WSU Names 2009 Presidential Distinguished Professors

OGDEN, Utah – Professors representing the disciplines of geosciences, history, performing arts and sociology are the 2009 recipients of Weber State University’s Presidential Distinguished Professors award.

Performing arts professor Jim Christian, sociology professor Brenda Marsteller Kowalewski, history professor Susan Matt and geosciences professor Adolph Yonkee were selected by WSU’s Board of Trustees. They will formally receive their awards at the university’s spring commencement exercises May 1.

Each professor will receive a cash prize of $16,000, payable over four years, which may be used to further professional academic goals. Honorees also will retain the Presidential Distinguished Professor title throughout their tenure with the university. Upon retirement from WSU, “Emeritus” will be added to the end of the title. The professors also will be featured on the Honor Wall for Presidential Distinguished Professors located on the second floor of the Stewart Library in the west atrium.

Funding for the annual recognition program was made possible by a generous gift from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. The program was established in 2006 as a way to recognize outstanding WSU faculty members who demonstrate the highest quality of teaching, scholarship, research and community service.

“It is a pleasure to recognize such an exceptional group of distinguished professors,” said President Ann Millner. “While they represent very different disciplines on campus, they share a strong commitment to teaching, scholarship and excellence. All four recipients have made lasting contributions to the university.”

“This year’s honorees exemplify what this award is all about,” said Provost Michael Vaughan. “We are very grateful to this donor for recognizing the important role faculty play in the lives of our students and the vitality of the campus.”

Faculty members are nominated by current or past WSU colleagues, administrators and/or students.

Nominees are screened and evaluated by a selected group of senior faculty and academic administrators appointed by the provost. The finalists are recommended by the president of the university to the Board of Trustees for approval.

Jim Christian

A Utah native, Christian has more than 30 years of professional experience as a director, choreographer, teacher, actor, writer and producer in the areas of theater, television and film. He has served as WSU’s director of musical theatre studies since 1988 and is currently adviser to nearly 70 theatre arts majors. Christian’s students describe him as an “entertaining professor,” an “excellent director” and a “great communicator.” His dynamic teaching style and availability to students earned him the Rodney H. Brady Crystal Crest Master Teacher award in 1996.

As a stage actor, Christian has appeared with the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Pioneer Memorial Theatre, San Diego Civic Light Opera, Park City Egyptian Theatre and Utah Musical Theatre. He has appeared on the television series “Touched By an Angel” and “Promised Land,” in the made-for-television films “A Town Has Turned to Dust” and “A Crime of Passion,” and in numerous films for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Christian also has served as associate producer for the television and radio broadcasts of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Christian’s talents as a director and choreographer have earned both state and national recognition. In 2008, he directed and choreographed “Fiddler on the Roof” for the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespearean Festival and will return to the festival this year to direct “The Secret Garden.” In 1994, Christian’s original musical, “The Pirated Penzance,” was chosen to be one of six shows to debut at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., as part of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Christian served as artistic director for Utah Musical Theatre for 10 years and has guest directed with the Pioneer Theatre Company, Utah Opera and Utah Symphony.

Brenda Marsteller Kowalewski

Students in Kowalewski’s courses are encouraged to think beyond the classroom. By engaging them in service learning, a teaching and learning approach that integrates community service with academic study, the sociology professor is teaching them to make a difference in the world. Her innovative teaching methods have earned her “excellent” ratings on peer evaluations and have twice landed her among the five finalists for the Crystal Crest Master Teacher award.

Kowalewski also heads up the Community Involvement Center (CIC) at WSU, which helps professors incorporate service-learning components into their courses. Through service-learning opportunities, students have addressed a wide array of local issues, including access to education, health care and economic development, and have participated in projects with local agencies to improve the quality of life for area residents.

Kowalewski led WSU’s efforts to attain the Carnegie Foundation’s Community Engagement Classification, which demonstrates the school’s dedication to working with the community. WSU was one of only 119 schools to receive this classification in 2008, joining 76 other institutions that were honored by the foundation in 2006.

On the scholarship front, Kowalewski has published several peer-reviewed articles on the gender wage gap that have appeared in sociology journals, and has presented her research at national and international conferences. Her current scholarship agenda involves community-based research projects for two community organizations. These ongoing projects provide applied research opportunities for more than 20 undergraduate students a year. She has actively presented and published articles on both the research and the teaching pedagogy.

Susan Matt

Matt is known at WSU for her outstanding reputation as a teacher, scholar and colleague. A history professor, she has a unique talent of combining high expectations with a comfortable classroom atmosphere. Her teaching skills have been acknowledged through impressive student evaluations and repeated nominations for the Crystal Crest Master Teacher award.

Undergraduate research is one of her passions, and she has supervised and co-supervised more than a dozen student projects ranging in focus from “Basque Festivals in the American West” and “Mexican Repatriation in New Mexico During the Great Depression” to “Walt Disney’s Defense of the American Culture” and “The Theology of the Millerites.” Students working with Matt have presented their research projects at national and regional conferences and often enter prestigious graduate programs.

Matt is an accomplished writer, having published a ground-breaking book through the University of Pennsylvania Press called “Keeping Up With The Jones: Envy in American Consumer Society, 1890-1930,” which garnered excellent reviews by National Public Radio, the “Atlantic Monthly” and The New York Times. The manuscript of her new book, “Homesickness in America: A History,” is currently under contract with Oxford University Press and scheduled for publication in 2010. Matt’s works were made possible, in part, through external research and travel fellowships from Yale University and Duke University.

Matt has demonstrated great leadership at WSU, serving as chair of the Department of History and sitting on the University Planning Council. She also has been chair of the Holocaust Commemoration Committee, Women’s History Month, the American Historians Committee and the WSU Research, Scholarship and Professional Growth Committee.

Adolph Yonkee

Adolph Yonkee came to WSU in 1991 and has served as chair of the Department of Geosciences since 1997. During his tenure, he has demonstrated excellence in research, teaching, service and administration, earning the support and respect of his colleagues. Yonkee is noted for his remarkable patience—giving as much time to students as they require—and an insatiable passion for learning.

Yonkee, who says he began his geologic career as a child, avidly searching for fossils across the badlands of Wyoming, continues to share this enthusiasm with others. Over the years, he has been involved with cutting-edge research that has been recognized at an international level. He has published more than 20 peer-reviewed papers in such flagship journals as the “American Journal of Science,” “Pure and Applied Geophysics,” “Journal of Structural Geology,” and the “Geological Society of America Bulletin.” He also has given presentations at multiple conferences, including a recent talk on the Wasatch fault zone at the Geological Society of London.

Recently, Yonkee was awarded two National Science Foundation collaborative research grants, focusing on fluid-rock interactions in naturally deformed rocks and processes of continental rifting. Previous research grants have dealt with how curved mountain belts form, including studies of the ancient Sevier mountain belt in Utah and Wyoming. These and other grants have provided students with many field and research opportunities, helping them enter graduate programs and become effective scientists. In addition, Yonkee has recently taken the lead for the College of Science in acquiring a scanning electron microscope that will be used for multidisciplinary research and educational outreach.

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Michael Vaughan, provost
801-626-6006 •
Amy Hendricks, office of Media Relations
801-626-6346 •

Presidential Distinguished Professors

Craig Oberg
Gene Sessions
Sam Zeveloff

Eric Amsel
Yasmen Simonian
Michael Wutz

Bradley W. Carroll
Brian Davis

Jim Christian
Brenda Marsteller Kowalewski
Susan Matt
Adolph Yonkee

John Cavitt
Lauren Fowler
Ed Walker