KALAMAZOO—Western Michigan University is honoring Dr. Holly J. Nibert, associate professor of Spanish, Paul R. Solomon, associate professor of art, and Dr. Sarah E. Summy, associate professor of special education and literacy, for being exceptional educators and mentors and demonstrating outstanding dedication in their work.
They will be recognized as recipients of Distinguished Teaching Awards during WMU's Academic Convocation at 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4, in the Dalton Center Recital Hall. The annual event includes WMU President John M. Dunn's State of the University address along with the presentation of other campuswide awards honoring this year's Emerging Scholars, Distinguished Faculty Scholar and the recipients of the Distinguished Service and Make a Difference awards.
Initiated in 2006, the Distinguished Teaching Award is the highest honor given by the University to recognize faculty members for their work. Nibert, Solomon and Summy join 16 other faculty members who have been honored since the start of the award program. A similar program, the WMU Alumni Association Teaching Excellence Award, was conducted between 1966 and 2001 and honored 131 faculty members.
Holly J. Nibert
Nibert began her WMU career in 1999 as an instructor. She became an assistant professor a year later and is now an associate professor in the Department of Spanish. She also has taught at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
At WMU, she was lauded by former students and co-workers for her commitment to the department, the Spanish program and the success of her students.
"Her ample knowledge of the subject matter and countless hours of work in these endeavors make her one of the most successful instructors in a department already filled with remarkable and committed professors," wrote a former student.
Another former student noted she has a set of materials specifically written for her classes to supplement the textbook and make sure students understand concepts.
"Dr. Nibert is clearly in the top 1 percent in terms of her teaching. I know of no other professor who has so well committed herself to taking her own scholarship into the classroom and teaching students in a way that they will understand and be able to apply what they have learned," that former student said.
She is a mentor and role model for teaching assistants and has been instrumental in making changes to the Spanish program, according to a colleague.
"Professor Nibert has been the principal architect of the two-year language curriculum that we now follow for our basic language instruction, an essential piece in the strength of our unit," the co-worker said.
Nibert earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in Spanish from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has studied abroad in Madrid and Barcelona and attended the Linguistic Society of America Summer Institute at Ohio State University.
Paul R. Solomon
Solomon has been a member of the WMU faculty since 1995 and is an associate professor of art and director of Direct Encounter with the Arts. As an artist, Solomon works as a writer, producer, videographer and post-production editor. His performance credits include "Aching To Go Home," a script and theatrical piece performed at The Epic Center in Kalamazoo in 2004; and videography, research and taped interviews during 2002 to 2004 in several countries which resulted in a two-hour DVD and videotape production.
He earned praise from his former students for his attention and dedication to each student’s success, despite the fact that he often teaches in a large lecture class.
He "teaches his students to have the confidence to share their views and become involved in the culture of their world," a former student wrote. He "is a dedicated, attentive instructor. In the short time that he spends with any of his students, his way of teaching has a lasting impact."
Solomon "constantly strives for a fresh, contemporary rigorous academic schedule" by using a wide variety of methods in class," another former student noted.
He "is always looking for fresh talent, new experiences and the latest technology that will make his art experiences a contemporary assault on your eyes."
A colleague added that Solomon promotes an "open and supportive" classroom environment.
"Even in the large format of the DEArts program, Professor Solomon has profoundly affected the lives of countless WMU students over the years," the co-worker said.
Solomon holds a bachelor's degree in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design and a master's degree in media arts from the Ohio State University.
Sarah E. Summy
Summy joined WMU in 1998 as an assistant professor and is now an associate professor in the Department of Special Education and Literacy Studies, also serving as Special Education Program Coordinator. She came to WMU from Central Michigan University, where she held a faculty position.
At WMU, she has been co-director of two U.S. Department of Education grants to prepare highly qualified special education teachers in the K-12 schools. The grants have affected a total of 68 WMU students.
One of the students who benefited from the grant program said her first impression of Summy was that she possessed an "amazing wealth of knowledge" in her area of study, and that she was always available and approachable."
Summy spent three weeks in Dakar, Senegal, for a study abroad program with students.
"She leads her faculty and is continuously expanding her knowledge by attending numerous conferences and meetings," a former student said. "She challenges her colleagues to think outside the box and collaborates and works together to make our program better."
Another former student noted Summy cares about student success and noted she is willing to work weekends and come in after her designated office house to meet with students and make sure they get the help they need.
"She is an all-around great teacher. She cares about her students and whether they succeed or not," the student said. "If she cannot help you, she will guide you to where you need to go for it."
Summy earned her bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation from the University of Iowa, and her master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Northern Colorado in special education for severe needs and special education, respectively.