A trio of University of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty have collected the University of Nebraska system’s most esteemed honors for research, creative activity, teaching and engagement.
Those earning the President’s Excellence Awards are Margaret Jacobs, Chancellor’s Professor of History and director of the Center for Great Plains Studies; Kenneth Kiewra, professor of educational psychology; and Laurence Rilett, professor of civil and environmental engineering, Keith W. Klaasmeyer Chair in Engineering and Technology, and director of the Nebraska Transportation Center and Mid-America Transportation Center.
Announced March 24, the awards recognize faculty across the NU system whose work has had a strong impact on students, university and state.
“Faculty are at the heart of any great university, and the University of Nebraska is fortunate to have some of the world’s best serving across our four campuses,” said Ted Carter, president of the NU system. “The teaching, research and outreach that these faculty do on a daily basis has a remarkable impact on our 52,000 students, state and entire world.
“I am honored to be able to celebrate their work.”
A combined six honors were awarded to faculty across the NU system’s four universities. Husker faculty earned one award in each of three categories.
Jacobs received an Outstanding Research and Creative Activity award. The ORCA recognizes faculty for outstanding research or creative activity of national or international significance.
Kiewra received an Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award. The OTICA recognizes individual faculty who have demonstrated meritorious and sustained records of excellence and creativity in teaching.
Rilett received an Innovation, Development and Engagement Award. The IDEA recognizes faculty who have extended their academic expertise beyond the boundaries of the university, enriching the broader community.
Other NU faculty (all from the University of Nebraska at Omaha) to earn the awards are: IDEA — Christine Cutuache, Haddix Community Chair of Science, associate professor of biology and director of the STEM Trail Center; OTICA — Ramazan Kılınç, associate professor of political science and director of the Islamic Studies program; and ORCA — Nick Stergiou, assistant dean and director, Division of Biomechanics and Research Development, director of the Center for Research in Human Movement Viability.
The awards — selected by an NU-systemwide committee of faculty and community members — will be formally presented at a luncheon in the spring. Biographies of the three Huskers who earned individual 2021 President’s Excellence Awards are below.
Outstanding Research and Creative Activity award
Jacobs studies the history of the American West in comparison with Australia and Canada, focusing on women and gender as well as children and family. For the last 20 years, Jacobs has studied Indigenous child removal. Many of her books and articles concern government policies from 1880 to 1940 that required Indigenous children to be separated from their families and sent to distant boarding schools and other institutions. Her more recent scholarship examines how government authorities in the U.S., Australia and Canada continued to remove Indigenous children after World War II through foster care and adoptive placements in non-Indigenous families. Her current work also examines and promotes reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award
Kiewra’s research pertains to the “SOAR” teaching and learning method he developed and to talent nurturing, particularly the roles parents play. The SOAR method is based on four components – Select, Organize, Associate and Regulate – and strategies that both teachers and students can employ to improve learning outcomes. Kiewra has published more than 100 articles; authored two books for students, one for educators and one for parents; and made more than 500 presentations to educational, corporate and parent groups. He is the former director of UNL’s Nebraska Academic Success Center. A colleague has said, “It is difficult to imagine anyone whose work is more widespread or who is more committed to bringing educational psychology to the people than Dr. Kiewra.”
Innovation, Development and Engagement Award
Rilett, known for his research in transportation system analysis, has said his centers’ outreach programs are the most gratifying part of his work. He works extensively with K-12 students, many of them from underrepresented backgrounds, to interest them in college and STEM fields. He led the development of “Roads, Rails and Race Cars,” an after-school program for middle schoolers that has served more than 12,500 students, including, after a recent expansion, students on the Omaha, Winnebago and Santee Sioux Reservations. He also collaborated with the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs on a STEM summer academy for Native American high school students. Rilett also created the Mid-America Transportation Center’s Scholars Program, which provides mentorship to undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds to help them navigate the graduate school recruitment, admissions and completion process.