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Congratulations, 2024 Faculty and Staff Award Winners!

Congratulations to all our 2024 faculty and staff award winners! These awards recognize outstanding faculty and staff members who have demonstrated their excellence and perseverance in teaching and service. They have dedicated themselves to guiding the future of our students and the University community.

Staff Award Winners

On May 9, the University held its second annual #BEGREAT awards reception at the Gaylord National Harbor and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland. During this event, various University instructors and staff members received their awards from the University.

Excellence in Service Award: Esra Mills

The Excellence in Service Award is given to an outstanding staff member in recognition of that individual’s dedication, determination, and quality of work. It also commemorates the winner’s commitment to providing excellent service to students, alumni, faculty and other staff.

Esra Mills faculty and staff award
Esra Mills

This year’s award winner, Esra Mills, the Senior Manager of Military Outreach, went above and beyond the standards set by the University. She provided outstanding service and was respectful and supportive of the people she helped.

Esra always aims to be a servant leader. As a military spouse who understands the military lifestyle, she is passionate about helping others in the military community further their education.

Esra has been with the University since 2020 and has over 10 years of experience in higher education, mainly focusing on military higher education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English studies with a minor in German studies from the University of Tübingen, Germany. Esra also earned a master’s degree in human relations and a graduate certificate in human resources diversity and development from the University of Oklahoma.

Esra has been an assistant director with Central Michigan University and a site director with the University of Oklahoma. She has also been an administrative support coordinator with the Army Education Center.

For the University, Esra manages the Fort Cavazos and Fort Bliss, El Paso student population. She also volunteers with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s “Hiring Our Heroes – Military Spouse Professional Network.”

Chapter Advisor of the Year Award: Dr. James Barney and Dr. Mily Kao

The Chapter Advisor of the Year Award is presented to two faculty advisors who took an active role in their student organization. This year’s winners, Dr. James Barney and Dr. Mily Kao, fostered thriving relationships with organization members, leaders, and the Office of Student and Alumni Affairs. These advisors provided their organization, the Model UN Club, with exemplary guidance.

Dr. James Barney

James Barney faculty and staff award
Dr. James Barney

Dr. James Barney is a Professor of Legal Studies at the School of Security and Global Studies and a co-advisor to the Model UN Club. Dr. Barney has been the recipient of several awards. He believes that short-in-person experiences like competing in Model United Nations conferences and other experiential learning opportunities provide digital students valuable opportunities to enhance their education. He teaches undergraduate and graduate law and history courses.

In addition to having earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of Memphis, Dr. Barney has several master’s degrees, including one in U.S. foreign policy and a J.D. from New York Law School. Dr. Barney serves as one of the faculty advisors of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity and the Model United Nations Club, and he is the pre-law advisor at the University. He is writing a book on the politics of New York City during the administration of David Dinkins, New York City’s first African American mayor, 1989-1993.

Dr. Mily Kao

Milly Kao faculty and staff award
Dr. Mily Kao

Dr. Mily Kao is an adjunct faculty instructor in the School of Security and Global Studies and has taught at the University for 12 years. Dr. Kao holds a master’s degree from Columbia University and completed her Ph.D. at Arizona State University. Her research and teaching interests include international relations, Asian affairs, and U.S.-China relations.

Dr. Kao is also the co-advisor of the Model UN Club. She is passionate about experiential learning and a big believer that this approach can be also done in an online setting.

Together with her co-advisors, Dr. Kao has led the Model UN Club to participate in many in-person and online Model UN conferences. It is her hope and goal to make the club more inclusive, more accessible and more fun for all students. 

Faculty Awards

Several outstanding faculty members were recognized during the second #BEGREAT event and the May 10 faculty awards brunch.

