The Regents’ Awards program is a statewide competition established in 1996 to recognize the brightest University System of Georgia educators for their success in various departments and disciplines. For UWG, the 2016 nominees are: Jeffrey Zamostny for the Individual Teaching Award, Frank Stonier for the Online Teaching Award, Christopher Jett for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award and the Mass Communications Department for the Program/Department Award.
Since 1997, UWG has had three winners at the state level. In 1997 the Department of Geology received the Program/Department Award under the chairmanship of Dr. Johnny Waters; in 2007 the Individual Faculty Award was presented to Sharmistha Basu-Dutt from the Chemistry Department; and in 2014 Kimberly Huett won the the Online Teaching Award from the field of Educational Technology and Foundations. With this year’s nominations, UWG hopes to expand their list of winners.
For the 2016 Regents’ Awards, each college/school at UWG had the opportunity to nominate an individual or program the following four categories: Individual Teaching, Online Teaching, Program/Department and Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.
Nominees were first recommended by a colleague within their department, and were then asked to compile a three-page packet describing their professorial achievements. A committee within the college reviewed the proposals, and selected their candidates to advance to the next level of competition. From there, prospects from each college/school were interviewed by an interdisciplinary committee, and the final nominations were selected from this pool of candidates.
Jeffrey Zamostny, the nominee for the Individual Teaching Award, is a Spanish professor in the Foreign Languages and Literatures Department and also serves as the director of the gender and sexuality studies minor. He started working at UWG in the spring of 2012 after finishing his Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies at the University of Kentucky, and focuses his research primarily on popular culture of early twentieth-century Spain, and particularly on questions of gender, sexuality, celebrity and fandom. By winning this recognition, Zamostny hopes to expand on the instruction and learning opportunities he offers his students.
“I think learning a foreign language also teaches a student about cultures other than one’s own,” said Zamostny. “Learning both the language and the culture of other people has the potential to give students perspective on their own language and culture – a deeper and more critical perspective.”
For the Online Teaching Award, UWG has nominated Frank Stonier, assistant professor for the Learning and Teaching Department. Stonier came to UWG in 2011 and has taught courses ranging from Professional Seminar to undergraduate and graduate social studies, with a focus on integrating more online courses. Stonier broke major ground when his Investigating Social Studies Methods (ECUD7264) course became the first within the College of Education to be taught through Quality Matters, a national accreditation agency that looks at online courses.
“There’s pros and cons to both [online and face-to-face courses],” stated Stonier. “With online [courses], students are able work ahead and in a way at their own pace. I like that they can work to their schedules; students know what’s expected, when due dates are, and they know how to turn in assignments, so there’s that organization aspect.”
Christopher Jett, assistant professor for the Department of Mathematics, is nominated for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award. Jett is in his fourth year teaching at UWG and enjoyed that he could work both as a researcher and educator within the Department of Mathematics.
“I am thrilled that I won the UWG portion of the competition,” said Jett. “To say that I am excited would be an understatement. Honestly, the feeling is some sort of conglomeration of many positive feelings.”
The Department of Mass Communications will continue to the state level as UWG’s nomination for the Academic Department/Program Award.
The Department of Mass Communications and the Department of Theatre Arts were once a dual-department with a Bachelor of Arts curriculum. In 2011, the two departments split and both became independent entities. Since then, the Department of Mass Communications has made great strides making the switch from a B.A. to a B.S. program and revamping their curriculum to better prepare its graduates for an ever-changing professional market.
“What we really do is try to make sure that the students realize that they are not just citizens within a discipline, but citizens within a global culture,” said Gant. “So no matter what field you’re going into, we really like for students to see themselves that way.”
According to the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment, Mass Communications is the second largest undergraduate declared major at UWG, trailing the Psychology Department’s 700 declared majors with 580 majors. From 2012 to 2014 the amount of new students within the department rose from 97 to 124. The first to second year retention rate for new undergraduate students also saw a significant jumped from 42.7% in 2012 to 72.7% in 2014. Department Chair Dr. Camilla Gant attributes this increase to multiple factors, but primarily to the department’s focus on students’ advising.
“We have 100% of our faculty who advise, we do ongoing trainings and we’re putting into place different initiatives to ensure students get the classes they need [to graduate],” said Gant. “So as a student, it may seem frustrating when the classes fill up really quickly, but that’s a good thing because what it means is we’re growing faster than we can keep up with the demand.”
The department also recruits freshmen and sophomore level students through events like their Open House, where all the experiential learning labs – bluestone public relations firm, The West Georgian, WUTV, and The WOLF Internet Radio – open their facilities and talk with interested students on getting involved in their intended medium.
Gant hopes through their continuous recruitment efforts and their attention to retention, the Department of Mass Communications will continue to grow in the coming years.
The UWG nominees will submit their extended packets to the statewide review board in January and will be notified of the decisions by February. Awards are presented at the Regents’ Gala on April 29, 2016.