The University of Alabama College of Education 2021 Faculty and Staff Award Recipients

Nellie Rose McCrory Faculty Excellence Award for Research: Dr. Alison Hooper

Picture of Alison HooperHired in the fall of 2017 as an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education, Dr. Hooper’s research productivity is unmatched when considering other emerging scholars in the College of Education. There are many ways to evaluate the research promise and quality of work of an assistant professor. First, is to consider the amount of productivity. Since arriving to UA, Dr. Hooper has 13 refereed publications. Her work is published in top research journals in the field of early childhood education: Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Early Childhood Education Journal, Early Child Development and Care, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Child Care and Youth Forum, Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, and Journal of Early Intervention.

She also has two accepted publications and three under-review. Not only is she productive in terms of her publication record, but her efforts to secure external and internal funding for her work is quite remarkable. At present, she has secured $571,137 in external grants and contracts awarded to the University of Alabama. In 2020 alone, Dr. Hooper was awarded three foundation grants totaling $346,517.00 from extremely competitive outlets—The Spencer Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Caplan Foundation for Early Childhood. Additionally, she also has 18 state service grants and contracts with the Alabama Department of Early Childhood of Education and the Alabama Department of Human Resources with two more under-review, all work that increases visibility of the early childhood program given its resurrection with Hooper’s arrival in 2017.

Hooper’s also had over $4 million in unfunded grants—both as PI and CO-PI. Securing external funding from federal agencies and foundations is no easy feat but Hodges is undeterred as she keeps forging ahead understanding it often takes several submission cycles to secure external funding. As such, these efforts show she is interested in pursuing avenues for funding her research agenda. Clearly, Dr. Hooper is a hardworking and extremely gifted and productive scholar especially given the high rate of research publications and grants and contract submissions for a junior faculty member with a 2/2 teaching load.

A second way to consider the quality of an emerging scholar’s work is to examine the presentation activity. Again, Dr. Hooper distinguishes herself. In her short time as an Assistant Professor, she has presented at 26 International and National research conferences (e.g., American Educational Research Association and National Research Conference in Early Childhood since arriving at the University of Alabama. The quantity of presentations indicates her commitment to share research with other colleagues across the country. Quantity alone does not make an assistant professor a successful scholar, but the presentations must be of high quality as well. Having attended multiple research presentations at both National and International conference venues, I can also speak to her presentation quality. Her research is easily understood and translational to practitioners. Dr. Hooper is an effective presenter with a passion for her research. Finally, Dr. Hooper has distinguished herself in honors and awards for her research since her appointment in 2017. In 2018, she was awarded the Early Education and Child Development SIG Outstanding Dissertation Award by the American Educational Research Association. In 2019, she was awarded the Marvin P. Sussman Dissertation Award in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Delaware. And most recently, in 2021, Dr. Hooper was also awarded the Early Education and Child Development SIG Early Career Research Award from the American Educational Research Association, an honor that speaks to her promise as an early childhood researcher and scholar. These awards and distinctions indicate that Dr. Hooper is respected as a young scholar and holds promise for continued success. Dr. Hooper has shown herself to be a valuable asset to the field of early childhood and family studies. In her publication record, grant activity, scholarly presentations, and awards she demonstrates her commitment to high-quality research. In her tenure as a junior faculty member, she has established a clear vision for her research agenda and has taken steps to ensure she not only meets the minimum requirements for future tenure and promotion but surpasses them.

Nellie Rose McCrory Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching: Dr. Lisa Fowler

Picture of Lisa FowlerWhen asked by her students about one of the important aspects of teaching students at any level, Dr. Melisa “Lisa” Fowler notes the importance of “building relationships”. Dr. Fowler models this each day and serves as a role model for her students, especially the teacher candidates in countless ways. In and out of the classroom, Dr. Fowler exemplifies what it means to be an outstanding teacher.

An important trait of an outstanding teaching is to respond to the students’ needs. Dr. Fowler developed an immediate response to the university closing due to COVID 19. She immediately went to work to seek ways to support her preservice teachers. She took the situation and made it a “teachable moment” that would enable the students to continue developing their pedagogical skills learn and support the educational community by creating Digital Learning 101 in a remote learning environment. These students were able to give back to P-12 educators and students with videos and instructional materials to support learning. Former student Ashlee Brown described the impact of being a student under Fowler’s tutelage at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020: “…when faced with a brand new style of learning due to COVID-19, Dr. Fowler not only adapted, she excelled. Dr. Fowler created a Facebook group in which teachers could share ideas and seek support for teaching in the digital world. Many of my lesson ideas have come from this community of learners. I am so fortunate to grow and learn from Dr. Fowler each day.”

