Faculty and staff in Elon College awarded for advancing teaching, learning, leadership

Ten individuals nominated by their colleagues were recipients of five annual awards recognizing contributions to teaching, mentoring, scholarship and service.

Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences recognized faculty and staff with its annual Awards for Excellence in teaching, scholarship, mentorship and service and leadership during Opening Day during Planning Week.

In total, nine members of faculty received awards for Excellence in Service/Leadership, Excellence in Teaching, Excellence in Scholarship and Excellence in Mentoring, and one staff member received the Staff Excellence Award. The awards were announced during the fall faculty meeting Monday, Aug. 14. Recipients of the College’s annual faculty and staff awards are nominated by their colleagues and selected by the dean and associate deans.

“We like to begin each academic year by welcoming new members of our College community and pausing to celebrate the exceptional work of our colleagues,” said Gabie Smith, dean of Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences. “Student success is at the core of everything we do. These faculty and staff members contribute to a culture enabling Elon students to exceed their own expectations and thrive.”

Excellence in Service/Leadership

Jessica Carew, associate professor of political science and policy studies

directory photo of Jessica Carew Associate Professor Jessica Carew serves and leads from within the Department of Political Science and Policy Studies and Elon University through extensive work on institutional priorities. She organizes undergraduate research within her department, pairing students with faculty fitting their areas of interest. She is collaborating with other faculty to examine pedagogy in the department through a diversity, equity and inclusion lens. She is a member of the Poverty and Social Justice faculty advisory committee and reviews student applications for the Shepherd Consortium of Higher Education summer internship program. Carew is an advisor for the Pi Sigma Alpha Journal of Undergraduate Research, hosted at Elon, and is a member of the African and African American Studies advisory board. Most recently, she has played a key role in developing the Advancing Equity Requirement on its advisory committee, which resulted in her being selected as the Assistant Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Core Curriculum and the committee chair for the new Advancing Equity Requirement Standing Committee.

Matt Wittstein, associate professor of exercise science

directory photo of Matt WittsteinAssociate Professor of Exercise Science Matt Wittstein’s contributions to campus have included membership on the Academic Service Learning Advisory Committee, the Emerging Technologies in Teaching and Learning Advisory Committee, the Neuroscience Advisory Committee and the Dance Science Advisory Committee.  He is the host of “Limed: Teaching with a Twist,” a podcast based around teaching and learning strategies. Wittstein supports colleagues and students by teaching Elon 1010 and guiding a large number of advisees in the Department of Exercise Science, one of the College’s largest majors. He is currently the faculty-in-residence for the Oaks and Park Place neighborhoods. As the previous faculty-in-residence for Colonnades and Danieley neighborhoods, he organized community events around civic engagement, student belonging, and hosted gatherings and discussions around themes of equity. Outside of Elon, he serves on the program committee and the Hamilton Symposium Award Committee for the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, and on the Education Committee for the American Society of Biomechanics.

Excellence in Teaching

Tony Rizzuto, associate professor of chemistry

directory photo of Tony RizzutoAssociate Professor of Chemistry Anthony Rizzuto is the lead instructor of Physical Chemistry II, required for all chemistry majors and an instructor for the general chemistry sequence. Students regularly reflect on his thorough, engaged and creative teaching methods, which ensure they successfully grasp fundamental — often challenging — concepts and encourage inquiry, problem-solving and self-sufficiency in chemistry and science. A 2011 graduate of Elon, he has mentored nine undergraduate research projects, routinely leading to co-authored presentations and publications. In 2022, Rizzuto was named the A.L. Hook Emerging Professor of Science and Mathematics, a three-year professorship awarded to a faculty member who has ongoing, active scholarship, has a history of mentoring undergraduate research and has demonstrated the ability to impact students, their department and the university.

Sabrina Thurman, associate professor of psychology

directory photo of Sabrina ThurmanAssociate Professor of Psychology Sabrina Thurman shares her expertise and passion for knowledge around development and infant motor development through several courses in the department, including Lifespan Development and Early Childhood Development. Among students, she is known for teaching in ways that promote deep engagement with subjects, her ability to make complex concepts understandable, as well as her concern for their success and well-being. Thurman constantly revises materials and incorporates new practices that encourage rich learning, including journal-based reflection, flipped classroom models and prompt-based discussions. She has mentored 13 students in undergraduate research projects at Elon. She is also passionate about diversity, equity, inclusion and justice and intentional about incorporating those concepts into her courses and teaching.

