Faculty honored for passion and excellence with annual teaching awards

On the eve of the last day of class, East Carolina University recognized the hard work of its faculty members at the 2023-24 University Teaching Awards ceremony Monday in the Main Campus Student Center.

Anne Spuches, right, and Anne Ticknor, chair of the ECU faculty senate, watch a video of Spuches’ students describing the impact she has made in their lives.

Teaching is at the heart of ECU’s mission, Chancellor Philip Rogers said in his opening remarks.

“ECU is so fortunate to benefit from the many talents of our extraordinary and dedicated faculty who are passionately committed to delivering on our mission of student success, public service and regional transformation,” Rogers said. “As I look at the three pillars of our mission statement, all three are critical. All three are important. But it’s quite intentional that student success, more broadly defined as learner success, leads the way. It’s core to who we are.”

Anne Ticknor, faculty senate chair, said lifelong learning in one’s discipline doesn’t automatically translate into effective teaching. “To be an effective teacher, we must also learn how to share content in ways that resonate with our students and inspire them to continue learning,” she said. “Our honored recipients embrace teaching as more than one part of their job; they go above and beyond to ensure our students’ success.”

Faculty members from departments and colleges across the university were honored for outstanding teaching in several award categories.

Anne Spuches, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences College, received the Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching. The award recognizes a sustained record of distinguished teaching by a tenured faculty member and is one of the highest teaching awards presented at ECU.

In a video played at the ceremony, students described what makes Spuches a great teacher, telling how she consistently goes above and beyond to help students, explains complex subject matter, and inspires success in not only chemistry but other courses.

Spuches described her academic journey as accidental.

“I would be lying if I told you that it was my life’s dream to become a professor. If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have listed everything but,” she said.

She intended to be an artist when she enrolled at Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. But she had a nagging feeling that she had made a mistake only two weeks into her program. So she switched to the College of Arts and Sciences.

Jo Anne G. Balanay, associate professor of health education and promotion, stands by a poster depicting some of her work with students. The 2023-24 Scholar Teacher Award winners prepared posters for the ceremony in the Main Campus Student Center ballrooms.

“I was interested in everything,” she said. “The wonderful thing about an education in the liberal arts is that they encourage you to explore, and what I was missing in my freshman year was a science class.”

She liked chemistry in high school and decided to take a course over the summer to “get it out of the way.” She did well, but there was a mistake — a missing lab grade on her transcript — which required her to talk with someone to get it fixed. That person’s words changed her trajectory, she said. “Hey, you are good at this. Have you thought about majoring in chemistry?” the person asked.

Now 30 years later, 17 of those at ECU, Spuches has taught more than 4,100 students. “And to think it wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for an administrative accident and an encouraging word,” she said.

Spuches shared three lessons she has learned during her career: words matter; failure is part of the process; and community matters.

Spuches said she was extremely grateful and humbled to accept the award, thanking her family, colleagues, friends, chemistry department chair Andrew Morehead and Harriot College Dean Allison Danell — and her students “for making it a joy to work at ECU.”

Other faculty members who received awards during the ceremony include:

Board of Governors Distinguished Professor for Teaching Award — recognition of full-time faculty who have taught at ECU for three or more years and who demonstrate exceptional teaching ability:

  • Kawanna Bright, assistant professor, interdisciplinary professions, College of Education
  • Anne Bunnell, teaching assistant professor, biology, Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences
  • Yeliz Eseryel, associate professor, management information systems, College of Business
  • Mauro Falasca, associate professor, marketing and supply chain management, College of Business
  • Rose Haddock, teaching instructor, health education and promotion, College of Health and Human Performance
  • Andrea Sessoms, clinical associate professor, advanced nursing practice and education, College of Nursing

Scholar-Teacher Award — recognition of faculty who effectively integrate research and creativity with their teaching roles

Chancellor Philip Rogers, left, and Sharon Paynter, foreground, join in celebrating faculty members called to the stage to accept their awards.

  • Jo Anne Goot Balanay, professor, health education and promotion, College of Health and Human Performance
  • John R. Drake, associate professor, management information systems, College of Business
  • Gregory Howard, associate professor, economics, Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences
  • Robert Murray Hughes, associate professor, chemistry, Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences
  • Erika Katherine Johnson, associate professor, communication, College of Fine Arts and Communication
  • Jennifer J. Wright McDougal, assistant professor, addictions and rehabilitation studies, College of Allied Health Sciences
  • Mostafa Namian, assistant professor, construction management, College of Engineering and Technology
  • Mark H. Newton, assistant professor, math, science and instructional technology education, College of Education
  • Chandra Speight, assistant professor, advanced nursing practice and education, College of Nursing
  • Kristin L. Squint, associate professor, English, Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences

ECU Alumni Association and Robert L. Jones Awards for Outstanding Teaching — recognition of faculty who exemplify the characteristics of effective teaching outlined in the ECU faculty manual

  • Catherine M. Gardner, assistant professor, music, College of Fine Arts and Communication
  • Jennifer M. Valko, associate professor, foreign languages and literatures, Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences

Robert L. Jones Award

  • Kelli Russell, teaching assistant professor, health education and promotion, College of Health and Human Performance

Max Ray Joyner Award for Outstanding Teaching in Distance Education — honors a faculty member who has shown commitment and enthusiasm for teaching and mentoring off-campus students, demonstrating excellence in the delivery of online courses

  • Tim Madden, associate professor, management, College of Business

Madden’s name will be added to a sculpture in the main campus library that was designed by School of Art and Design students to represent the spirit of the award.

In closing, Rogers thanked the members of the Faculty Senate Academic Awards Committee and the selection committee for their work. The ECU Office for Faculty Excellence hosted the event.