Outstanding Faculty Awards

Two outstanding faculty members received these awards:

  • Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year – Dr. John DiBenedetto
  • Outstanding Faculty Scholarship and Research – Dr. Kristen Miller

Dr. John DiBenedetto

Dr. DiBenedetto has held leadership and C-suite senior executive positions for 34 years at six Fortune 500 companies in the retail/wholesale/distribution, financial services and telecommunications industries. He has worked at Wal-Mart Stores, Limited Brands, Prudential Securities, Wachovia Bank and AT&T. His last position was Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer at Advance Auto Parts.

John DiBenedetto faculty and staff award
Dr. John DiBenedetto

Dr. DiBenedetto currently serves as the Senior Fellow and Program Director for The Conference Board’s Human Capital Practice, where he utilizes his practitioner experience to facilitate quarterly council meetings consisting of 200+ Fortune 500 Chief Human Resources Officers.

Dr. DiBenedetto holds four degrees and has taught thousands of college students for the past 36 years at 12 higher education institutions. He now serves as an adjunct faculty member in the University’s Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in human resource management.

Dr. DiBenedetto has published articles in Workforce, Talent Management, Training and Development, Chief Learning Officer, and Diversity Executive magazines. He earned the Association for Talent Development BEST Award in 2006 and the Masie Learning Innovation/Leadership Award for his talent transformation work at Wal-Mart Stores.

Dr. DiBenedetto’s lifetime accomplishments were recognized in 2007 when he earned the Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award at Nova Southeastern University’s Wayne Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship Alumni of the Year Award.

Dr. Kristen Miller

Dr. Kristen Miller is a professor of space studies at the University. She holds three degrees, including a doctoral degree in theoretical astrophysics from the University of Maryland College Park.

Kristen Miller faculty and staff award
Dr. Kristen Miller

Dr. Miller has taught online since 2005 and for the University for over five years, and she conducts research investigating the efficacy of virtual laboratory exercises in student achievement of learning outcomes. Dr. Miller’s scientific research focuses on supporting crewed space exploration and extending astronomical knowledge of planets and stars.

Dr. Miller leads the APUS Analog Research Group (AARG), which promotes student leadership and hands-on research opportunities. Under her leadership, AARG successfully completed seven analog missions at three different space analog facilities, with three additional missions planned for 2024.

Her research with AARG focuses on the uses of cyanobacteria in space exploration and the effects of time delay on communications between the crew and Mission Support. Dr. Miller is the recipient of a 2024 NASA EPSCoR R3 grant in support of her research involving the use of cyanobacteria as a biofertilizer. She also received faculty research grants in 2022, 2023 and 2024 in support of her work with AARG.

Dr. Miller’s research interests in astronomy currently include studies of supernovae events and exoplanet transits. She leads the Supernova Search Program at the University, a student research program dedicated to detecting transient objects in nearby galaxies and received a faculty research grant in 2021 in support of this research.

Dr. Miller is a co-advisor to the Exoplanet Transit Group, analyzing telescope images of exoplanet transits. Dr. Miller is also the faculty advisor for the student chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

In addition, Dr. Miller is the co-Editor in Chief of the Space Education and Strategic Applications (SESA) Journal. She serves on a variety of university committees, including the Graduate Council and the STEM Academic Quality Committee.

Graduate Excellence in Teaching Awards

The Graduate Excellence in Teaching Award recognizes outstanding faculty members at the graduate level. To qualify for this award, these instructors must demonstrate teaching excellence, leadership and scholarship in their disciplines.

Dr. Janet Athanasiou – School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Dr. Janet Athanasiou is a devoted student affairs practitioner and researcher deeply committed to enhancing the collegiate experience, understanding students’ identity development, fostering belonging, and advocating for students in higher education.

Janet Athanasiou faculty and staff award
Dr. Janet Athanasiou

Dr. Athanasiou holds multiple degrees and currently serves as the Assistant Director of Student Life at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. She plays a key role in shaping student affairs policies, fostering collaborations, and providing support to students in need.

In addition to her administrative roles, Dr. Athanasiou serves as an adjunct faculty member for the School of Arts, Humanities and Education. She teaches courses for the Master’s of Education: Student Affairs program.

