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UA Little Rock Honors Boles, Skurat Harris, Siraj, Thorlton, and Rockwell as Top Faculty of 2024

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock has honored Anastasia Boles, Dr. Heidi Skurat Harris, Dr. Noureen Siraj, Kiel Thorlton, and Dr. Casey Rockwell as the winners of the 2024 Faculty Excellence Awards.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock has honored Anastasia Boles, Dr. Heidi Skurat Harris, Dr. Noureen Siraj, Kiel Thorlton, and Dr. Casey Rockwell as the winners of the 2024 Faculty Excellence Awards.

Anastasia Boles, professor of law, won the Faculty Excellence Award in Teaching, sponsored by the Bailey Family. Skurat Harris, associate professor of rhetoric and writing, has won the Faculty Excellence Award in Research and Creative Endeavors, sponsored by Dr. Jaafer Golzar and Renee Golzar, while Siraj, associate professor of chemistry, received the Faculty Excellence Award in Public Service, sponsored by the Chancellor’s Circle.

In the university’s newest Faculty Excellence categories, UA Little Rock honored Kiel Thorlton, assistant professor of mass communication, as the second recipient of the Rising Faculty Excellence Award, sponsored by Dr. Scott Bowen, as well as Rockwell, associate professor of marketing and advertising, as the second recipient of the Faculty Excellence Award in Social Justice, sponsored by Just Communities of Arkansas.

“Our recipients’ unwavering commitment to scholarship, teaching, research, public service, and social justice has significantly enriched both our institution and the wider academic sphere,” Provost Ann Bain said. “On behalf of the university, I extend heartfelt congratulations to each award recipient, expressing gratitude for epitomizing the essence of excellence that defines our institution.”

UA Little Rock annually celebrates the achievements of the top professors of the year who are making a difference in the community through their contributions in teaching, research and creative works, public service, and social justice. This is the highest honor UA Little Rock awards its faculty members. Each university-level award winning faculty member will receive a $5,000 prize.

Created in 1989, the Faculty Excellence Awards has provided a way to recognize the great work of UA Little Rock faculty for the past 35 years and is made possible through the valued contributions of the Office of the Chancellor, the Office of the Provost, the UA Little Rock Chancellor’s Circle, and the Bailey Foundation.

The UA Little Rock Board of Visitors selected the university-wide winners from the 19 faculty members who were selected as the top faculty members for the 2023-24 academic year in each of the five categories in their respective colleges and the William H. Bowen School of Law.

“I want to give a special thank you to the Board of Visitors,” Bain said. “We very much appreciate their dedication to this and the positive comments we’ve seen from them about the dedication of our faculty members.”

Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching

Anastasia Boles is a professor of law at the William H. Bowen School of Law and co-director of Bowen’s Center for Racial Justice and Criminal Justice Reform. She has been noted by fellow faculty, students, and alumni as an example of the teacher-mentor model. Boles’ background is in large law firm litigation, and she brings her civil litigation experiences to her classes and incorporates culturally proficient legal instruction into her courses.

“Professor Boles exemplifies the qualities that this award recognizes,” Bowen Dean Emerita Theresa Beiner said. “She is a master teacher; an innovative teacher who incorporates culturally proficient legal instruction in her courses, creating a more inclusive and engaging experience for all of her students; and a mentor to the students in her classes as well as those who participate in her projects in Bowen’s Center for Racial Justice and Criminal Justice Reform.”

Unlike most law classes, which use the Socratic method, Boles uses a panel system to call on students. This allows students to know what day they will be questioned in class and helps build student confidence.

“I am extremely honored and humbled to win this award,” Boles said. “Our students at UA Little Rock are so talented. My goal as a Bowen law professor is to help them develop the lawyering skills necessary to become competent, equity-informed, and culturally competent leaders. Many students come to law school wanting to change the world, so I focus on keeping my classes interactive, grounded in social context, and full of opportunities for formative assessment.”

Boles received a J.D. from Columbia Law School and a B.A. (double major) in political science and sociology from Stanford University.

Faculty Excellence Award for Research and Creative Endeavors

Dr. Heidi Skurat Harris is an associate professor and graduate coordinator in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing. With a decade of experience at UA Little Rock, Harris has made significant impacts in the research field.

Her research areas of online instruction and online writing program development allow her to use her research data to improve her teaching and advising. She is also a recognized national expert on online writing instruction, editing the Bedford Bibliography of Research in Online Writing Instruction and co-authoring important works such as “Multimedia in the College Classroom: Improve Learning and Connect with Students in Online and Hybrid Courses.” She developed UA Little Rock’s Graduate Certificate for Online Writing Instruction, the only certificate of its kind in the nation.

