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Faculty Honored for Teaching Innovation, Research, Civic Engagement and Institutional Leadership

Vicki Brown is a Distinguished Professor

Pictured from left to right are School of Engineering Dean Fred Akl, Widener University President Julie E. Wollman, newly appointed Distinguished University Professor Vicki Brown and Senior Vice President and Provost Stephen C. Wilhite.

Widener University honored its top faculty in the areas of teaching innovation, research, civic engagement and institutional leadership at its annual Faculty Awards banquet held Oct. 6.

“It is a genuine honor to recognize these dedicated faculty members who were nominated by their colleagues for their scholarship and for the impact they make in our students’ lives,” said Dr. Stephen C. Wilhite, senior vice president and provost. “At Widener, we prize excellent teaching, scholarship and leadership, as well as engaging students with the community. We think it is important to stop for a moment and publicly honor our very best and most dedicated faculty,” he continued.

At the Oct. 6 ceremony, Dr. Vicki Brown, professor of civil engineering, and Dr. Ning Wang, professor of education, were named Distinguished University Professors. The Distinguished University Professor Award honors individual faculty members of distinction on the Main Campus and demonstrates to the broader community that the university is committed to recognizing excellence in teaching, scholarship and service throughout the faculty member’s career. They will serve as Distinguished University Professors for a three-year term

Dr. Vicki Brown, a resident of West Chester, Pa., chairs the Civil Engineering Department and is known as a demanding teacher who continually challenges her students. Students and alumni point to her passion for ensuring students’ mastery of essential knowledge and skills. Brown previously received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. Her work on fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) composites for reinforced concrete structures has earned her an international reputation in the civil engineering profession. Of her research on the behavior of FRP reinforced concrete beams subjected to sustained loads, Dr. Lawrence Bank of the City College of New York observed, “These studies have been invaluable to the American Concrete Institute in its development of design codes.” Since 2000, Brown has led an engineering camp for girls in association with the Philadelphia section of the Society of Women Engineers.

Dr. Ning Wang of Bryn Mawr, Pa., teaches quantitative methods in educational research and evaluation in the School of Education, Hospitality and Continuing Studies.  She has published numerous articles in leading international journals in educational measurement. According to one of her peers, “Her paper on Rasch IRT analysis in standard setting is viewed by many as a ‘must read’ paper.” Junior faculty members particularly appreciate Wang’s mentoring.  One of her colleagues observed, “She has offered honest feedback, generous support, advocacy and encouragement. She is a dedicated scholar, a trusted adviser and a passionate educator. She serves as a reminder to me of why I wanted to become a faculty member, and she has set a high bar in terms of the contributions I hope to make to the institution and our students throughout my own career.”faclty

Dr. Bretton Alvaré of Lansdowne, Pa., an associate professor of anthropology, received the Fitz Dixon Innovation in Teaching Award.  The award is given to an individual who has designed, implemented and assessed an innovative or experimental teaching and learning project.

Alvaré designed a sequence of anthropology courses where each builds upon the previous. Two noteworthy examples are his courses examining the anthropology of Chester. At the beginning of the 100-level cultural anthropology course, students choose from a list of activities designed to illuminate the culture and history of Chester.  Before they begin the class, students write a “letter to self” that lists pre-conceived notions they hold about Chester, and then, at the conclusion, students read their letters and write a final reflection on how their field experiences altered or reinforced their initial perspectives. In his 200-level urban anthropology course, each student conducts extensive fieldwork with a single community partner and uses his or her data to create an organizational analysis.  Students then share their findings with their respective organizations, offering recommendations on how to improve their program effectiveness. 

Dr. Daniel Robinson, a Wallingford, Pa., resident, and professor of English, received the Outstanding Researcher Award. This recognizes a faculty member who has exhibited distinction in scholarly work and has made a significant contribution through research to advancing the profession or discipline and the university’s mission.

Robinson’s research focuses on the literature of the Romantic period, particularly poetry by Wordsworth and Coleridge. His textual scholarship has enabled him to involve his students through their direct participation in the archival research that leads to the publication of new editions from the period. Dr. Sharon Meagher, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, noted, “Dr. Robinson's students now share his passion for careful textual research. He trains them well and then trusts them to do original research on specific texts. The students take their responsibilities seriously and do exceptional work. Dr. Robinson has taken several students to the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere, England, so that they have a chance to work with original manuscripts.”

Dr. Marina Barnett of Yeadon, Pa., associate professor of social work, received the Civic Engagement Award for sustained outstanding contributions to Widener’s civic engagement mission through her teaching and research.

Barnett uses a Community Based Participatory Research Model to empower communities, working with more than 40 organizations in Delaware and Philadelphia counties. Barnett involves students in this work through service learning that incorporates new technology, including global information systems. She also actively engages students in establishing new partnership to create sustainable change. To date, Barnett has garnered more than $1.6 million in grants for nonprofit organizations in Chester. In partnership with those nonprofits, she and her students have developed programs, engaged in planning processes to decrease crime, conducted community-based research and engaged in service learning processes that documented housing conditions, food insecurity and crime hot-spots. 

Dr. Scott Van Bramer of Wilmington, Del., professor of chemistry, received the Institutional Leadership Award for a record of leading initiatives that further the university’s vision, mission and strategic objectives.

Van Bramer serves as chair of the faculty at Widener, and as chair, he has worked to improve communication among faculty and between the faculty and the administration.  He played a key role in the revitalization of general education at Widener and in the university’s recent strategic planning process. Van Bramer shaped the strategic objective calling for rigorous academics and high-impact practices, focusing the goal on student learning.  For years, he has been a leader of assessment processes at all levels of the university. The Faculty Grants and Awards Committee said of his leadership, “Rigorous academics and shared governance are at the core of this university, and the way we think about them today is due to Dr. Van Bramer’s leadership work.”

Applications for the awards in teaching, research, leadership and civic engagement were reviewed by a panel of external academic leaders, including Dr. Lily D. McNair, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Wagner College; Dr. Beverly Schneller, associate provost for academic affairs at Belmont College; Dr. Francine Navakas, Bramson Professor in the Humanities and associate vice president for academic affairs at North Central College; Ms. Marisol Morales, director of civic and community engagement at University of La Verne; Ms. Nuala Boyle, director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Nazareth College; and Dr. David Salomon, chairperson of the English Department and director of the Kathleen A. Donnelly Center for Undergraduate Research and director of study abroad at Russell Sage College.

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, baccalaureate, master, and doctoral degrees. The university’s campuses in Chester and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., serve over 6,000 students. Visit the university website, www.widener.edu.