Elon faculty and staff recognized for excellence at 2023 awards luncheon

These four awards recognize members of the Elon community for excellence in teaching, scholarship, civic engagement and mentoring.

Elon University recognized the excellence of faculty and staff in their service to the university and the community at its annual awards luncheon on Wednesday, May 10.

Elon faculty and staff members gathered in Alumni Gym for the event, which also included recognition of employees for years-of-service milestones and special recognitions of faculty and staff members who are retiring this academic year.

The celebration came as Elon prepares to conclude the academic year, with exams for undergraduates beginning on Wednesday, May 10, and undergraduate commencement on Friday, May 20.

“Today is the day we honor and recognize the living out of our mission, the close of another successful academic year,” President Connie Ledoux Book said. “And without you, the faculty and staff, that would not be possible. So, this is the day when we pause to appreciate one another.”

Honored with awards from the university this year were Professor of Art History Kirstin Ringelberg, Professor of Exercise Science Caroline Ketcham, Assistant Professor of Biology Jessica Merricks, and Director of International Services Kristen Aquilino.

Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching

Professor of Art History Kirstin Ringelberg

Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching winner Kirstin Ringelberg elicits a laugh from President Connie Ledoux Book at the Faculty/Staff Awards Luncheon, May 10, 2023, in Alumni Gym on the campus of Elon University.

Elon University’s commitment to undergraduate teaching has been well-documented. One of Elon’s shining examples of its dedication to the success and well-being of its students is Professor of Art History Kirstin Ringelberg.

“Watching Professor Ringelberg teach within the classroom is an experience that all who love education and inquiry should experience,” a group of colleagues wrote in support of Ringelberg’s nomination. “Within the walls of the classroom, it is possible to see the passion that Professor Ringelberg has for art history, critical thinking and, most of all, their students.”

Ringelberg joined Elon in 2003 and has never rested on their laurels since arriving, always evolving and using new approaches of grading and assessment, combining best practices in anti-racist pedagogy with approaches to ungrading, contract grading and metacognitive reflection writing.

They have now added the Daniels-Danieley Award to a plethora of recognitions such as the Elon College Excellence in Teaching Award in 2008, the Barbara H. Carlton Award for Outstanding Advisor of the Year from SGA in 2013, and the Elon LGBTQIA Community Enrichment Award twice in 2012 and 2022.

Ringelberg’s effective teaching has also made an impact on students outside of the classroom as they have mentored 29 independent research projects, and many mentees have gone on to stake a claim in many impressive graduate programs worldwide and make a name for themselves in the field.

“The kindness that Dr. R expresses in the classroom translates directly into their work as an independent research mentor. In the past year years working in collaboration with Dr. R, I have accomplished goals that I was convinced were out of reach. They have taught me that I can do anything that I set my mind to, that failure is an opportunity and to listen to my gut. They have given me the ability and opportunity to think critically about the structure of the world around me and have taught me to work toward the future that I want to see,” a current art history major and Elon College Fellow said of Ringelberg.

“Having a mentor and professor like Dr. Ringelberg is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I pat myself on the back every day because I have been lucky enough to have them both,” that student added.

Ringelberg’s intentional support of students, especially in Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), first-generation and LGBTQIA communities, draws from their own experience of not fitting the status quo. As the founding director of what is now Elon’s Gender and LGBTQIA Center, an organizer of the first Lavender Graduation ceremony and one who has stood alongside students in the Black Lives Matter movement, “students know that Professor Ringelberg is genuinely on their side,” a group of colleagues wrote in a nomination letter supporting Ringelberg for the award.

“[They work] tirelessly to make Elon more welcoming to those historically marginalized at Elon. Professor Ringelberg’s unwavering commitment to equity and inclusion includes teaching courses and building a program that embodies Elon’s mission to prepare students as ‘global citizens and informed leaders motivated by the common good,'” Ringelberg’s colleagues added.

One former student spoke about her experience with Ringelberg during her time at Elon. When recently going back through journals she kept during her time as an Elon undergraduate, “unsurprisingly Dr. Ringelberg’s name came up quite often.”

“They quickly became a part of my everyday life, but I firmly believe their effect on my life would be the same had I only met them once,” the student wrote. “You only have to meet Dr. Ringelberg once for them to profoundly impact your life.”

Another former student wrote that the skills she has learned at Elon, the experiences abroad and with advanced research, and the comfort she’s had with academia and how well she’s navigated her career have all stemmed from her connection with Ringelberg.

“I count Dr. Ringelberg as a lifelong mentor, teacher and friend, and I am sorry for anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to experience this same level of connection with a truly remarkable professor,” a former student wrote in support of Ringelberg.

“I’d like to thank all of you for challenging me to be a better teacher. I’m still learning, I’m still working on it. I think about it, obviously, too much but I hope that some of the enthusiasm we have for teaching here in this room and across this campus can better parlay into enthusiasm both in our communities locally and nationwide,” Ringelberg said as they accepted the Daniels-Danieley Award.

Ringelberg is the 51st recipient of the award established by President Emeritus J. Earl Danieley ’46 and his wife, Verona Daniels Danieley, in honor of their parents.