Her previous roles at the University, including Program Manager in Student and Alumni Affairs, have provided her with valuable experience in supporting students and advancing inclusive practices within higher education. Notably, Dr. Athanasiou has contributed to the university’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Council, working alongside colleagues to promote systemic change and foster a sense of belonging on campus.

Her contributions extend beyond her institutions through her publications and presentations on critical issues such as diversity, equity, inclusion, leadership, and student advocacy in higher education. Dr. Athanasiou remains dedicated to empowering students and advancing the field of student affairs through her research and professional engagements.

Dr. Monica GalanteDr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business

Dr. Monica Galante joined the University as a part-time faculty member and became a full-time instructor in April 2019.

Monica Galante faculty and staff award

Dr. Galante holds several degrees, including a bachelor’s degree in human resource management  from Park University; a master of business administration degree from the University of Phoenix, New Mexico; a master’s degree in human resource management from Tarleton State University, and a Doctorate of Management in organizational leadership from the University of Phoenix’s School of Advanced Studies. Her research interests are in the areas of diversity and inclusion and employee engagement, with the goal of improving the relationships between managers and employees.

Dr. Galante is involved in both her community and professional organizations, participating in major fundraising events, the certification process of human resource professionals, and serving as a volunteer for the Mandela Washington Fellowship Project. She has received both professional and community accolades for her contributions and efforts, including the University’s Faculty Member of the Year Award in 2020.

Dr. Galante teaches courses in human resources and management. By helping students learn how to find, use, create, and apply knowledge, she helps them to improve their self-confidence in their knowledge and abilities.

Dr. Thomas Pucci – School of Health Sciences

Thomas Pucci faculty and staff award
Dr. Thomas Pucci

Dr. Thomas Pucci is a part-time instructor for the School of Health Sciences. He has earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from California State University Sacramento, a master’s degree in physical education from the University of the Pacific, and a Ph.D. in education curriculum and instruction from the University of New Mexico.

Dr. Pucci has held various positions throughout the course of his 28-year career. He has been as a head tennis coach, an associate professor of health and physical education, an athletic director at three different universities, and an instructor in health sciences and sport studies.

Dr. Pucci has taught athletic administration, sport management, and health and nutrition classes for the last 25 years. In addition to teaching University courses, he is currently the Associate Dean of Students in the School of Education at Northcentral University. He has directed dissertation students and published over 100 peer-reviewed articles.

Dr. Eduardo Martinez – School of Security and Global Studies

Dr. Eduardo Martinez is a part-time instructor with the School of Security and Global Studies. He holds a bachelor’s degree in international students from the University of Texas at Austin, a master’s degree in legal studies from Antioch University, a J.D. in law from Mississippi college and a master’s degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College. He is also a graduate of the Joint Forces Staff College and the Canadian Forces College.

Eduardo Martinez
Dr. Eduardo Martinez

He began his government career with the U.S. Agency for International Development, assigned to the Latin America and Caribbean Bureau in Washington, D.C. Dr. Martinez served as a crisis manager for various events including the Hurricane Allen Task Force and the Cuban-Haitian Refugee Program.

He later joined the U.S. Navy and served in the Pacific and Atlantic theaters, participating in amphibious operations and mine hunting. Dr. Martinez performed two deployments in support of the Global War on Terrorism, excelled in joint operations, and was involved with Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma and Gustav recovery missions.

He also served as the Fleet Forces Command’s Liaison Officer during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Dr. Martinez retired from the Navy as a Captain after 30 years of honorable service with numerous awards.

Dr. Martinez has served as a Special Assistant Attorney General and the Mississippi Auditor’s Office. He was also a Corporate Counsel and Director of Site Leasing simultaneously for two corporations and has attended the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

Dr. Martinez is an attorney licensed to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of International Trade, the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Federal District Courts of Mississippi, as well as all Mississippi courts and the Tribal Court of Mississippi Choctaw Indians. He is also a Certified Mediator.

