2021 Award Recipients

Jamie Lau

Jamie Lau, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology
Donald N. Dedmon Distinguished Teaching Professor Award

“Copious volumes of glue,” Jamie Lau, Ph.D., says, listing a number of items – PVC pipes, mosquito netting, funnel traps, nuts and bolts are some others – that her students used to build their own equipment for a research project: “Emerging as adults: Relating the genetic presence of aquatic insects to spring adult emergence.” Lau is a big believer in promoting critical thinking through making; thus, having students construct the necessary equipment was critical to the process. It’s just one of many reasons Lau was nominated for the Donald N. Dedmon Distinguished Teaching Professor Award. Another is her desire to seek service opportunities that open doors for her students to reach their academic and career goals. These and countless other student-centered projects and initiatives are designed, Lau explains, to “build a science identity” in her students through collaboration, authentic research experiences in the classroom and her interdisciplinary research program. A science identity can be established, too, through Lau’s redesigned course labs that cast aside traditional “canned labs,” she says, in order to be course-based undergraduate research experiences, or CUREs. These labs give students an opportunity to design a research project where the outcome is unknown, “which aligns well with the scientific process of experience and discovery,” Lau says. It also allows for more collaboration between students and faculty, creating a stronger bond between the two.

Gabriella Richards
Student Honoree

Gabriella “Gabi” Richards is a biology major in her second year at Radford University. During her first year, Gabi was immediately involved in a research project in which she and her team compared the pH levels and crayfish abundance of the New River and the wetland near Radford University. She presented this research at the 2020 Winter Creative Activities and Research Days. Her abilities led Dr. Lau to recruit her to the “Stream Team” where she excelled in performing stream assessments and organizing other students into a highly efficient data collection team! Gabi also showcased her scientific mind by writing a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) proposal entitled, “The effect of pipeline installation on predator and prey densities in a small stream ecosystem.” She will spend the Fall 2021 semester collecting preliminary data to support the submission of her SURF proposal. She is also preparing for the Physics study abroad trip and will be travelling to Alaska for one week to conduct research with Dr. Rhett Herman. There, she will be sampling ice cores about 320 miles north of the Arctic circle and determining whether she can detect environmental DNA within the ice. Gabi not only excels in research, but also thrives in leadership roles. Last year, she served as the secretary of Biology’s chapter of Beta Beta Beta, a National Biology Honors Society, and will be serving as the president during the 2021-2022 academic year. In the short time Dr. Lau has known Gabi, she quickly demonstrated her drive, passion, and intellectual abilities. Post-Radford, Gabi plans to earn a doctorate in Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences and become an ecology professor. Dr. Lau has no doubt that she will excel in reaching her goals, and she is grateful for the opportunity to ride the aquatic ecology dream with Gabi.          

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Justin Anderson, Ph.D., Biology Chair, Professor of Biology
Distinguished Faculty Advising Award

Justin Anderson

For Justin Anderson, the “key to good advising is building relationships with my students,” he says. A professor of biology and chair of Radford University’s Department of Biology, Anderson serves as the academic advisor to all new biology majors in their first year – 80 to 120 students in a given semester. His advising process begins during Quest orientation and flows into each student’s first and second semester, when he learns more about them – their backgrounds, their goals, how they are adjusting to college life – and helps students connect with other faculty and individuals around campus. Anderson also helps students discover their specific interests in biology. “My students are biology majors, so it’s important to train them to be biologists,” with all the excitement, uncertainty and carefulness inherent in a scientific field, he says. To expand students’ experiences, Anderson helps them find research projects and internships and assigns a faculty advisor “whose interests align with theirs,” Anderson explains. Through his cell biology course, Anderson gives his students an opportunity to make presentations at a statewide microbiology conference. For those students “who realize biology is not fun for them,” he helps them find the academic major that suits their interests. “It essentially comes down to how I can help each of my students complete their bachelor’s degree and reach their goals,” he explains, “while clearing obstacles in their paths.”