During the Fall 2020 semester, Fowler further adapted to COVID-19 and responded to the new challenges created by the pandemic. When she recognized that her students might not have the opportunity to engage with their students and their families through a school-based family night, she sought another way–virtual STEM nights. Fowler spent countless hours contacting school districts, establishing the appropriate technologies for the preservice teachers, the students, and their families to participate, and preparing her students for a new way to offer this important event. Over three nights, Fowler and her students took STEM activities into the homes of families throughout our surrounding communities. Fowler set the example for her students that the pandemic could not stop teaching and learning; it just requires new ways to make it happen.

One of the most important aspects of teacher education is to connect theory and practice for our students. Dr. Fowler strives to serve her students through authentic learning experiences. One example is the creation of the STEM project at Woodland Forrest Elementary School in Tuscaloosa. Her science students were constantly asking for more opportunities to teach science as they have been shown to teach it. Dr. Fowler’s response to her students has grown from visiting one teacher’s classroom to moving her class to the school and evolving into her students producing culminating STEM Family Night. This event has grown to over 400 students and families each year in attendance.

Olivia Godsey, 2020 graduate describes the impact of this effort: “Dr. Fowler is the definition of a lifelong learner. “She is always looking for how she can help her students, improve her craft, and learn new technologies and techniques. She worked closely with cooperating teachers at Woodland Forrest Elementary school to lead STREAM family night, push science in the homes of students, and build relationships between Tuscaloosa City School staff and University Staff and Students. Because of Dr. Fowler’s innovative ideas, intentionality, and collaboration, I know the teacher I am and the teacher I strive to become.”

According to Dr. Fowler, “The relationship with my students is why I do this job.”

W. Ross Palmer Service to Students Award (Faculty): Dr. Kathy Wetzel

Picture of Kathy WetzelWith Dr. Kathy Wetzel’s upcoming retirement in January of 2022, it is appropriate to provide her with an appreciation for her contributions to the students in the College for the last 19 years. Prior to joining the College in her role as Associate Dean for Student Services and Certification in 2002, Wetzel served the College, Tuscaloosa County Schools, and Tuscaloosa City Schools as the Executive Director of the Alabama Consortium for Educational Renewal.

Throughout Wetzel’s service in the College, she has exemplified the dedication demonstrated by Dr. Ross Palmer. Wetzel’s work as associate dean touches every student in our college in many ways. Through countless hours she works to ensure that every student has the opportunity to learn and is supported along the way. Dr. Wetzel is the “go-to” person in the COE when a student needs extra help and support. Throughout her career, she has worked tirelessly to support students often working after hours and on weekends. As educators we celebrate student successes. Unfortunately, as the Academic Misconduct Monitor for the COE, Dr. Wetzel has to deal with situations in which students may not have chosen the best road to travel. It is this part of her job that I think may even be the most important. Dr. Wetzel meets with every student in this situation and provides and, many times, has to provide the student with sanctions and also caring advice that they do not want to hear at that time. Dr. Wetzel handles each situation fairly with consideration and care.

As Dr. Wetzel prepares to conclude her professional career, it is difficult to summarize all of the innovations and exceptional activities in which she has engaged. As a public school educator, she provided countless services to special education students in the Tuscaloosa County Schools. She has also served the community through her contributions to numerous organizations that support special needs students. Before beginning work as Associate Dean, Dr. Wetzel led efforts in the COE’s Professional Development Schools that impacted local school students and UA preservice teachers. Through her work in the COE, some ways she has supported students through the Academic Honor Council and the COE Exceptions Board. The Exceptions Board, which Dr. Wetzel chairs provides students with an avenue to present situations that made need extra care and consideration and may not fit into the rules and procedures by which we govern. In closing, the “mission at the College of Education is to be a leader in Alabama and across the nation in teaching, scholarship, advocacy, and service by developing professionals with pedagogic and disciplinary expertise who advance the intellectual and social conditions of all learners in a globalized society” (education.ua.edu). Dr. Kathy Wetzel has demonstrated this every day through her work. She has been a role model for us all.

