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College of STEM Names 2023 Faculty Excellence Winners

The Donaghey College of STEM has chosen Mark Baillie, Stephen Grace, Gregory Guisbiers, and Ashokkumar Sharma as its top professors of the year.

The UA Little Rock Donaghey College of STEM has announced the winners of the Faculty Excellence Awards.

The Donaghey College of STEM has chosen Mark Baillie, Stephen Grace, Gregory Guisbiers, and Ashokkumar Sharma as its top professors of the year.

The university-wide Faculty Excellence winners will be revealed during a 5:30 p.m.  ceremony on April 20 in the auditorium in the Engineering and Information Technology Building.

More information about the winners:

Faculty Excellence Award for Public Service

Dr. Stephen Grace is an associate professor of biology at UA Little Rock. Grace is a plant physiologist specializing in plant biochemistry and is a founding director of the UA Little Rock Campus Garden.

The UA Little Rock Campus Garden was founded in 2013 with the intent to bring together students, staff, faculty, and community members who share an interest in sustainability and gardening. The primary mission of the garden is to create a viable urban farm that provides fresh local food to organizations and individuals and to create an educational facility on urban land use, food studies, and sustainable agriculture for students, faculty, staff, and community members.

As director, Grace oversees service, teaching, and outreach activities, coordinates food delivery to food banks and other organizations, and serves as faculty advisor for the Campus Garden Alliance. The success of the garden has also created several partnerships with internal and external organizations, such as the Trojan Food Pantry, Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, Arkansas Interfaith Power and Light, University District, Full Circle FarmsCorps, as well as several local businesses, such as the Root Cafe, River Valley Horticultural Products, and Arkansas Grown.

Over the past six years, the garden has received grants and funding worth more than $60,000. External funding and grants has been provided by the Pulaski County Conservation District, L’Oreal, UA Little Rock Alumni Association, and the AHRA Emergency Relief grant. Grace’s work with the garden exemplifies the university’s role within the broader community.

Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching

Dr. Ashokkumar Sharma is an associate professor of engineering in the School of Engineering and Engineering Technology at UA Little Rock. Sharma has been vital in curriculum development in the School of Engineering and Engineering Technology and has taught over 17 different courses within the school since joining the university seven years ago.

Sharma consistently receives high student evaluations in his courses for his engaging, inclusive, and student-centered learning teaching style. He utilizes techniques such as use of backward design, hands-on lab demonstration, small group-based problem-solving sessions, frequent in-class Q&A sessions, and use of real-world examples and industrial applications to help students learn. This is made evident in the Computer Graphics course he teaches, which is a particularly challenging visualization course freshman engineering students take. Because of constant teaching efforts, Sharma has been consistently rated as one of the best teachers in the school by students.

Sharma’s colleagues have commented and praised his work on developing and teaching new courses in the program. Sharma has taught many different courses in the program since joining the university, giving insight into the program and aiding in curriculum development.

Outside the program. Sharma also makes an effort to improve his teaching techniques and educate other faculty. He has been a regular participant in the Academy for Teaching and Learning Excellence and the Mobile Institute of Scientific Teaching (MIST). He recently received a Scientific Teaching Mentor Certificate for facilitating a five-day workshop with MIST on scientific evidence-based teaching practices. Sharma is currently assisting the MIST team on their ongoing educational research funded by the NSF.

Faculty Excellence Award for Research and Creative Endeavors

Dr. Gregory Guisbiers is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy in the School of Physical Sciences. His primary research focus is on nanotechnology.

Guisbiers’ research goal is to develop new nano/quantum materials with a defined crystalline structure and physico-chemical properties that cannot be achieved by using wet-chemistry techniques. In the early years of nanotechnology, nanoparticles were created with little control over shape, size, composition, and crystalline structure. Therefore, new synthesis protocols needed to be developed. Guisbiers uses a new synthesis protocol called Pulsed Laser Ablation in Liquids (PLAL) to control the size, shape and chemical composition of nanoparticles. The main advantage of that technique lies in the surface purity of the nanoparticles being produced. Guisbiers’s work has been well documented in his publications.

Guisbiers has published 30 peer reviewed articles in the last five years. This is an average of six peer-reviewed articles per year. His 2019 article, “Advances in thermodynamic modeling of nanoparticles” published in “Advances in Physics: X,” has  been called a reference in the field by his colleagues. He also recently edited a book with Elsevier, entitled “Antimicrobial Activity of Nanoparticles.” Guisbiers recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $750,000. The goal of this grant is to synthesize quantum materials and prepare the “quantum” workforce in Arkansas. The grant will support two Ph.D. students and last five years.

Faculty Excellence Award for Rising Faculty

Dr. Mark Baillie is an assistant professor of chemistry in the School of Physical Sciences at UA Little Rock. Baillie has been praised for teaching, service, and research and scholarship.

Baillie has focused much of his career on the science of teaching. There are numerous examples of his efforts, but one example is the drastic reduction of DFW rates, the percentage of students in a course or program who receive a D or F grade or who withdraw, in his general chemistry class. His class has less than half the DFW rate observed in traditional classes, but students perform at the same level on the nationally normed standardized exams in the class. This shows there has not been a reduction in class standards.

Baillie brought expertise from the National Institute on Scientific Teaching and with this expertise has provided Mobile Institutes on Scientific Teaching (MoSI) workshops to UA Little Rock faculty and graduate students. Over the past four years, he has trained 87 faculty members and 18 graduate students. The focus of these workshops is fostering a more engaging learning environment for students through the use of evidence-based practices and active learning. Baillie also co-founded the university’s first Learning Assistant (LA) program in the Chemistry department with the School of Physical Sciences. This program uses students to serve as peer mentors and active learning collaborators. It has also been replicated in other units across campus.

Baillie’s primary scholarship has been on teaching and learning. He led an interdisciplinary team that was awarded a prestigious $2 million NSF grant to promote active learning in STEM classrooms at the university.