Trinity Professors Awarded for Excellence
Faculty and staff honored for distinguished teaching, service, scholarship, and student advocacy
Thursday, May 3, 2018
Group of Trinity faculty

Five outstanding members of the Trinity University faculty have been honored for distinguished achievement in service, teaching, advising, or research. The awards were announced in early May by Deneese Jones, vice president of Academic Affairs.

Psychology professor Kimberley Phillips was recognized for outstanding scholarship, research, or creative work. Jennifer Henderson, professor and chair of communication, was lauded for her commitment and dedication to student advising. In addition, Diane Saphire, associate vice president for Institutional Research and Effectiveness, received an award for distinguished professional, community, and University service.

Two early career faculty members—assistant professors Nirav Mehta, physics and astronomy, and Erin Sumner, human communication and theatre— were cited for distinguished teaching and research.

New this year, one faculty member and one staffer received the inaugural President’s Award for Excellence in Student Advocacy. This award, given by Trinity president Danny Anderson, recognizes faculty and staff who “quietly and selflessly share their heart, time, talent, and treasure” with students. The recipients were Michele Johnson, associate professor of biology, and Jeremy Boyce, coordinator of Athletic Recruitment and Student Success in the Office of Admissions.

Phillips is at the forefront of combining behavioral assessments with brain imaging in nonhuman primates. Her research has led to ground-breaking results in our understanding of the neural correlates of tool use, the evolution of the primate corpus callosum, and how the brain changes with motor learning. Phillips has published more than 60 peer-reviewed scientific articles and has received funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the American Society of Primatologists, and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute. A prolific and innovative scientist, Phillips is recognized for her dedication to training the next generation of scientists and medical and veterinary professionals, including more than 120 students who have trained in her laboratory.

Henderson is regarded by students and colleagues alike as an exemplary University citizen and as a resource for all things advising, both formal and informal. She combines a solid grasp of University policies and personalities with a flair for the creative during advising sessions with dozens of advisees each year: “To me,” one student says, “every advising session is like a new novel with the protagonist narrating the story from the chair next to mine.” Like any good reader, (Henderson) allows the characters to work their magic. In another student’s words, “[Henderson] knew each one of us by name, by our goals, and by our strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, she knew how to help us go where we needed to go.”

Saphire has served the University in countless ways over the past 34 years. At various times, she has co-chaired the Mathematics Department, has served as acting registrar, and has been the faculty sponsor of the Zeta Chi sorority. In her administrative role, she has provided reliable and significant data to a host of campus constituents. She is recognized across campus for her steady leadership of the University’s reaffirmation of accreditation efforts by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. In the community, Saphire was a founding board member and first board president of the San Antonio Chamber Choir. She was board member of the Mind Science Foundation in San Antonio, has served as a leader of the Trinity Upward Bound initiative, and has sung in the choirs of First Presbyterian Church and Northwood Presbyterian Church.

As a teacher, Mehta has worked hard to merge traditional classroom lecture with research-based active learning strategies. Colleagues praise his ability to translate complicated theory into straightforward concepts and “meet [the students] where they are.” Mehta is known for his ability to teach a broad spectrum of upper-division courses and for the amount of time he devotes to students outside of class hours. He regularly sponsors teams for the annual University Physics Competition, in which students go from receiving a hypothetical question to writing a paper on the subject in a single weekend. Mehta has published five papers in peer-reviewed journals since 2014. He has given invited talks at Rice and Baylor Universities and has presented at the Division of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics (DAMOP), the most important national meeting in his field.

Sumner is an innovative and student-centered classroom teacher who has developed and taught a wide range of courses. Perhaps the most noteworthy is the “Quantitative Research Methods” course, which has become a mainstay in the Quantitative Reasoning Approach of the Pathways curriculum. Nine students from this course have presented their work at regional undergraduate honors conferences, and one paper from this course has been published in a top-tier journal in the field. Sumner has published 12 peer-reviewed essays since coming to Trinity; her research focuses on interpersonal communication, with a special emphasis on computer-mediated communication in social and personal relationships. In 2016, she was part of a four-person panel titled Let’s Interface: Connecting Social Research to User Experience Design at South-by-Southwest Interactive in Austin.

Winning the Student Advocacy Award, Boyce is considered a tireless supporter of Trinity University students. From the moment prospective students first set foot on campus, throughout their time at the University, and long after they have graduated, Boyce avails himself as a resource for their success. While his role in Admissions is primarily working with student-athletes, he helps many students, particularly underrepresented students, as they and their families often need more guidance through the admissions process and Trinity. He teaches in the “Academic Success Program” class and mentors male students via his work with the football players and the Men’s Project, demonstrating his passion and drive to help others gain access to and make the most of the life-changing opportunities Trinity University provides.

Since arriving at Trinity in 2009, Johnson, the second Student Advocacy Award recipient, has worked closely with 38 undergraduate students in her research lab, resulting in more than 100 conference presentations (most of those by students) and 17 publications (most with student co-authors). Her national and international travels with students reflect the utmost of care, and her support for first-generation, underrepresented students is incredibly positive and high-impact. She teaches the largest class on campus, “Integrative Biology,” and works hard to make the class feel like a meaningful learning community, getting to know the names of all 220 students in the course. She is one of the faculty advisors of TWIST, the Trinity Women in Science and Technology group, and she guides students applying to the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program. She organizes fundraisers for students, hosts her advisees at events outside of class, holistically assesses what each student needs, and is actively committed to diversity and inclusion.

Susie P. Gonzalez helped tell Trinity's story as part of the University communications team.

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