Outstanding College of Education and Health Professions Faculty Members Named

From left: Fran W. Hagstrom; top: Christine E. Holyfield, Vicki Dieffenderfer and Xinya Liang; bottom: Michelle Gray, Christian Z. Goering and Kit Kacirek
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From left: Fran W. Hagstrom; top: Christine E. Holyfield, Vicki Dieffenderfer and Xinya Liang; bottom: Michelle Gray, Christian Z. Goering and Kit Kacirek

The University of Arkansas' College of Education and Health Professions recently named 2019-20 outstanding faculty award winners.

"This year's recipients have made exceptional contributions to their fields, the College of Education and Health Professions, and to the University," said Dean Brian Primack. "They exemplify a spirit of collaboration, innovation and commitment that is one of the strengths of the University of Arkansas."

Each year, the College's Faculty Council reviews applications for a variety of awards, targeting important aspects of professorial life and work.

"There are two all-around honors that we affectionately call the Rising Star and the Star awards, this one named in honor of former faculty member George Denny," said College Council Chair William F. McComas. "We were very pleased this year to have nominations from across all departments representing a particularly strong pool of worthy candidates."

Council members reviewed many quality dossiers and letters of support. "The year's nominees represent what is truly extraordinary about our College, its people," McComas said. "So, we on the COEHP College Council are pleased to congratulate all those nominated."

This year's winners are:

Fran W. Hagstrom, Communication Sciences and Disorders professor

Faculty Career Award in Recognition of a Career that Exemplifies Outstanding Performance

If multiple articles, book chapters, and a book were not enough to etch her name onto the list of all-time outstanding faculty for the College of Education and Health Professions, Hagstrom has also secured millions in external funding, mentored over 50 undergraduate theses for the Honors College and helped students to secure over $50,000 in internal and external funding for their research projects. She also created the interdisciplinary Health Coaches program and the longest standing study abroad program, Health Teams Abroad-Sweden. Hagstrom has a keen ability to bring people of different backgrounds and professions together to brainstorm innovative ways to make progress for the greater good. With a career that spans nearly three decades, Hagstrom has consistently been able to foster relationships, research, and forward thinking across campus.

Christine E. Holyfield, Communication Sciences and Disorders professor

Rising Star Award

Holyfield is a rising star in COEHP's Communication Sciences and Disorders program. In 2019, she published six first-author peer-reviewed articles in highly ranked journals in the field of communication disorders. She also presented five national or international peer-reviewed presentations. She is rapidly becoming a national leader around assessment, intervention and research in the area of augmentative and alternative communication. She gets outstanding teaching evaluations, and her service to the campus and her program have been exemplary. Her work continues to influence students, faculty, families and the campus community.

Vicki Dieffenderfer, Human Resource and Workforce Development professor

Outstanding Teaching Award

Dieffenderfer is dedicated to creating a classroom environment that facilitates active participation, critical thinking and application of learned knowledge in daily life. Her students respond well to her teaching style and thrive under her leadership. When tasked with coordinating the graduate program and taking over the master's level Foundations course this year, Dieffenderfer implemented a new approach based on her teaching philosophy and background in self-directed learning. The change resulted in a significant increase in end-of-term course evaluations from students. Students have indicated they're able to put assignments to immediate use in their workplaces. Dieffenderfer's multi-pronged, self-directed approach ensures that different types of learner can be comfortable in her classes.

Xinya Liang, Educational Statistics and Research Methods professor

Significant Research Award

Liang has earned the Significant Research award this year based on contributions to her field, COEHP, and the University of Arkansas through her continued work as an independent researcher, a collaborator with colleagues, and a research mentor to students. She's had an exceptional publishing run. Liang published four methodological articles in top-tier journals from a single research endeavor to investigate innovative methods for testing measurement invariance in 2018 and 2019. She also delivered five presentations about her research at national and international conferences. She was recognized for her work by Florida State University, being presented the Young Alumni Award in 2018. She also earned the RHRC Significant Research Award in 2019 and nominations for two other COEHP awards. Liang's rising international research representation was acknowledged by her prestigious selection as a program chair for the American Educational Research Association. She has also served as an editorial board member for the Journal of Psychoeducational Assessments since 2016.

Michelle Gray, Health, Exercise Science professor and COEHP Honors Program director 

Superior Service Award

Gray juggles ambitious research, teaching, one-on-one mentoring, and a full slate of duties associated with running COEHP's Honors Program. The Honors Program has seen significant growth, with retention and graduation rates soaring under her leadership. Gray also serves as director of the Exercise Science Research Center in the Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation. She facilitates research among Exercise Science faculty and oversees more than 6,000 square feet of dedicated research space. In 2019, 61 peer-reviewed publications were authored by Exercise Science faculty and 66 presentations were completed at state, regional, national, and international conferences. Additionally, they received $600,000 in internal and external research awards during that year alone. Gray serves as the Regional Chapter Representative for Central States Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is a reviewer for seven journals. She's also part of a task force created by Chancellor Joe Steinmetz and Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Daniel Sui to explore collaborations between the U of A and UAMS. She's also involved in one of the longest-running, faculty-led study abroad trips, Health Teams Abroad.

Christian Z. Goering, English Education professor

George Denny STAR Award

Goering has had a remarkable year of research, teaching and service. In addition to his committee work at multiple levels on campus, he organized a national conference in English education for an organization that he chaired, English Language Arts Teacher Educators (ELATE). His students commended his teaching for how it was a model for "how to be a responsive and empathetic educator" and for how Goering "inspired them to continue to wonder, to grow, and to take action." He also had an outstanding year in terms of authoring multiple refereed journal articles and book chapters. Goering represents the best of COEHP in terms of teaching, research and service.

Kit Kacirek, Adult and Lifelong Learning professor    

Outstanding Mentoring/Advising Award

Kacirek's many mentoring and advising contributions in 2019-20 reflect her leadership of the Adult and Lifelong Learning doctoral degree, which has grown to be one of the largest doctoral programs in COEHP since its inception in 2012. Kacirek is an expert in her field and is able to recruit diverse and talented students from across the state and nation. These students come from educational institutions, non-profits, health care organizations, and the private sector. Kacirek serves as academic advisor for the majority of ADLL doctoral students. She advises and mentors students in each new cohort, which included nine students in 2019 and 16 students in January 2020. Kacirek chaired four dissertations to successful completion this academic year and served as an advocate, coach and mentor. Students and colleagues call Kacirek caring, authentic, passionate and dedicated.


Shannon Magsam, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions
479-575-3138, magsam@uark.edu


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