W. Ross Palmer Service to Students Award (Staff): Jill Lancaster

Picture of Jill Lancaster

Ms. Jill Lancaster is an academic advisor and the associate registrar in the College, and she has been in this position since May of 2015. She also worked in this office for a few years prior to 2008.

Over the past six years, Ms. Lancaster has been a tremendous asset to this office and a wonderful person to work with. She has been especially helpful as we have navigated through these troubled waters of dealing with the covid epidemic over this past year. Whenever we are planning as to how we should best provide services to our students under these extremely difficult circumstances, Ms. Lancaster always offers a fresh and common sense perspective.

In addition, whenever our registrar has needed to be away from the office, Ms. Lancaster has always stepped in and assisted us as we are helping our students determine the best path for completing their degree requirements and in preparing for the Teacher Education Program. She has been especially helpful with assisting students who have insufficient requirements. This has been extremely supportive for the faculty as well.

Staff Council Professional Excellence Award: Jackie McQueen

Picture of Jackie McQueen

In April 2011, almost ten years ago, Jackie McQueen joined our team in Student Services & Certification with big shoes to fill, as Lynda Kelly retired after many years of service. In addition to her role as administrative specialist to a very busy associate dean and certification officer (Kathy Wetzel), Jackie works diligently behind the scenes to make sure we always have what we need to do our jobs without disruption–which helps everyone!

She is consistently courteous and professional when interacting with students, faculty/staff, school system representatives, and more. Jackie conveys a willingness to help in any way she can and handles potentially difficult situations sensitively. Additionally, Jackie currently represents Student Services on the Staff Council and has done so for the last three years. Recently, she volunteered as a nominee to serve as Chair-Elect of the Staff Council.

Whether she encourages us to participate in Strive for Five or coordinates a staff breakfast or lunch, Jackie frequently practices “community building.” She puts a lot of effort in details that brighten what would otherwise be an average day at work. She is also an outstanding artist.

Staff Council Professional Excellence Award: Tracie Sellers

Picture of Tracie Sellers

Tracie Sellers displays exceptional work and contributions on a regular basis, but even more so since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Upon learning that UA was shifting to a different model of operations, Ms. Sellers immediately joined a small group during spring break. She worked tirelessly during that time and beyond to monitor the technology supports that would be needed to make the shift to remote learning and change in operations for our faculty, staff, and students. She also joined a small group of faculty who have served the college through webinars, development of resources, and other supports since the pandemic began. Ms. Sellers was tireless in her efforts to ensure that the Technology Support Services Office was meeting everyone’s needs. This included meeting faculty and staff off campus to provide them with the hardware needed to keep working. When our faculty had to shift from face-to-face teaching in Shanghai China to online teaching, Ms. Sellers made sure each instructor and teaching assistant was equipped with the proper technologies to make this happen. Every detail and problem related to the shifts to remote teaching and off campus working was addressed by Tracie Sellers.

During initial responses to the pandemic, Sellers was a leader on campus and represented our college through committee work and other activities as we prepared for students to come back to campus in August. Sellers was involved with making sure that all of were ready to use the technologies in our classrooms as well as ensure safety for our students who occupied those classrooms. Outside of the pandemic response, Sellers has served on the COE’s Technology Advisory Committee for many years and has helped establish new initiatives to support technology use for faculty, staff, and students. This includes making sure technologies in our off-campus classrooms in our local schools are coordinated with our school partners.


The University of Alabama 2020-2021 Award Recipients

2021 The University of Alabama E. Roger Sayers Distinguished Service Award: Dr. Arleene Breaux
Dr. Arleene Breaux, clinical associate professor of higher education administration in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Technology Studies, is the 2021 recipient of the E. Roger Sayers Distinguished Service Award at The University of Alabama.  more…

2020 The University of Alabama Blackmon-Moody Outstanding Professor Award:  Dr. Sara McDaniel
Dr. Sara McDaniel, professor of special education and director of the Center for Interconnected Behavioral and Mental Health Systems at The University of Alabama, has received the 2020 Blackmon-Moody Outstanding Professor Award (awarded fall 2020).  more…

2021 Community-Based Partnership Award: Dr. Peter Hlebowitsh
more information coming…