Dr. Kelly Reiss – School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

Kelly Reiss
Dr. Kelly Reiss

Dr. Kelly Reiss is a professor of environmental science in the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). From the University of Florida, she holds an associate degree in environmental engineering, a bachelor’s degree in forest resources and conservation, a master’s degree in environmental engineering sciences, and a Ph.D. in environmental engineering sciences. Her thesis research explored the role of vines in wetland primary succession following landscape creation after phosphate mining.

Dr. Reiss is a wetland community ecologist with an interest in landscape connectivity. She is a Certified Senior Ecologist through the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and participated in the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) Social & Behavioral Research Stage 2.

Her more recent research interests involve indicators of wetland condition through managing the HT Odum Center for Wetlands Involvement in the National Wetland Condition Assessment (NWCA). She has served as the co-principal investigator of the University-sponsored Water Testing and Awareness Project (WaterTAP), a participatory science project bringing hands-on drinking water quality testing to undergraduate environmental science majors.

Her past projects have addressed hydrology, dissolved oxygen, and nutrients in isolated wetlands and springs and ecological and permit success in wetland mitigation banking. Other projects have included wetland biological indicators and wetland creation and development in a post-mining landscape.

Dr. Reiss is a lifetime member of the ESA and the Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS), as well as a current member of the New England Estuarine Research Society (NEERS) and The Wildlife Society (TWS). She is a faculty co-advisor to the University’s chapter of The Wildlife Society and the University’s chapter of the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP).

Dr. Reiss is also involved in her local community, serving as the Chair of the Town of Barrington Open Space Committee and on the Stewardship Committee of the Barrington Land Conservation Trust. She volunteers as a parent chaperone for her children’s land stewardship project at the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. In addition, Dr. Reiss has been volunteering bimonthly with her family at the Barrington Farm School on their community composting project for the past year.

Undergraduate Excellence in Teaching Awards

The Undergraduate Excellence in Teaching Award recognizes outstanding faculty members at the undergraduate level. Similar to the Graduate Excellence in Teaching Award, these instructors have shown teaching excellence, leadership and scholarship in their disciplines. 

Dr. Susan Lowman-ThomasSchool of Arts, Humanities and Education

Susan Lowman-Thomas
Dr. Susan Lowman-Thomas

Dr. Susan Lowman-Thomas is a faculty member for the School of Arts, Humanities and Education and has taught writing, research, and literature courses for the English Department for over 13 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English education, a master’s in English and a doctoral degree, all from Idaho State University.

Dr. Lowman-Thomas has taught at the university level for decades. Her students’ success is paramount to her and she aims to help her students increase their self-confidence, enthusiasm, and competence related to reading and writing.

Dr. Lowman-Thomas presents regularly at the annual meetings of the College English Association and has presented twice at Modern Language Association meetings. In April 2024, she and her colleagues gave a presentation on the use of AI in the classroom at the Online Learning Consortium conference. As a founder of the English Department’s F.R.O.M. Conference, she has presented on marginalized writers, including Romani and indigenous women.

She takes writing courses regularly to polish her writing skills in poetry and creative non-fiction. Dr. Lowman-Thomas particularly favors American nature writers and works on environmental issues.

Dr. Sheri HernandezDr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business

Sheri Hernandez
Dr. Sheri Hernandez

Dr. Sheri Hernandez is a full-time assistant professor in the University’s Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business, teaching hospitality management and business courses. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, a master of business administration from Lehigh University, and a doctor of education in curriculum and instruction from Capella University.

For the University, Dr. Hernandez has held various positions, serving as an adjunct instructor of hospitality management and a program director. She is a strong supporter of the military, and her relatives have over 80 years of consecutive military service.

Service before self is part of who she is, which is why she values the opportunity to interact with the students serving our country and community to help them achieve their academic goals.

Dr. Hernandez combines her skills from management in the hospitality industry with her career experience in financial commodity price risk management, supplier negotiations, and strategic sourcing to provide students with a customer-centric, yet financially sound approach to business operations and food safety.