Salvador Simpson
Student Honoree

Salvador Simpson is currently a sophomore biology major whose future plans involve medical or graduate school. He is on the men’s tennis team, and comes to us all the way from California. In his first semester at Radford in Dr. Anderson’s cell biology course, he was still trying to figure out his major and career goals. He stood out as being interested in the class project and inquisitive about biology in general. Over the course of the following semester and summer, he had many discussions with Dr. Anderson about career paths, majors and course requirements, and research opportunities. He joined Dr. Anderson’s research lab to begin a project studying bacteriophage virulence. As part of that project, he will be developing a deeper understanding of the virus he isolated in Dr. Anderson’s cell biology course last year. He is also serving as a teaching assistant in that course, sharing his experiences with first-year biology majors. Dr. Anderson looks forward to watching Salvador grow as a scientist over the next three years. 

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Michele Ren, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English
Distinguished Service Award

Michele Ren

Understanding and addressing the needs of Radford University students has been “an ongoing  project for me over the last five to six years,” says Associate Professor of English Michelle Ren, Ph.D. Ren has always had a desire to create a better learning environment for her students, and it has driven her to seek supportive volunteer opportunities, such as working with civic engagement committees, creating and conducting Safe Zone  training,  leading  book clubs on social justice topics and collaborating on the creation of an African American Studies minor. Those have been important endeavors, but there are others, she feels, that may have led to her nomination for the Distinguished Service Award, such as collaborating with faculty to start a food bank for students called “The Cupboard” and organizing the “Wall of Moms” as an ally for students at The Bigger Picture rally in 2020. Ren describes her service as focusing on issues of equality, justice and safety for Radford students. “I’m not sure how I could be effective at teaching if I didn’t do this work,” Ren says. “It’s one thing to ask my students if they are OK, but, beyond that, I need to help make sure that there are resources available to them if their answer is ‘no.’”

Eniyah Byrd
Student Honoree

In our Fall 2020 Freshman Composition class, English 111, Eniyah introduced herself as a graduate of  Clover Hill High School in Chesterfield County who excelled academically and as someone with “plans to continue to produce greatness here at Radford University.” That fall she kept her word., not an easy feat for most first-year students, but particularly difficult in a global pandemic. I had the pleasure of working with Eniyah again in the Spring Semester for English 112, and her work was just as good, in fact, her GTA and I tried repeatedly to convince her to minor in English. A Social Work major, a resident assistant, and a leader in the Chi Alpha Campus Ministry, I chose Eniyah for this award, not just because she was an outstanding student in my class(es), but because it seemed appropriate that my good fortune in winning this award for service should be shared with a student who, in her own words, “would like to serve.” I’m convinced Eniyah will “produce greatness here at Radford University” and beyond and I am so grateful to be a small part of her journey. 

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Ji-Eun Lee, Assistant Professor of Dance
Distinguished Creative Scholar Award

Ji-Eun Lee

Ji-Eun Lee’s career as a dancer and instructor has given her opportunities to perform and choreograph world- wide, collaborating with national dance companies throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas such as Ecuador National Dance Company, Japan International Ballet Company, German Wee Dance Company, Prague Chamber Ballet, etc.

When she began her teaching career at Radford, Lee wanted to provide the same opportunities for her students. “It is my obligation,” she says, “through my teaching and art, to provide my students with opportunities for growth.” That passion and commitment led Lee to found the Professional Dance Career Development Program soon after arriving on campus in 2016. Since then, her students have begun following in her dancing footsteps. Some have collaborated with Korean dance professionals, and two were finalists at the Seoul International Dance Competition, the largest such event in Asia. “Such opportunities are extremely rare for undergraduate students, who are rarely commissioned to set pieces or participate in international festivals, which are open only to professional dancers,” Lee explains. But thanks to Lee and the University’s Professional Dance Career Development Program, “more and more Radford University dance students have been able to do both.”

