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Generous alumni and donors have created awards to recognize the excellent work done by Arts & Sciences faculty. These awards are united by a belief that faculty are the heart and soul of any university, and that the reputation of a university depends in great measure upon the quality and character of the faculty.

We warmly appreciate the countless contributions of the Arts & Sciences faculty to the education of our students. We congratulate the winners of these prestigious awards, and we thank the generous donors who make it possible.

Bess Vlaisavljevich

President's Award for Research Excellence: New Mid-Career Faculty
Bess Vlaisavljevich, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry, has been at USD for three years, and in this short time, she has built a research program that brings national and international scientists together. She has published a career total of 48 peer-reviewed articles. Vlaisavljevich’s research approach uses multiple computational methods to understand complex systems in inorganic chemistry, f-element chemistry and materials science. She serves as a reviewer for the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the American Chemical Society’s Petroleum Research Fund. Vlaisavljevich is a senior investigator, principal investigator (PI) or co-PI on five successful grants from the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy currently totaling $1,126,849.

Zhenqiang Rick Wang

President's Award for Research & Innovation
Zhenqiang (Rick) Wang, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, has established an innovative research program developing novel nanostructured materials and exploring their applications and commercialization in areas including clean energy, the environment and biomedicine. He and his team strive to take fundamental discoveries from the lab to find real-world applications to benefit the economy, the community and society. To date, their innovation and entrepreneurship efforts have led to a patent, numerous federal and state grants, and several local media reports. Wang’s team at USD invented a novel class of nanomolecules termed “metal-organic supercontainers (MOSCs),” that have the potential to serve as a therapeutic for meth overdose.

Raluca Simons

Jeffrey Simons

President's Award for Research Excellence: Established Faculty
Raluca Simons, Ph.D., professor of psychology and director of the Disaster Mental Health Institute, and Jeffrey Simons, Ph.D., professor of psychology, were jointly awarded for their collaborative and integrative efforts in studying at-risk populations, including those affected by trauma in early childhood or combat. Raluca is an expert in emotion, effects of traumatic stress, child maltreatment and veteran’s mental health. Jeffrey’s research focuses on substance abuse, and he is an expert in advanced statistical modeling approaches and theoretical models of self-regulation. One of their earliest collaborations resulted in the Distress Tolerance Scale, a tool widely used in both clinical and research contexts. They have pioneered the use of smartphones and transdermal alcohol sensors to provide real-time assessment of behavior in the natural environment. Both have numerous publications in top journals, and they have devoted much of their time to supporting student research.

Blair and Linda Tremere Faculty Service Award
Julia Hellwege, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science, received the Tremere Award, which is presented to a member of the college faculty who has demonstrated outstanding public service to the local community or to the state of South Dakota. Hellwege joined the USD faculty six years ago and has contributed to her community through public service as an elected member of Vermillion City Council, a member the Vermillion Home Rule study committee and as an organizer for a campus-wide diversity event. She also served as coordinator for National Voter Registration day and has instilled a sense of community citizenship in her students through a Civic Engagement project for her American Government class.

Jillian Linster

Monsignor James Doyle Humanities Teaching Award
Jillian Linster, Ph.D., lecturer in the Department of English, earned the Doyle Award, which is given to a college faculty member in a humanities discipline. Linster, who earned her master’s degree in English from USD in 2011, has taught online classes full-time since 2017 and on a part-time basis for many years prior. Her standard classes are Composition I and II and Introduction to Literature. This summer and next year, she will teach Introduction to British Literature and a new Professional Writing course. At the onset of moving USD classes to remote learning the spring, Linster produced a guide on best practices for Arts & Sciences faculty members based on her years of online instruction.

Richard and Sharon Cutler Faculty Awards

Three members of the College of Arts & Sciences faculty have received the 2020 Richard and Sharon Cutler Faculty Awards in Liberal Arts. This year's recipients are Elise Boxer, Ph.D., assistant professor of history and program program coordinator of the Native American Studies Program, Matthew Fairholm, Ph.D., professor of political science and Kenneth Renner, Ph.D., professor biology.

Elise Boxer

Elise Boxer, Ph.D., assistant professor of history and program coordinator of the Native American Studies Program, won the award in the humanities division. Boxer is the sole faculty member appointed to Native American Studies, where she developed and taught 16 new courses since joining USD in 2014. Her research focuses on Mormon and Indigenous history in the U.S. West.


matthew fairholm

Matthew Fairholm, Ph.D., professor of political science, earned the honor in the social sciences division. He has taught public administration and leadership studies at USD since 2002. His approach to teaching undergraduates through doctoral students includes respecting the learning process of students at each level and modeling critical thinking, decision-making skills and a responsible application of knowledge in the broader community. Fairholm has written two books on leadership and regularly engages in outreach with nonprofit and government organizations.

