Alma College’s top awards for faculty excellence recognize superior teaching in the areas of English, mathematics, economics and physics.
ALMA — Morgan Fonley and Matthew Cicci are the 2021 recipients of the Andison Awards for Excellence in Teaching, and Victor Argueta-Diaz and Robert Cunningham have received this year’s Barlow Awards for Faculty Excellence.
The Andison Awards for Excellence in Teaching
The Andison Awards, made possible by a gift from trustee Thomas Andison, recognize excellence in teaching through pedagogical innovation, creative activities with students, and superior teaching. Faculty members nominate their colleagues for the award, and the president selects the recipients, who each receive a $1,000 cash grant to support their scholarship.
Fonley, who has taught at Alma since 2015, received the Andison Award for tenured faculty. She is an assistant professor of mathematics and computer science.
“I feel incredibly honored to receive this award. I find teaching to be personally rewarding, and it means a lot to me to hear my work described in a positive light,” Fonley said. “This year I have been especially grateful for the hard work, flexibility and grace of the students I have encountered.”
Fonley has a Ph.D. in applied mathematics and computational sciences from the University of Iowa. She is currently working with a research group to provide a framework for comparing hydrological models at the small scale to determine the scale at which their resulting streamflow hydrographs converge.
“(Fonley) is enormously talented in every possible way that a professor can be,” her nomination letter states, “yet she always is unassuming, ready listen to others. I suspect that this quality is part of what makes her such a phenomenal instructor: she is the epitome of professional competence, and she exudes personal warmth.”
Cicci, who has also taught at Alma since 2015, received the Andison Award for untenured faculty. He is an assistant professor of English.
“I am honored and humbled to receive this award, especially considering the trying year we — students, staff and faculty — have all been working through,” Cicci said.
“I’ve been teaching with the hybrid-flex modality, and the job of making everyone, no matter where they are, feel like they are part of the same classroom has been a challenge. However, over the year, I’ve learned a lot — both in the use of digital tools to facilitate learning as well as in communicating across the streaming platforms we’ve all become accustomed to.”
Cicci has a Ph.D. in English (film and media) from Wayne State University. He is currently writing a collaborative multimedia article that examines compositional practices of musicians and compares them to the writing practices many composition instructors teach in the classroom.
“Matt is a versatile teacher, knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects in a rapidly changing field; he is deeply committed to our students’ learning and highly engaging in the classroom. Our students are lucky to have him in the classroom, and we are fortunate to have him as a colleague,” Cicci’s nomination letter states.
The Barlow Awards for Faculty Excellence
The Barlow Awards, made possible by a gift from Joel Barlow, a 1929 Alma graduate, recognize faculty members for excellence in teaching, scholarly or creative work, and college and community service. Recipients are nominated by faculty, administrators, alumni and student Barlow Trophy nominees. The president selects the awardees, who receive $1,000 cash grants.
Argueta-Diaz, an assistant professor of physics, has taught at Alma since 2009. He has a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from The Ohio State University.
“I’m very happy to be getting this award,” Argueta-Diaz said. “It was quite a different year for all of us, and many times I felt overwhelmed with everything. … It is going to sound like a cliche, but it was the little things that helped me: having coffee with my wife in the mornings, playing with my kids, and teaching.”
Argueta-Diaz was nominated, in part, for his work in producing face shields and face extenders for healthcare workers in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with developing the college’s new physics and engineering major.
“Beyond his service to the community, Vic also stands out for his willing experimentation and collaboration with faculty across the disciplines. He has designed innovative and exciting courses that bring physics and engineering to students across the disciplines with courses like Monster Workshop and Toy Design,” his nomination letter states.
Cunningham, an associate professor of economics and chair of the business administration department, has taught at Alma since 1999. He has a Ph.D. in economics from Binghamton University.
“I think Alma’s faculty are really good at their jobs — teaching, mentoring, advising, service, their scholarly activity — and so the fact that someone thought I was worthy to even be nominated, much less win the award, is very humbling,” Cunningham said. “Being a college faculty member is by definition a delayed gratification endeavor, so to be recognized by my colleagues is a nice feeling of accomplishment.”
Cunningham was nominated, in part, for his leadership as a department chair, mentoring two junior colleagues, editing an economics textbook and implementing innovative pedagogical changes in his courses.
“Despite having been at Alma College for more than two decades, (Cunningham’s) commitment to his students, the discipline, and the institution remain impressive and impactful,” his nomination letter states. “His quiet leadership across campus is, I think, related to his humility, personal integrity and commitment to our community.”