UHV faculty members honored for teaching, research and service excellence

Jesica McCue
Alireza Tavakkoli
Elsa Soto Leggett

The winners of the University of Houston-Victoria 2016 faculty teaching, research and service awards received praise from students and their peers for their passion, expertise and leadership.

UHV faculty members from the fields of biology, computer science and counseling education were selected by their colleagues and students for the prestigious awards. The winners are:

  • Jesica McCue, biology lecturer, Enron Teaching Excellence Award
  • Alireza Tavakkoli, associate professor of computer science, Research and Scholarly Activity Excellence Award
  • Elsa Soto Leggett, associate professor of counseling, Distinguished Faculty Service Award

Each winner will receive a plaque and a monetary award. They also will be honored during UHV’s two graduation ceremonies Saturday at Faith Family Church, 2002 E. Mockingbird Lane. The 9 a.m. ceremony will be for graduates of the schools of Arts & Sciences and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. The 1 p.m. ceremony will be for graduates of the School of Business Administration.

“These faculty awards are special because they come from their peers on the faculty,” said Don Smith, UHV interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. “I’d like to thank the winners for their enthusiasm about teaching, talent for providing dynamic research and willingness to serve the university and the community.”

Don Smith

The Enron Teaching Excellence Award was established in 1993. UHV students nominate professors who exemplify innovative, high-quality instruction relevant to their lives and careers.

In recommending her for the award, students complimented McCue for her energy and passion about biology, and the structure and organization of her classes, said Joann Olson, chair of the 2015-2016 Faculty Awards Committee and a UHV assistant professor of adult and higher education. The committee oversees nominations and chooses the winners.

“Students also spoke highly of Dr. McCue’s concern and care for them,” Olson said.

McCue began a Biology Rocks competition to give students a chance to present research. On Nov. 30, a dozen students presented data from primary research articles. Additionally, she has invited several guest speakers from the medical and scientific community to enlighten, inspire and motivate students to pursue careers in science.

Joann Olson

“I am humbled and honored to win this prestigious teaching award,” McCue said. “I’d like to dedicate it to all our hardworking first-generation college students and the professionals who mentor UHV students and help them find meaningful careers. It’s a joy to be part of such a great team of faculty and staff working to make UHV a thriving destination university.”

The Research and Scholarly Activity Excellence Award recognizes professors who have made outstanding research contributions to their scientific and scholarly communities.

“In selecting Dr. Tavakkoli for this award, committee members noted the scope and impact of his publications and funded research, as well as his extensive and intentional mentoring of emerging graduate and undergraduate researchers,” Olson said.

Tavakkoli is leading research into human/robot interaction and the integration of robotics and virtual reality. UHV received a $191,000 U.S. Department of Defense grant in January 2015 to purchase three robots and other pieces of equipment for the research. A $412,000 grant received in August is helping pay student research assistants.

“Our lab has been quite successful bringing in external research funds, research infrastructure and supporting student research,” Tavakkoli said. “I’m looking forward to expanding it further.”

Tavakkoli said what he likes best about research is that there are a lot of unknowns to study. He enjoys leveraging studies that have been completed and working on what needs to be done next. This research has a lot of potential applications from a military and space exploration standpoint.

“I’m glad the Department of Defense and NASA have found the research interesting and have been willing to support it,” he said. “We are using that support in investigating this frontier.”

UHV faculty members also annually recognize a peer with the Distinguished Faculty Service Award. This faculty member must admirably serve both the university and community. Olson said the committee was impressed by Leggett’s considerable leadership and service to several professional associations.

Leggett served as the UHV Faculty Senate President in 2014-2015 and remained on the Senate Executive Committee this school year as past president. She also is the counseling education program coordinator.

Outside UHV, Leggett is past president for the Association of Child and Adolescent Counseling, a national division of the American Counseling Association. She also is on the board of the Methodist Children’s Home in Waco.

“The call to service is really important to me,” she said. “I enjoy doing what I can to help strengthen those boards and organizations. My dean and colleagues in counselor education share in this commitment by giving me the time to participate in service activities.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Jeremy Shapiro