The effort Lee has put into her artistic endeavors and teaching and her focus on student success have had a lasting impact on the careers of Radford students and alumni..

Arjunahlisa Shoda
Student Honoree

Originally from Washington D.C., Arjunahlisa Shoda began her dance training at the age of seven at The Washington Ballet southeast campus at THEARC and continued her training at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. In high school, she attended dance conferences such as the International Association of Blacks in Dance and participated in various master classes. During her high school years, Arjunahlisa was also inducted into the National Honor Society and the Cathedral Scholars Program and has continuously been on the Honor Roll since her first year of high school. Arjunahlisa's experiences inspired her to major in Dance and Business Management with a concentration in Entrepreneurship. 

Since joining Radford, Arjunahlisa has been thrilled to further her education and grow her skills. She has participated in both faculty and guest artists’ dance pieces covering multiple genres, including Modern, Jazz, Hip-Hop, and African dance. Arjunahlisa has also taken on multiple leadership roles. She has been a Resident Assistant for two years, as well as a DCCAP Representative. She is also a member of the university’s RU Rockers dance team, a scholar of the Davis College Fellows Program, and treasurer of the Circle K International Club focusing on community service. She has accomplished all this while maintaining Dean's List status since her first year. Through the spirit of dance and entrepreneurship cultivated at RU, Arjunahlisa wishes to be in business by herself, dedicated to designing dance costumes specifically for dancers of color.

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Merrie Winfrey, J.D., Instructional Designer and Learning Architect in the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning
Administrative and Professional Excellence Award

Merrie Winfrey

“I do what I can do to get the rider and the elephant down a clear path,” says Merrie Winfrey, describing the professional philosophy of “supportive behavior change” she employs to support the teaching and learning of Radford University’s students, faculty and staff. Winfrey, an instructional designer and learning architect in the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, derived the rider-and-elephant metaphor from a book, “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.” In this framework, Winfrey says, the rider represents rational thought. The elephant is emotion, and the path is a situation. “In order to change behavior,” she says, “you have to direct the rider, motivate the elephant and shape the path.” Winfrey’s strengths of motivation, facilitation and organization are reflected in recent campus initiatives in which she was involved, such as a series of workshops she facilitated to help make general chemistry labs more engaging, inclusive and closely aligned with learning objectives. Winfrey also developed the popular monthly Podcast Lunch and Learn discussion series between faculty and staff and has served as co-chair of the University’s Diversity and Equity Action Committee. “I try to address teaching and learning needs and wants but also to point people in the right direction of better practices,” Winfrey says. “Sometimes I nudge. Sometimes I push. I offer, and try to get people to see, options and possibilities.”

Jasmyn Reace
Student Honoree

Jasmyn Reace, from Washington, D.C., is a Psychology major and an English minor in the Honors College in her third year at Radford University. As a first-year student, Jasmyn was a valuable member of the Defining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group of the university’s Diversity and Equity Action Committee. She provided significant input and stood her ground on language that was important to her in the face of disagreement from a faculty member. Jasmyn’s voice made the group’s product better. She also works on campus in the Telephone Outreach Program, calling alumni. In that job, Jasmyn is responsible for communicating the goals and accomplishments of the university to potential donors while soliciting them for monetary donations. She was working this job in the Spring of 2020 when we had to go to remote teaching and learning. That program was put on hold, so she opted to join the Keep Students Working project. Jasmyn was one of thirteen students who completed three hours of asynchronous online training and worked from home to make Word documents and PowerPoint presentations accessible for people with disabilities. Jasmyn wrote about that unexpected opportunity, “I thought that the job would be hard to understand but I actually really enjoyed the experience. I am happy that I was able to learn a new skill that I can add to my resume and I was able to help the students in need.” Jasmyn is an impressive young woman who has a bright future ahead of her.