Annual awards luncheon recognizes Elon faculty, staff for excellence

Four faculty members and 19 retiring employees were honored May 9 for excellence and service to Elon.

Faculty and staff award winners, from left, are Stephen Bloch-Schulman, Shereen Elgamal, Sylvia Muñoz and Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler

Elon recognized faculty members Stephen Bloch-Schulman, Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler and Shereen Elgamal and staff member Sylvia Muñoz for superior teaching, scholarship, mentorship and service at the annual Faculty/Staff Awards Luncheon in Alumni Gymnasium on May 9.

In addition, longtime faculty and staff members who are retiring this year were recognized for their contributions to Elon during their years of service to the university.

Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching

Stephen Bloch-Schulman, Associate professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy

Stephen Bloch-Schulman is regarded as an innovator whose commitment to student learning is inspiring his students as well as advancing scholarship about teaching and learning. His substantial and influential contributions in the field earned him national recognition this year, when he was named the first recipient of the new Excellence in Teaching Philosophy award from the American Association of Philosophy Teachers, the American Philosophy Association and the Teaching Philosophy Association.

Bloch-Schulman joined Elon in 2006 and has established a reputation as talented, passionate and committed teacher who his colleagues say “is constantly challenging himself to become even more effective in forwarding student learning.” An associate professor who chairs the Department of Philosophy, Bloch-Schulman has twice been named a Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning Scholar. He has published extensively and has twice been recognized with the Mark Lenssen Award from the American Association of Philosophy Teachers, which recognizes the best article on teaching philosophy.

“Professor Bloch-Schulman is a national leader in teaching and learning as a scholar, a faculty developer and a service provider,” notes a colleague. “The nexus of his teaching and research on teaching and learning is complex and multifaceted, producing outstanding teaching and outstanding research.”

Bloch-Schulman is known for teaching creative and challenging courses, with a prime example the Reclaiming Democracy course he co-teaches with instructors from six nearby institutions as well as community activists. A colleague involved in co-teaching that course notes that Bloch-Schulman is “the kind of teacher-leader who is unassuming in offering transformational opportunities for students. That is, his self-effacing humor allows him to introduce complex information in accessible ways. In doing so, he routinely plants the seeds of extraordinary ideas for students to consider.”

Since the Elon Academy college access and success program launched in 2008, Bloch-Schulman has been a dedicated instructor. A colleague who first worked with Bloch-Schulman as a teaching assistant the year of its launch notes that “while many philosophers see the practice of teaching as work that is independent of their research, Stephen helped me to see how to integrate scholarship in philosophy with the practice of teaching. From him, I learned to think about education philosophically, to question everything I thought I knew about teaching and to think carefully about each pedagogical choice I make.”

Bloch-Schulman has served as a dedicated mentor to his students and a leader in the area of undergraduate research. He has co-authored four published articles and co-presented 14 conference presentations with undergraduate students and has been a leader within the department in mentoring students pursuing undergraduate research projects.

Among the comments from his students are that he “encourages me to think critically more than any instructor I’ve ever had,” and “reading and writing in this way has caused me to think and challenge myself in ways I’ve never done before.” Three students writing in support of his nomination for this award say that Bloch-Schulman’s practices in the classroom “encourage us, as students, to develop a sense of responsibility for our own education and help us cultivate the habits of independent learners.”

Bloch-Schulman is the 46th Elon faculty member to receive the award established by President Emeritus J. Earl Danieley ’46 and his wife, Verona Daniels Danieley, in honor of their parents.

Distinguished Scholar Award

Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Research and Global Engagement

Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler’s research and scholarship in the area of early childhood development and high-impact practices in higher education has earned her acclaim and established her as a leader in the field of developmental psychology.

Since coming to Elon in 1995, she has published 33 peer-reviewed scholarly articles and has made 55 presentations at international and national conferences, with seven additional manuscripts now under review. Her edited book, “Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research,” will be published by the Council on Undergraduate Research in June. “Throughout my career, I have worked to understand learning in sociocultural contexts, and in particular, the developmental processes of inquiry in early childhood and in college student development,” Vandermaas-Peeler said.