Kenneth Renner

Kenneth Renner, Ph.D., professor of biology, is the recipient in the math/science division. A USD faculty member since 1994, Renner’s approach to teaching is to assist students in gaining a foundation in basic scientific principles, an understanding of mechanisms underlying physiological responses, current problems in the field and the interest to learn more. His recent research has been directed towards understanding the role of corticosterone-sensitive organic cation transporters in the brain with respect to the regulation of the stress response.

The Cutler Awards are presented to faculty who advance liberal arts education through teaching and research over a three-year span.

Belbas-Larson Award for Excellence in Teaching 

Shane Nordyke

Shane Nordyke, Ph.D., honored in the tenured category, is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science in the College of Arts & Sciences, the director of the Government Research Bureau and the Allene R. Chiesman Distinguished Professor of Democracy.

Nordyke received her Ph.D. in Public Policy from Indiana University in 2008. Her research includes pedagogical research on the best practices for teaching research methods and applied research in the areas of public and highway safety. She serves as the co-editor of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning section of the Journal for Political Science Education and is currently finishing her book, "Planning and Evaluation for Public Safety Leaders: A Toolkit," with Routledge press. Her teaching primarily focuses on public policy and research methods, including Information Literacy, Introduction to Public Policy, Environmental Law and Policy, and National Security Policy.

Lisa Ann Robertson

Lisa Ann Robertson, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of English in the College of Arts & Sciences and was honored in the tenure-track category.

Robertson earned her M.A. at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, in 2006 and her Ph.D. at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, in 2013. She teaches a wide range of historical British literature classes, ranging from eighteenth-century to Romantic to Victorian fiction and nonfiction texts. Her research centers on representations of minds and bodies in writing by Romantic-era poets, scientists and philosophers, particularly as it relates to aesthetics and ethics.

She has taught graduate seminars on this topic as well as on gothic fiction, the sensation novel and literature by black transatlantic writers. Robertson incorporates extracurricular elements into her classroom, such as screening films at the local movie theatre in her Film and Literature class or having students present at IdeaFest, USD’s annual student conference. Currently, she is writing a monograph entitled “Embodied Organicism: Cognition, Aesthetics, and Ethics in British Romantic Literature and Science.”

Jake Kerby in a wetland area holding a net and wearing bib overalls.

Truman and Beverly Schwartz Distinguished Faculty Award

Jacob Kerby, Ph.D., associate professor of biology, has been named the sixth recipient of the Truman and Beverly Schwartz Distinguished Faculty Award. Kerby is widely known for his expertise in amphibian disease. Since arriving at USD, he has published over 50 papers and garnered over $1.5 million in research funding. A recipient of numerous teaching awards at USD, including the Belbas Larson Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2014, Kerby employs innovative pedagogical approaches to the courses he teaches, which include Majors Introductory Biology, Disease Ecology Environmental Toxicology, and an Honors seminar on the Science of Good Cooking. The Schwartz Award is presented every third year and provides support for the scholarship, teaching and service of a tenured professor whose record and promise of achievement are exceptional.

Sandy McKeown headshot

Blair & Linda Tremere Professorship in the Arts & Sciences

Sandy McKeown, J.D., associate professor and director of the Criminal Justice Studies Program, is the first recipient of the Blair & Linda Tremere Professorship in the Arts & Sciences.

The Tremere Professorship recognizes tenured faculty member of the College of Arts & Sciences who demonstrate consistently excellent teaching and mentoring. The professorship, along with a yearly salary supplement, will be awarded every fifth year to members of the college’s three academic divisions—social sciences, humanities, and science/mathematics.

In her tenure at USD, McKeown has coordinated and supervised criminal justice student internships, coached the university’s Mock Trial Team, advised three student organizations and organized and hosted regular programming to connect students with professionals in the field. These professional engagement activities include an annual Criminal Justice Career Fair, a monthly speaking series with criminal justice professionals, and a biennial crime scene investigation competition. McKeown has taught a broad variety of courses in different specialties, including Criminal Prosecution and Defense, Constitutional Law, Criminal Justice Ethics and Juvenile Justice. In 2016, McKeown was awarded the Belbas-Larson Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Melanie Wood headshot

Outstanding Instructor Award

Melanie Wood, M.F.A., instructor in the Department of English, earned the Outstanding Instructor Award, which is given to a faculty member in the College of Arts & Sciences who demonstrates outstanding classroom teaching and mentoring of students. Wood, who also holds a master’s in English from USD, began teaching in the department in 2005. She teaches mostly general education and introductory-level courses and strives to ensure her students gain skills and knowledge while also feeling part of the intellectual work at USD. Recently, she worked with the Writing Program Curriculum Committee to introduce Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved as a “common read” book taught in all Spring 2019 Introduction to Literature classes.