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Widener Honors Faculty for Teaching, Research and Civic Engagement

Widener honored the outstanding work of six faculty members.

Widener University on Thursday honored the top faculty in the areas of teaching innovation, research, and civic engagement at its annual Faculty Awards Banquet. Dr. Jill Black, assistant professor of physical therapy; and Dr. Scott Van Bramer, professor of chemistry, garnered top honors at the event coordinated by the Office of Teaching, Learning and Assessment.

"I share the external reviewers' commendation of our faculty's remarkable contributions and take great delight in being associated with each and every one of them," said Stephen C. Wilhite, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. "I am honored to champion their dedication to their students and their constant pursuit of excellence."

Black, a resident of Claymont, Del., received both the Outstanding Researcher Award and the Faculty Award for Civic Engagement.

The Outstanding Researcher Award recognizes a faculty member who is acknowledged nationally for his/her research and scholarship, quality of scholarly work, contribution to the profession/discipline and contribution to promoting the university's mission and vision. Dr. Itzick Vatnick, professor of biology and environmental science; and Dr. Ning Wang, professor of education, were honored as nominees.

The Faculty Award for Civic Engagement recognizes a faculty member's contributions to Widener's civic engagement mission, especially the contribution to students' understanding of their social responsibilities, and the impact of their disciplinary learning in a particular program involving community constituencies. The winner of the award is selected from the finalists for the Fitz Dixon Innovation in Teaching Award and the Outstanding Researcher Award. Dr. Vatnick was honored as a nominee.

Black's research focuses on exploring cultural issues and community engagement in physical therapy. She contributed to the creation and operation of the Chester Community Physical Therapy Clinic, the first student-led, stand-alone pro bono physical therapy clinic in the United States.

Black's article highlighting the model for the clinic is published in the journal Physical Therapy. This model has been used by at least 10 other physical therapy graduate programs to establish their own student-led physical therapy clinics.

Black has utilized quantitative and qualitative methodologies to research and provide evidence in support of community engagement, service-learning, international clinical education and student-led pro bono services in physical therapy. Black has 23 publications in peer-reviewed journals, and more than 25 professional presentations related to her scholarly works. She has also contributed several book chapters and monographs, served as co-editor of a textbook on cultural competency in physical therapy, and as assistant editor of a special topic issue on the internationalization of physical therapy in The Journal of Physical Therapy Education.

Black earned a doctorate in physical therapy from Widener, a doctorate of education in curriculum and instruction, a master of science in exercise science, and a bachelor of science in physical therapy from the University of Delaware.

2014 Faculty Award WinnersVan Bramer, a resident of Wilmington, Del., received the Fitz Dixon Innovation in Teaching Award, which recognizes a faculty member who has designed and implemented an innovative or experimental teaching/learning project. Dr. Robert Bonk, professor of professional writing; and Dr. Brent Satterly, associate professor of social work, were honored as nominees.

Developing engaging and inquisitive minds through critical thinking habits is central to Van Bramer's teaching philosophy. His project involved using focused feedback to improve critical thinking and learning outcomes in chemistry students. Van Bramer led the chemistry faculty in revising the chemistry laboratory sequence taken by science and engineering majors and the senior capstone experience for chemistry majors. The design of the courses and experiences shifted from giving students detailed step-by-step instructions to giving students structured feedback to guide their learning. Through this enhanced course design, students receive regular and guided feedback on presentations, papers and lab experiences with opportunities to improve their work.

Assessment findings confirmed that the learning outcomes and student retention improved and were accompanied by high levels of faculty and student satisfaction with the changes in teaching and learning activities. This innovation in course design and use of focused feedback to enhance critical thinking resulted in 10 national and regional presentations and was published in an American Chemical Society symposium series publication.

Van Bramer earned his doctorate in analytical chemistry from the University of Colorado, and a bachelor of arts with distinction in chemistry from The Colorado College. He has been with Widener since 1994.

Applications of all three awards were reviewed by external academic leaders Dr. William Clyde, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs for Manhattan College; Dr. Nancy Hensel, president of New American Colleges and Universities; and Dr. Elizabeth Paul, provost and vice president for academic affairs for Stetson University.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate's, baccalaureate, master's and doctoral degrees. The university's campuses in Chester, Exton, and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., serve some 6,300 students. Widener is proud to be a tobacco-free university. Visit the university website,



Photo Caption:  Widener University President James T. Harris III (left) and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Stephen C. Wilhite (right) congratulate award winners Jill Black and Scott Van Bramer.