“I am deeply passionate about online education and continually strive to enhance the student experience,” Skurat Harris said. “Whether in the classroom or engaging with students online, I am committed to fostering meaningful interactions that remind students of the human connection behind the screen. When working with online students, it’s especially important to be present in the classroom and interact with students so they know there is a human behind the screen that cares about them.”

Her experiences in teaching and advising online students drive her research agenda. In the last five years, Skurat Harris has published four book chapters, 12 journal articles, a bibliography, and two co-edited books. Her research further appears in books such as “Foundational Practices in Online Writing Instruction” and in some of the top journals in the field, including Technical Communication Quarterly, Computers & Composition, and Communication Quarterly.

Skurat Harris received her Ph.D. in English and an M.A. in English from Ball State University, an M.A. in writing from Missouri State University, and a B.A. in English from the College of the Ozarks.

Faculty Excellence Award for Public Service

Dr. Noureen Siraj is an associate professor of chemistry at UA Little Rock. She is involved in numerous organizations within and outside the university. At UA Little Rock, she serves on the Awards Committee in the Chemistry Program, the Chemical Safety Committee, the Faculty Senate Honors and Awards Committee, and the Student Research and Creative Works Committee. Outside the university, she serves as a grant proposal reviewer for many state and federal agencies including the National Science Foundation and NASA.

Since 2020, she has served as the Chemistry Olympiad Coordinator for the American Chemical Society. The Central Arkansas American Chemical Society honored her with two prestigious awards in 2023 – Central Arkansas Professor of the Year and Volunteer of the Year.

Siraj has played a significant role in the community by helping build pathways to STEM careers for underserved children in Little Rock, as well as encouraging students, especially female students, to follow their STEM-related interests. Over the past five years, Siraj has mentored 22 middle and high school students for their science fair projects, three of whom have won awards at the International Science and Engineering Fair.

“It feels wonderful to be recognized for the efforts I’ve been putting in with students for many years,” Siraj said. “I try to do my best to provide students with as many opportunities as possible. I have seen many undergraduate students in Arkansas who don’t know the future of STEM majors during their studies. I work with my students very closely so that they can see the big picture and the opportunities that await them. I am very proud that some of my minority and first-generation college students who have graduated are now working at national laboratories and making a big difference for their families and in the world. I have received many blessings in my life, and I enjoy public service activities because I want to share my blessings with others.”

She received a Ph.D. in chemistry from Graz University of Technology in Austria and a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Karachi in Pakistan.

Faculty Excellence Award for Rising Faculty

Kiel Thorlton, assistant professor in the School of Mass Communication, joined the university in 2020 and has become well known for his film work and mentoring students.

Thorlton’s film work includes writing, directing, and co-producing a feature film called “A Place Called Home” and writing episodes for the animated series, “Gabriel and the Guardians.” He is currently in preproduction on a second feature film, “The Invisible,” where he serves as writer, director, and co-producer.

“I am so thankful to receive this award because there are some really talented people in the rising faculty pool. In the classroom setting, I try to emphasize working with my students outside of the classroom as much as possible,” said Thorlton, adding that he was headed straight to the set to help a student with his capstone project. “There is a lot that can be learned outside the classroom when you have the opportunity and take the initiative to learn new skills.”

Additionally, he is also the coordinating producer for ESPN+ and manages a student crew responsible for over 100 broadcasts a year. Thorlton received a M.F.A in film & television from Regent University and a B.A. in mass communication and theatre from Campbellsville University.

Faculty Excellence Award for Social Justice

Dr. Casey Rockwell is an associate professor of marketing and advertising at UA Little Rock. During her time at UA Little Rock, she has demonstrated her dedication to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of academic life.

In the classroom, Rockwell works to create inclusive learning environments where every student feels valued and respected. She incorporates diverse perspectives into her curriculum and challenges students to examine issues of inequality and injustice to inspire them to become agents of positive change.

Additionally, Rockwell serves marginalized communities and vulnerable populations by amplifying their voices and advocating for their rights. She has served at organizations such as the Junior League of Little Rock, Arkansas Children’s Hospital Auxiliary, and the Arkansas Bar Association Board of Trustees. Rockwell has shown her commitment to serving others and opening doors of opportunity through her volunteer work, community partnerships, and advocacy campaigns.

“We are fortunate to have a stellar community here at UA Little Rock, and I am truly privileged to be a part of it,” Rockwell said. “I firmly believe in the principle of ‘to whom much is given, much is expected.’ It is incumbent upon each of us to contribute to the greater good. I am particularly excited about the opportunity to work with esteemed organizations such as the Junior League of Little Rock and the Arkansas Bar Association, as well as engage in research focused on evictions and landlord rights. These endeavors are both captivating and rewarding, and I am eager to make meaningful contributions in these areas.”

Rockwell received an Ed.D. in educational administration from UA Little Rock, a J.D. from the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, a Master of Public Service from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and a B.A. in educational policy from Hendrix College.