best they are capable of. Her student nominator explained how although the college experience “has not been an easy trek…whatever I bought to the table, Dr. McQuarrie met with grace and patience, and without her believing in me and pushing me to be the best I could be, I’m not sure that I would ever have gotten the change to teach in a classroom.”

Ms. Diptiben Mehta
Maxwell Library, Reference Services

Ms. Mehta has worked to create a culture within the library that showcases an excitement toward research. Students flood to the library for her “research parties” and actively seek out advice from the librarians because of this initiative. Ms. Mehta is also open to sharing her own story of immigration with BSU’s multilingual students. As her colleague and nominator explains, “She understands how to help students [who are non-native speakers of English] navigate college and to reach out to resources.  She knows these students encounter more barriers than native speakers, but she emphasizes the advantages of being bicultural.”

Dr. Lara Watkins
Department of Anthropology

Dr. Watkins advises students in the evening and online programs in Anthropology, Criminal Justice, Psychology, and Sociology for the College of Continuing Studies. She is a founding member of the part-time academic advising staff in Continuing Studies and has helped set the standard of excellence in the college. As her colleagues and nominators point out, Dr. Watkins “explores innovative ways in which to serve the growing number of students in the College of Continuing Studies. [One example is the] creation of a new virtual ‘How to Register’ tutorial session … to assist students in preparation for the course registration process.”

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