Meet the faculty who teach online and are being honored by Penn State this year

Penn State has recognized faculty members who teach online and staff members who support online learners with awards for their work in the 2023–24 academic year.

Ten faculty members who teach through Penn State World Campus have received Penn State awards for teaching excellence and service. Two World Campus staff members received awards honoring their contributions in their roles.

Each year, Penn State honors its faculty and staff with a variety of awards. Penn State faculty who teach online through Penn State World Campus are eligible to receive these University awards. Each year, many faculty who teach online are among the recipients from the various colleges and campuses of Penn State.

Here are the 2023–24 academic year awardees who teach online and support online learners.

Award-winning faculty who currently teach online

Anna Divinsky, an assistant teaching professor of art, received the 2024 Teaching and Learning with Technology Impact Award. Divinsky is on the faculty of the College of Arts and Architecture and is the online coordinator for the college’s School of Visual Arts.

The Teaching and Learning with Technology Impact Award celebrates the accomplishments of faculty members whose work transforms education through the use of technology. The award is given in recognition of excellence represented by a single contribution or series of contributions.

Nominators pointed to Divinsky’s innovative uses of technology to increase inclusive access, student engagement, and feedback on her teaching practices. In 2013, she created Penn State’s first massive open online course, or MOOC, called “Introduction to Art.” She’s exploring how virtual reality can foster community and student dialog in asynchronous online courses. Through a two-year Penn State Faculty Fellows program, she has implemented 3D art galleries into her online courses.

Divinsky is the program coordinator for the Bachelor of Design in Digital Multimedia Design that is offered online.

Shaun Gabbidon, distinguished professor of criminal justice, is a recipient of the 2024 Faculty Scholar Medals for Outstanding Achievement. The award recognizes scholarly or creative excellence represented by a single contribution or a series of contributions around a coherent theme.

Gabbidon earned the award for social and behavioral sciences. Nominators said he is internationally known for his research and publications in the specialty area of race and justice, making unique contributions in several areas.

Nominators said Gabbidon continued to reshape research with his most recent work, “Shopping While Black: Consumer Racial Profiling in America,” which details racial profiling in retail settings. Gabbidon and a collaborator worked with a Fortune 500 company to analyze the policies and procedures for sales and loss prevention.

Through books and research publications, Gabbidon continues to reshape how criminology and criminal justice are taught and researched by incorporating the contributions of Black scholars. Most notably, he co-authored the book African American Criminological Thought, which went back into the late 1800s and included voices of underrepresented scholars in the field.

Gabbidon teaches in the Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice program.

Peter Buck, an affiliate faculty member, is the recipient of the 2024 Barash Award for Human Service. The award honors a full-time member of the faculty or staff or student body on the University Park campus who, apart from their regular duties, has contributed the most to human causes, public service activities and organizations, or the welfare of fellow humans.

Nominators said Buck has advocated for community climate action both as an instructor at Penn State and as a public official.

Through these efforts, he and colleague Brandi Robinson, associate teaching professor in the John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering, are working with Penn State World Campus and University Park students to create climate action plans for communities across the state. Nominators said this effort benefits both students and communities that lack the resources to create responses to climate change.

Many of the students with whom Buck has worked are majoring in energy and sustainability policy, which is offered online by the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Buck has served as a supervisor in Ferguson Township, Centre County, and on the board of the State College Area School District.

Kenan Ünlü, professor of nuclear engineering, is the recipient of the 2024 President’s Award for Excellence in Academic Integration. The award is given to a full-time faculty member who has exhibited extraordinary achievement in the integration of teaching, research, or creative accomplishment and service.

Ünlü teaches in the Master of Engineering in Nuclear Engineering that is offered online through the Penn State College of Engineering.

Nominators said Ünlü has fully integrated technical leadership, community service, and educational outreach. They said this integration has amplified a transformative influence on research reactors in the U.S. and internationally.

Ünlü also made education advances. He created the nuclear security master’s program at Penn State, including developing course work, training personnel, and building the physical laboratory with state-of-the-art detection systems. As the first of its kind in the world, this curriculum will prepare students to become the next generation of technical experts in nuclear and radiological security around the world, nominators said.

Edward Jenkins, professor of practice in accounting, received the 2024 Faculty Outreach Award. It honors faculty who positively and substantially affect individuals, organizations, or communities through problem-solving or development as a result of extending their scholarship.