Her career has seen her emerge as an internationally recognized expert in her field, with her research relied upon by her peers and providing the foundation for student learning in the classroom. A professor of psychology at Elon, she is also the director of the Center for Research and Global Engagement, which was created in fall 2015 to facilitate, support and promote scholarship on global engagement.

“Her interest in college students’ development is inseparable from her work in undergraduate research training and global engagement, and her experiences in both contexts inform her research,” a fellow scholar noted. “It is clear that Dr. Vandermaas-Peeler has genuine passion for understanding development in early childhood and emerging adulthood, for exploring the role of culture in social interactions, and for integrating this work with her students’ lived experiences. Moreover, her passion is realized in an extraordinary record of research.”

An Elon colleague reinforces the fact that Vandermaas-Peeler lives out the findings of her research as an active and highly regarded research mentor, noting that she has supervised more than 100 students during her time at Elon. Her close work with those mentees has resulted in 31 presenting at professional conferences, 23 publishing in peer-reviewed journals and far more gaining acceptance to competitive graduate programs and jobs.

“Maureen is clearly dedicated to training the next generation of developmental psychologists and was recognized in 2011 with the Ward Family Excellence in Mentoring Award,” an Elon colleague notes. “Indeed, faculty both inside and outside the department view Maureen as a model mentor and seek her guidance on their own mentoring journeys.”

Vandermaas-Peeler directed the Honors Program at Elon from 2008 to 2013 and has led study abroad programs in the United Kingdom, Italy and Turkey. She was a co-leader in a research seminar on Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research with Elon’s Center for Engaged Learning from 2014 through 2016.

A colleague involved with the Council on Undergraduate Research explains that Vandermaas-Peeler “exemplifies the ideal of the Elon teacher-scholar” in her scholarship and in the classroom. “As one of a select group of national undergraduate research leaders who combine high levels of proficiency in research on high-impact practices, undergraduate research program direction, direct student mentorship and active engagement as a teacher-scholar-administrator, Maureen stands out,” the colleague said.  

Vandermaas-Peeler is the 19th recipient of the Distinguished Scholar Award, which recognizes a faculty member whose research has earned peer commendation and respect, and who has made significant contributions to his or her field of study.

Periclean Award for Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility

Sylvia Muñoz, associate director for the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education and director of El Centro

Sylvia Muñoz has served as a prime example of civic engagement and social responsibility at Elon and beyond as director of El Centro and associate director of the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education.

As an instructor, she has taught multiple Spanish conversation classes at El Centro as well as several sections of Elon 101, using both as opportunities to impress upon students how important it is to be an active participant in the local community. Muñoz has worked with the master of education degree program on international experiences in Costa Rica in a way that one colleague said helped the students understand “the critical role of culture and language in teaching” and the importance of having “global skills in cultural awareness and competence beyond the classroom.

A leader in the CREDE, Muñoz was the driving force behind the creation of the Latinx/Hispanic Employee Resource Group and the Elon Latinx-Hispanic Alumni Network, and has co-led the work of the Hispanic/Latinx Working Group. She’s established a connection between The Village Project, which works with students in Alamance Burlington School System, and El Centro, has supported the Latinx-Hispanic Union student organization and has served on the president’s Diversity Council.

Students and alumni point to the extensive support Muñoz has provided to them in multiple ways throughout their times at Elon, with many saying that she became part of their families. “Sylvia was always pushing me to be a better student and a better man — she always demanded the best of me,” one alumnus said. “She taught me important values like respect, hard work and responsibility and she also taught me to always care for others, and most importantly, to live life to the fullest. … Sylvia’s passion and energy to make Elon a better place for everyone is contagious.”

A colleague notes that her work within the CREDE and El Centro speaks to the fact that participatory citizenship is an essential part of Elon’s educational experience. “I am humbled by what I have seen and experienced firsthand in Sylvia’s consistent and ongoing contributions to our community,” the colleague notes. “She is a passionate educator who models the importance of taking interest in wider social issues that have long-standing impact, both here on our campus and beyond our Elon community.”

