Andrew Kania and Daniel Conrad discussing philosophy books
Trinity Faculty Awarded for Excellence in Education
Ten faculty members recognized for being “Best of the Best” during 2020-21

Trinity University’s “Best of the Best” initiative was announced in 2019 to recognize ten faculty members for their exceptional contributions to Trinity’s core institutional mission—teaching, scholarship or creative work, and service. Due to the generosity of an anonymous external donor, Trinity annually recognizes ten recipients with a one-time, non-base building $10,000 salary supplement. As the University presents this award for the final time, we celebrate the remarkable accomplishments of these individuals, a commitment to education and perpetual discovery, and the very best of Trinity.

Meet and congratulate the 2021 recipients of the award:

  • Headshot of Jennifer Henderson

    Jennifer Henderson, Ph.D., Communication

    Jennifer Henderson chaired the Department of Communication during a particularly tumultuous year. She not only adapted her own courses to support the changing needs of students, but also assisted her faculty colleagues in the transition to new forms of teaching and collaborated with the leadership of KRTU to keep programming on the air. In 2020, Henderson developed a new course, GNED 3301: Strategic Problem Solving, and revived COMM 3363: Media Management, which had not been taught for 15 years. She carried a heavy advising load, supporting more than 30 students each semester. This year, she published a chapter in the edited collection Media Literacy in a Disruptive Media Environment (Routledge) and mentored a Mellon researcher to advance the research on an in-progress book about former San Antonio mayor Maury Maverick. Throughout the year, Henderson used her time and talents to participate in a professional association, acting as the Small School Representative on the Executive Committee for the Association for Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication, and to serve on Trinity’s Promotion and Tenure Commission and Ad Hoc Committee to support Early Career Faculty Members.

  • Andrew Kania, Ph.D., Philosophy

    Representing the culmination of four years of work, in 2020, Andrew Kania published Philosophy of Western Music: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge). Kania worked to adapt his courses for both online and hybrid formats and to integrate topics concerning race and disability. He contributed to the Philosophy and Literature Circle, an integrated teaching-and-service project involving a range of Trinity faculty and incarcerated scholars at the Torres Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and participated in Trinity’s Anti-racist Pedagogy Reading Group. In 2020, Kania was an active member of the program committee for the American Society for Aesthetics and the British Society of Aesthetics as well as a manuscript reviewer. Kania hosted “Thinking and Drinking,” a sold-out series of philosophical conversations about music with the general public held at the Pearl, and led three workshops at local high schools, introducing students to philosophical inquiry about music. He was subsequently awarded a Trinity Public Humanities Fellowship for 2020-21.

  • Eddy Kwessi, Ph.D., Mathematics

    Eddy Kwessi published four scholarly papers in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Systems Science, Complexity, and Demonstratio Mathematica. He has another five papers under revision and four more in progress. Last year, he delivered four conference presentations and served as the keynote speaker for the Southern Africa Mathematical Sciences Association Conference in November. Mathematics can be a particularly challenging discipline to adapt to online instruction; Kwessi incorporated the software program Cocalc in his courses to assist students in submitting their assignments online. Students praised the strength and effectiveness of his skills as an instructor. Kwessi served as a member of the VPAA Search Committee, a member of the Trinity Diversity Committee, and a proposal reviewer for the National Science Foundation. In 2020, he joined the editorial board of a statistics journal.

  • Corina Maeder ’99, Ph.D., Chemistry

    Corina Maeder currently oversees a research program supported by three large single-investigator grants, including a 2020 award from the Voelcker Foundation. Exemplifying the teacher-scholar model, Maeder supervised nine research assistants and worked conscientiously to support students in her Introduction to Chemistry course. This year, she reimagined aspects of her teaching to help students develop study skills and foster a greater sense of community. She collaborated with her colleagues to reimagine how biochemistry labs could be effectively delivered online. As co-director of Trinity’s interdisciplinary major in biochemistry and molecular biology, she successfully shepherded the program’s accreditation with the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Maeder also joined the Faculty Senate, worked throughout the summer as a member of the Presidential Task Force for Learning and Teaching, and served as a member of the VPAA Search Committee. The awards committee called her a tireless advocate to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in her department and across STEM education at Trinity.

  • Jennifer P. Mathews

    Jennifer Mathews, Ph.D., Sociology and Anthropology

    Last year, Jennifer Mathews co-published Sugarcane & Rum: The Bittersweet History of Labor and Life on the Yucatan Peninsula (University of Arizona Press) and a book chapter on tourism and archeology. She had another book chapter and entry for an Oxford Encyclopedia accepted for publication. In addition, she delivered three presentations at academic conferences. Praised by her students for her dedication and inspired teaching, in May 2020, Mathews was recognized as one of ten Piper Professors in Texas, an award that recognizes “superior teaching at the college level.” In addition to co-authoring the Workload Task Force report, reviewing academic manuscripts for her discipline, and serving as a member of the TU Roots Commission, she and her students are collaborating with Latin American curators at the San Antonio Museum of Art to research Maya artifacts. Mathews also chaired the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and was a member of the inaugural cohort of Empowering Department Chairs to Lead and Implement Change.