Distinguished Scholar Award

Professor of Exercise Science Caroline Ketcham

Distinguished Scholar Award winner Caroline Ketcham, left, is congratulated by Provost Rebecca Kohn at the Faculty/Staff Awards Luncheon, May 10, 2023, in Alumni Gym on the campus of Elon University.

A prolific and preeminent scholar in the field of exercise science, Professor Caroline Ketcham has a track record of scholarship and research that has contributed to deeper conversations about holistic approaches to learning and development centered on equity, inclusion and wellbeing. During her 25-year career, Ketcham has developed broad and deep expertise in the area of motor control, with a particular focus on using features of the control and coordination of movement to understand neural function.

Ketcham joined the faculty at Elon University in 2007 as an assistant professor and served eight years as department chair and was named full professor in 2017. She has more than 65 peer-reviewed publications and has co-edited two collections in disciplinary and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning spaces.

She has worked to foster undergraduate research at Elon and support students pursuing intense research goals, including serving as mentor or co-mentor to more than 100 students. Those students have gone on to present their work at professional conferences and serve as lead authors and co-authors on publications.

“This award means a lot to me. I came here because I believe in the power of the research process to help our undergraduate students see their potential in a very different way,” Ketcham said while accepting the Distinguished Scholar Award.

Ketcham is co-director and co-creator of the Elon BrainCARE Research Institute, which was founded in 2014 to bind together a line of research that examines the impact of concussions from a variety of perspectives and with consideration of a multitude of variables. With co-director Professor Eric Hall, she has worked to expand the scope of the institute to support positive mental health frameworks for students and student-athletes, with the goal of supporting colleagues who are in turn serving these populations.

“I want my work to impact the communities I am a part of as well as have the capacity to change the conversation and practices for the better across contexts and all levels of decision-making,” Ketcham said. “I am continually learning from the students, colleagues, participants, health professionals, patients, caregivers and friends who challenge me to see new perspectives in all the work I do and who I do the work for.”

Ketcham says she has evolved as a researcher, person and professional, particularly in how she approaches patient populations. That has included a shift from “using” patients to better understand the brain to “partnering with” patients to advance the research in her field, a change that Ketcham says “flattens power structures and centers reciprocity in the process, which aligns with my work on mentoring models and practices.”

Ketcham earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology from Colby College before pursuing her master’s degree and then a doctorate in exercise science and motor control from Arizona State University. Before joining Elon, she was an assistant professor at Texas A&M University.

At Elon, Ketcham has been recognized repeatedly for her leadership, service, commitment to students and her dedication to the art and science of teaching. She received the Faculty Award for Excellence in Scholarship from the Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education in 2010 and the Elon College Outstanding Service Award in 2014. In 2017, she was selected for the Ward Family Excellence in Mentoring Award and in 2021 was selected to serve as a Center for Engaged Learning Scholar for a two-year term.

An Elon colleague wrote in support of Ketcham’s selection for the Distinguished Scholar Award that “it would be hard for me to find someone else on campus who personifies Elon’s Teacher-Scholar model more so than Caroline.” She’s viewed as an innovative scholar who can perceive connections across disciplines rather than solely within the siloed space of exercise science, the colleague said.

As a Center for Engage Learning Scholar, she has focused her work on making sure faculty and universities provide neurodiverse students with an equitable experience, which has extended and expanded the theme of inclusivity that runs through her research. “Her dedication to the art of teaching is deep and her scholarly achievements are innovative and have made a substantial contribution to enhancing undergraduate experiences for students,” a colleague from another institution wrote in support of her nomination for the award. “She is the rare scholar with tremendous capacity for achieving high levels of productivity in their discipline while simultaneously elevating and deepening research on engaged teaching and learning in higher education.”

Another colleague from a different institution noted that Ketcham has created resources that allow others to access her research, ideas and practical solutions. “Whenever I am faced with an experience or scenario in my own scholarship and teaching, I often find one of Dr. Ketcham’s resources to help support next steps in the work,” the colleague wrote. “She is no doubt continuously impacting the field of Exercise Science in all aspects and I look forward to her next steps and the ways they will improve our science and scholarship.”

Ketcham is the 24th 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

Assistant Professor of Biology Jessica Merricks

Periclean Award for Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility winner Jessica Merricksspeaks at the Faculty/Staff Awards Luncheon, May 10, 2023, in Alumni Gym on the campus of Elon University.

With the mission of raising the level of civic engagement and social responsibility of the entire campus community, Project Pericles is a major force behind Elon’s reputation as a national model of engaged learning.

Few at the university best exemplify Project Pericles’ mission better than Assistant Professor of Biology Jessica Merricks as she has been a tireless advocate on the matter of public education about clean drinking water throughout central North Carolina.

Merricks’ service within the Elon community embodies the ideal of contributions that foster ‘the wholeness of our students’ educational experience’ as a founding member of the Advancing Equity Requirement (AER) advisory committee, as an innovator in the biology curriculum and as a core team member of an externally-funded initiative to develop a pipeline for high-achieving, high-financial need STEM majors from Alamance Community College to Elon.