An Elon parent notes that Muñoz is one of the reasons she felt so comfortable with her daughter’s decision to attend Elon. Muñoz is dedicated to her job at Elon and her work to engage the Latinx community at Elon, the parent notes. “She is constantly helping the Latino community at Elon so they can succeed in their studies and constantly advises them of extracurricular activities so they can be enriched and have continuous experience throughout their university years,” she said.

Muñoz has been very active in the broader community, serving as a coordinator of events such as the “Immigrant Realities” series, of conferences such as “Intersect” and “Perspectivas,” and of workshops such as the ALANAM Women’s Institute.

“One day I hope to have the rapport with students, alumni, parents and community members that Sylvia has been able to establish, a colleague say, the type of relationship where alumni and community members visit her constantly at El Centro or the CREDE to introduce their parents, to show her their babies, to ask her to come to their weddings, to thank her for helping them get jobs, to tell her that she has been THE one person who made the biggest difference in their lives while at Elon.”

Muñoz is the 16th recipient of the Periclean Award for Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility, which is given each year to a member of Elon’s faculty or staff whose community service exemplifies the ideals of Project Pericles.

Ward Family Excellence in Mentoring Award

Shereen Elgamal, lecturer in Arabic in the Department of World Languages and Cultures

The influence that Shereen Elgamal has had on the lives of her students is evident from the glowing comments and rave reviews they offered in supporting her nomination for the Ward Family Excellence in Mentoring Award.

“It is noteworthy that every student whom I contacted responded promptly and enthusiastically with comments like ‘YES! She has changed my life,’” a colleague wrote in nominating Elgamal for the award. A lecturer in Arabic in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, Elgamal brings challenge and rigor to her courses while also cultivating in her students a love for what she’s teaching.

A member of the Elon faculty since 2008, Elgamal has taught Arabic courses, coordinated the Middle East Studies program and served as the faculty adviser for the Arabic Language Organization and the Muslim Student Association. “She is prompting her students to think beyond the course, the semester, the year and the Elon experience,” a colleague writes. “More than any colleague in our department, Shereen is continuously looking for study abroad, service-learning, internship, volunteer and job opportunities for her students because she sees them as ‘amazing young adults’ (her words) who have remarkable achievements ahead.”

Students and alumni point to the influence that Elgamal has had on their lives and their learning, as she guided them through their coursework as well as helped them look far beyond a specific course or their university education. Elgamal has encouraged students to pursue summer internships and helped students secure application to law school, a Fulbright award or acceptance into Teach for America.

Several of her former students point to the countless hours she spent reading application essays for scholarships, internships, study abroad opportunities or jobs. “Every spring semester, she starts class with ‘So what are my children doing with their summer?’” one former student said. “She asks this to make sure we are having strong academically/professionally relevant experiences during our summers. But she is always there to help us apply for incredible opportunities year-round, and especially post-graduation.”

One student notes that her own “most profound connection to the institution” comes from the relationship that she fostered with Elgamal. “Dr. Elgamal stands as the finest example of professional initiative and personal dedication that I witnessed in my privileged position as her student and mentee,” she said. “Through her diligent mentorship, careful advising and the familiar care she demonstrates for students, Dr. Elgamal is an irreplaceable asset to the Department of World Languages and Cultures and the university as a whole.”

Exemplifying the characteristics of a mentor, Elgamal has provided the motivation that her students need to fully develop and pursue their goals. One student notes that Elgamal “opened my eyes and made me realize that I was not only failing to reach my full potential, but my drive was lacking. Hearing this motivated me to regroup and set all of my priorities in order. By challenging me, she reignited my internal motivation to succeed and I have not looked back since.”

Elgamal is the 11th person to be honored with the Ward Family Excellence in Mentoring Award, which recognizes a faculty or staff member who demonstrates a commitment to Elon undergraduates through outstanding mentoring. The award was established by Tom and Beth Ward P’05, ’08, ’14, their sons, A.T. ’05, Christopher ’08 and Chase ’14, and Tom Ward’s mother, Dorothy Mears Ward GP ’05, ’08, ’14.