  • Shana McDermott, Ph.D., Economics

    In 2020, Shana McDermott published a co-authored paper in Strategic Behavior and the Environment and submitted four other co-authored papers or book chapters for publication. McDermott is in the second year of a four-year interdisciplinary, intergovernmental invasive species report for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, an effort supported by the United Nations. She served her profession as a co-editor for the journal Agricultural and Resource Economics Review and co-edited the special edition issue “The economic costs of biological invasions around the world” for the journal NeoBiota. A tireless advocate for interdisciplinary research and activism, she advised 25 students across her areas of disciplinary and interdisciplinary expertise in Economics, Urban Studies, and Environmental Studies. McDermott took the opportunity of transitioning to online learning in Spring 2020 to accelerate planned revisions to her courses, managing to engage students and deliver class content in new ways. Prompted by the pandemic, McDermott launched a new empirical research project to chart how the national shift to homeschooling impacted the division of household labor.

  • Heather Sullivan, Ph.D., Modern Languages and Literatures

    An internationally accomplished scholar in the field of German literature and the emerging interdisciplinary field of ecocriticism, Heather Sullivan was named an associate editor this year at the European journal Ecozon@ and published five invited essays in academic journals or edited collections. Sullivan gave an invited talk at the University of Minnesota, and her invited talk at the University of Vienna was postponed to June 2021 due to the pandemic; she accepted future invitations to speak at several other institutions, including Emory and the University of Mainz in Germany. In addition to developing a new Languages Across the Curriculum course (LAC 4102-2: German Eco-science Fiction), Sullivan has been praised by her students for making her German courses engaging in a Zoom format. Sullivan is the president of Trinity’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the vice president of the North American Goethe Society, a member of the TU Athletics Oversight Committee, and an active manuscript reviewer in her discipline.


  • Erin M Sumner

    Erin Sumner, Ph.D., Human Communication and Theatre

    Given her research expertise on computer-mediated communication, at the onset of the pandemic, Erin Sumner gave interviews about maintaining social connections while engaging in physical distancing. Her interviews appeared in San Antonio Magazine and the San Antonio Current and were syndicated in other markets. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, she maintained a research program, publishing or co-publishing three journal articles and submitting another three for publication at peer reviewed journals in 2020. While supporting several students in the graduate school application process, she supervised a Mellon SURF and co-directed the Healthy Relationships Lab. Sumner made several inspired revisions to her courses in the shift to remote learning, such as introducing a new grading contract and employing strategies to make her teaching more equitable and inclusive. Sumner offered many high-impact service contributions last year, serving as a member and secretary of the Faculty Senate, the vice chair-elect of the Human Communication and Technology Division of the National Communication Association, and editorial board member for the journal Human Communication and Technology.


  • Ben Surpless, Ph.D., Geosciences

    Given that geosciences is a discipline that is inherently hands-on, Ben Surpless faced significant challenges teaching his courses in a hybrid environment. Nevertheless, he delivered engaging and meaningful instruction to students learning on and off campus in his Structural Geology course, aided in part by “virtual field trips” in the form of more than 40 short videos he created and posted on YouTube. In 2020, Surpless received the Z.T. Scott Faculty Fellowship for his exceptional teaching, mentoring, and advising contributions at Trinity. Surpless also published a major paper in the Journal of Structural Geology, the premier journal in his field, and had a second accepted for publication in the Geological Society of America Bulletin, an equally prestigious long-form journal. Looking to the future, Surpless submitted a successful grant proposal to the National Science Foundation ($192,830 awarded) that will enable him to undertake an ambitious multi-method program to study the impact of faults on fracture networks and expand his fieldwork to Utah. In addition, Surpless served as the speaker for Trinity’s winter commencement and reviewed seven manuscripts for professional journals.

  • Carolyn True, Ph.D., Music

    In early 2020, Carolyn True delivered several masterclasses, performed with violinist and music professor Joseph Kneer in both Wisconsin and Texas on multiple occasions, and gave concerts with SOLI Chamber Ensemble across south Texas. With the abrupt cancellation or postponement of all public performances, the SOLI Chamber Ensemble began producing virtual programs on its YouTube Channel to continue to provide artistic content for fans in San Antonio and beyond. In her piano courses, True demonstrated creative problem-solving to support her 75 students across the year. She developed innovative pedagogical approaches using iPads, webcams, MuseScore software, microphones, and in one case, provided a paper keyboard for a student who did not have access to an instrument at home. In recognition of her gifts, True received three national awards for her teaching and service to the profession. She was named to the Teacher Hall of Fame by Steinway and Sons, named a Foundation Fellow by the Music Teachers National Association, and received the Outstanding Service Award from the National Conference for Keyboard Pedagogy.


Madeline Freeman '23 helps tell Trinity's story as a publications management and writing intern for Trinity University Strategic Communications and Marketing.

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