Jenkins teaches in the Master of Taxation program that is offered online in partnership with the Penn State Smeal College of Business.

Nominators said Jenkins has greatly benefited the community through his leadership of Penn State’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which offers tax assistance to low-income individuals as well as providing educational opportunities for Penn State students. Through VITA, he also recently developed an outreach program to assist student-athletes with issues related to the now-permitted Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) income.

Faculty awardees who have taught online

Michelle Vigeant-Haas, an associate professor of acoustics and architectural engineering, is the recipient of the 2024 Howard B. Palmer Faculty Mentoring Award.

Vigeant-Haas has taught in the Master of Engineering in Acoustics program offered online by the College of Engineering.

The award is given to a full-time faculty member who has exhibited extraordinary achievement in the integration of teaching, research, or creative accomplishment and service.

Allison Henward, associate professor of education, received the 2024 Graduate Faculty Teaching Award. It is awarded to a faculty member in recognition of outstanding teaching performance and advising of graduate students.

Henward has taught in the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction offered online by the Penn State College of Education.

Jacqueline O’Connor, professor of mechanical engineering, was one of the recipients of the Alumni/Student Award for Excellence in Teaching and has been named a 2024 Penn State Teaching Fellow. The award honors distinguished teaching and provides encouragement and incentive for excellence in teaching.

O’Connor has taught in the Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering program that is offered online by the College of Engineering.

Lolita Paff, associate professor of business and economics, was one of the recipients of the 2024 Milton S. Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching. The award, named in honor of a former University president, recognizes excellence in teaching and student support among tenured faculty who have been employed full-time for at least five years with undergraduate teaching as a major portion of their duties.

Paff designed an accounting course and has taught in the Bachelor of Science in Accounting program that is offered online by Penn State Harrisburg.

Nominators said Paff takes a personalized approach to education, engaging them in the topics while making them feel part of the learning process.

Sommar Chilton, associate teaching professor of communication sciences and disorders, is one of the six faculty members who have received the 2024 George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching. The award honors excellence in teaching at the undergraduate level.

Chilton has taught in the Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies program that is offered online by the College of Health and Human Development.

Former students said Chilton is committed to engaging and inclusive teaching.

Penn State World Campus staff receive awards

Michelle Wiley, director of academic development at Penn State World Campus, received the 2024 Shirley Hendrick Award. It recognizes an administrator who has contributed to the success of Penn State’s efforts to serve adult learners.

Nominators said Wiley is a consummate educator at her core. They said she uses her academic and professional background along with creativity and critical thinking to assist Penn State World Campus students.

Wiley has improved education for students by improving existing programs and creating new ones.

She was instrumental in broadening the scope of the SmarterMeasure assessment through the implementation of consultations between staff and students to provide students with a better understanding of their results and resources available for areas of need.

Wiley, along with a team of content experts, planned, developed, and implemented “Smart Track to Success,” a two-semester course on academic and life skills, mentoring, and assistance. It’s designed to connect students to the campus and to beneficial resources. The effort has also increased awareness and access to scholarships, helping to ease financial concerns for adult learners.

Wiley partnered with the program planning and management team in the early stages of implementing She now leads the Academic Development Services team to manage the valuable services it provides to support World Campus students in persisting each semester. Her efforts have led to a permanent tutoring program with World Campus Academic Development.

Terry Watson, assistant director of academic advising and student disability services at Penn State World Campus, has been honored with the 2024 Dr. James Robinson Equal Opportunity Award. It recognizes a full-time faculty or staff member with at least two years of active service who has promoted equal opportunity through affirmative action and/or contributes to enhancing the educational environment of the University through improving cross-cultural understanding.

Nominators said Watson is a key member of academic advising and student disability services, offering invaluable leadership to a team of 60 academic advisers and disability specialists. They said he’s instrumental in continually advancing the unit’s understanding of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Watson manages more than 150 student cases, and nominators said his commitment to their success is inspirational. He’s also just as committed to former students.

He serves on action-oriented committees to drive out discrimination for students, staff, and faculty. He participates on search committees, advises on accessibility, shares innovative approaches to streamline processes, and improves cross-cultural understanding.

Media Contact:
Mike Dawson