Jennifer Eidum, associate professor of English

directory photo of Jennifer EidumAssociate Professor of English Jennifer Eidum’s expertise is in language, rhetoric and teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). As coordinator of Elon’s TESOL Minor Program and Peace Corps Prep Program, Eidum has developed courses tailored to students interested in teaching English around the world and studying it in all aspects of society. A strong advocate for students and colleagues, she is known for her reflective and creative teaching techniques. She creates assignments and discussion topics that enhance student ownership of learning, promote equity, and deepen learning: through student input into course syllabi, to identifying and using technologies that maximize collaboration and feedback, contract grading, and anti-racist and anti-colonialist teaching.

Excellence in Scholarship

Ariela Marcus-Sells, associate professor of religious studies

directory photo of Ariela Marcus-SellsAssociate Professor of Religious Studies Ariela Marcus-Sells’ scholarship is focused on increasing the diversity of traditions represented within in Islamic Studies by highlighting the intellectual history of West African Muslims. Her book, “Sorcery or Science? Contesting Knowledge and Practice in West African Sufi Texts,” was published in spring 2022. She also recently edited a volume to which she contributed, “A Sensory History of the Islamic World,” and has been published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, the flagship scholarly journal in religious studies. A sabbatical in 2022-23 funded by a Multicountry Research Fellowship from the Council for American Overseas Research Centers led her to conduct research in Mauritania, Morocco and Senegal, and to work as a visiting scholar at Norway’s University of Bergen. The opportunities to read original texts in various collections and speak with international scholars will support her next book project.

Chris Richardson, associate professor of astrophysics

directory photo of Chris RichardsonAssociate Professor of Astrophysics Chris Richardson published three peer-reviewed articles in top-tier publications in 2022-23 and expects to submit four more this academic year. Two of the recently published papers appeared in the Astrophysical Journal, the leading astrophysics-specific journal. One focused on understanding how the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope can aid in the detection of elusive intermediate-mass black holes in dwarf galaxies. Several of his previous undergraduate research mentees were included as co-authors of that paper, and the other recent articles reflect productive collaborations with colleagues at other institutions. Richardson made five presentations at conferences in 2022-23 and used a Reassigned Time Summer Salary Fellowship to continue work with a French colleague while abroad this summer. He is also a Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning Scholar, working on innovative materials for teaching astronomy and astrophysics focused on encouraging equity through the use of free, open-source material and eliminating the need for students to buy expensive texts.

Excellence in Mentoring

Vanessa Drew-Branch, associate professor of human service studies

directory photo of Vanessa Drew-BranchAssociate Professor of Human Service Studies Vanessa Drew-Branch consistently mentors about five undergraduates each year, opening her door to a variety of Elon students who want to further academic inquiry. Since 2020, she has mentored a Provost Scholar, Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) and Spring Undergraduate Research Forum (SURF) projects, and mentored students in projects as they applied for the Lumen Prize. One of her mentees was selected to present at the 2020 Council of Social Work Education conference. Her support for students she mentors extends beyond Elon, through numerous letters of recommendation to employers and graduate schools. She also routinely provides professional guidance to juniors and seniors seeking careers and helping them reach their full potential.

David McGraw, associate professor of arts administration

directory photo of David McGrawAssociate Professor of Arts Administration David McGraw mentors Lumen Scholars, Elon College Fellows, many other undergraduate research projects, as well as internships in the Arts Administration Program. Junior colleagues also benefit from his mentorship and support as they begin careers at Elon. McGraw restructured the program’s front-of-house management for events in the Department of Performing Arts, updated usher training and safety protocols, and created leadership roles for students — all while providing clear policies and modeling professionalism. This structure provides real-world experience that results in internships and employment after Elon. Alumni express gratitude for McGraw’s skill in tailoring detailed, individualized feedback, leading them to growth, success and confidence following graduation.

Staff Excellence Award

Rick Earl, production manager for Cultural and Special Programs

directory photo of Rick EarlRick Earl’s support for numerous departments in Elon College ensures their performances and events run smoothly while looking and sounding their best. He works behind the scenes, and often on nights and weekends to provide technical assistance. Students and faculty in the Department of Performing Arts, the Department of Music, the Department of Art and the Dean’s Office trust him to equip the sound, lighting and design for plays, musicals, concerts, guest speakers and exhibitions. His expertise in theater technology, event management and equipment maintenance keep Elon’s premier spaces in excellent condition and ready for all manner of events that benefit and showcase the entire campus.