“We believe that Dr. Merricks deeply embodies excellence in all the qualities that the Periclean Award seeks to recognize,” a group of colleagues wrote in support of Merricks.

As a resident of Pittsboro, North Carolina, Merricks discovered that her community’s drinking water was contaminated after an ambiguous letter from the City of Pittsboro was included with a water bill in 2019. Teaming with another Pittsboro resident, Merricks co-founded Clean Haw River, an advocacy group committed to educating the public about the risks of drinking contaminated water. Clean Haw River also seeks to “act as the liaison between the scientific community and water users; demand accountability from local, state and federal agencies; and advocate for local, state and federal drinking water policies and regulations.”

Merricks has been key in bringing the drinking water contamination story to Elon and engaging Elon students in this crucial and ongoing advocacy work.

With the numerous guest lecture appearances in various Elon courses, Merricks partnered with Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Kelsey Bitting to craft a six-lesson unit of interdisciplinary curricular materials to teach high-school and undergraduate students about PFAS chemicals (a group of chemicals used to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water) from a broad range of scientific and societal perspectives (e.g., environmental science, chemistry, medicine, economics, policy, social justice).

One student involved in the unit wrote that “interacting with Clean Haw River was really meaningful to me because it made me realize the power I could have to change things and it starts with small actions like talking to people about these issues and giving them a voice.”

Another student wrote about their experience, saying, “Creating the infographics for this project allowed me to better understand PFAS as contaminants in general, but also within Pittsboro. I was shocked when I found out that the Clean Haw River project was interested in uploading these infographics to their Facebook, for I never would have thought something I created would reach an audience beyond my classmates.”

Since arriving at Elon in 2018, Merricks has led the revision of the non-majors biology curriculum to create a more engaging, meaningful and inclusive course experience. She led the development of an integrated lab-lecture course that now serves as a model for the revision of the Introduction to Environmental Science lab-lecture sequence.

Merricks also plays a significant role in the $142,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support a pathway for students to transfer from the Early College Program at Alamance Community College to Elon to pursue bachelor’s degrees in biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, environmental studies, mathematics or physics.

“I never intended to be an activist or an advocate,” Merricks said during her acceptance of the Periclean Award. “I realized that I don’t need to be an expert to speak up about problems when they exist. … You just have to stand.”

Merricks is the 21st 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.

Steven and Patricia House Excellence in Mentoring Award

Director of International Student Services Kristen Aquilino

Steven and Patricia House Excellence in Mentoring Award winner Kristen Aquilino speaks at the Faculty/Staff Awards Luncheon, May 10, 2023, in Alumni Gym on the campus of Elon University.

Director of International Student Services Kristen Aquilino embodies Elon University’s mission of transformation of the mind, body and spirit of students. Through rich intellectual exchange, focusing on the common good and respect for differences and personal integrity, Aquilino “lives these values and …they are integral to her mentorship practice,” a colleague wrote nominating Aquilino for the House Excellence in Mentoring Award.

“She aims to enter every encounter with humility and intentionality,” the colleague continued. “This approach to mentorship is empowering and students are thriving.”

From guiding students in extreme adventure-based settings such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, to a walk and talk around Lake Mary Nell and everything in between, Aquilino has steadily crafted opportunities in both classroom and social-cultural settings to engage in mentorship.

Aquilino arrived at Elon in 2014 and has made her presence felt throughout campus as she’s helped create courses in partnership with colleagues in the Student Professional Development Center.

“You could say that Kristen is the epitome of social-emotional intelligence. She is a gifted observer of the dynamics within and between people. She engages with those around her in an intentional way and has the gift of being able to de-center herself from her perspective,” a colleague wrote recommending Aquilino for the House Excellence in Mentoring Award.

“She’s good at helping people understand and crystallize their strengths because she has a great understanding of the power of words and uses them very intentionally. She also has the gift of sharing words of encouragement liberally in ways that help people understand their strengths and be inspired to grow,” the colleague continued.

An alumnus closely involved with an organization of which Aquilino was an advisor said she was a constant source of wisdom and optimism as he navigated his college experience. Inspired by her to pursue a career relating to intercultural communication, immigrant advocacy and higher education, the student said Aquilino has been “transformative” for his professional ambitions.

“To put it simply, my life would look very different if Kristen was not such a central part of my academic experience. I am beyond grateful to have worked with Kristen over the last several years and I am more than confident that she will continue making a meaningful impact in countless students’ lives,” the alum said.

Aquilino is the fourth recipient of the Steven and Patricia House Excellence in Mentoring Award. The award is supported by a gift from Executive Vice President Steven House and his wife, Patricia, to celebrate excellence in student mentoring, one of the markers of quality that has fueled Elon’s reputation as the national leader in engaged, experiential learning.

“Every single person in this room is responsible for the success of our international community,” Aquilino said. “They are such a vibrant, resilient, dedicated community and it’s an honor to serve them. None of us have done it alone, including me. So to all of you who have been a part of that journey, thank you.”