Dr. Adrienne HerrenbruckSchool of Health Sciences

Adrienne Herrenbruck
Dr. Adrienne Herrenbruck

Dr. Adrienne Herrenbruck is a full-time professor in the School of Health Sciences. She holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science/wellness from Murray State University, a master’s degree in exercise science from Georgia State University and a Ph.D. in exercise science from the University of Kentucky. Her dissertation focused on skeletal muscle autophagy. 

Dr. Herrenbruck is also a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Her research interests include skeletal muscle physiology, the impact of various diets on overall muscle health, and the role of hypoxic training on body composition.

Dr. Laura CulbertsonSchool of Security and Global Studies

Laura Culbertson
Dr. Laura Culbertson

Dr. Laura Culbertson is a full-time professor in the School of Security and Global Studies, teaching Middle East Studies courses in the international relations degree program. Dr. Culbertson holds a bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago and received her master’s and doctoral degrees in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan.

She has over 20 years of teaching experience and has taught courses at the University of Michigan, Xavier University and the University. In 2022, she was awarded the Undergraduate Excellence in Teaching Award.

At the University, Dr. Culbertson has served on the Artificial Intelligence Task Force and explored how digital literacy skills can increase her students’ access to knowledge and benefit their career goals. She stocks her classrooms with resources including specialized databases, artificial intelligence resources, and other digital tools that equip students to find, manage, and assess information. Dr. Culbertson seeks to coach students in how to use these resources to support their future classes and ambitions beyond the University, whether in life or work, and to support lifelong learning.

Professor Kristen Kostelnik – School of STEM

Professor Kristen Kostelnik is a full-time assistant professor in the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, teaching environmental science courses. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and communications from Appalachian State University and a master’s degree in botany from North Carolina State University.

Kristen Kostelnik
Professor Kristen Kostelnik

Professor Kostelnik joined the University 14 years ago as an adjunct faculty member in environmental science, with the goal of designing two new botany courses and teaching core courses such as soil science. She has been a full-time assistant professor of environmental science for the last 12 years.

Professor Kostelnik is an ecologist and conservation biologist, with her research focusing on rare, threatened, and endangered plant species and their associated plant communities. Her focus is on teaching ecology at various scales, conservation biology, soil science and environmental management.

Professor Kostelnik is the lead instructor and primary professor for many of the required upper-level environmental science courses. She is motivated by her desire to bring her authentic self and personal passion to her teaching. She measures her success by forging real connections with students, ensuring that they leave the University knowing and caring about nature.

Dr. Wallace E. Boston Leadership Award: Dr. Jarrod Sadulski

Jarrod Sadulski faculty and staff award
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski

The Dr. Wallace E. Boston Leadership Award is presented annually by the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees. This year, the winner is Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, who has displayed outstanding leadership and had a significant impact on his community, industry, and the world.

Dr. Sadulski is a full-time associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Thomas Edison State College, a master’s degree in criminal justice from American Military University and a doctoral degree in criminal justice from Northcentral University.

Dr. Sadulski has over 10 years of law enforcement experience including counter human trafficking, counter terrorism, homeland security, and local law enforcement. He has been a featured speaker and presenter on the topics of human trafficking, global security, international drug trafficking, stress management in policing at conferences in the United States, Europe, and Central America.

Dr. Sadulski has also presented on the topic of domestic terrorism at an intelligence conference to experts from over 10 different nations in Europe.

Dr. Sadulski frequently conducts in-country research on human trafficking and international narcotics trafficking in Central and South America and performs humanitarian work in Central America. During this research and humanitarian work, Dr. Sadulski interviewed former human traffickers who provided detailed insight into current trends in human trafficking.

In 2023, Dr. Sadulski testified before Congress to the Committee on Homeland Security regarding human trafficking at the southwest border of the U.S. Dr Sadulski serves as a consultant on how to counter human trafficking in locations around the world, including North Cyprus and Latin America.

Dr. Sadulski served in the U.S. Coast Guard for over 20 years. During his service, he was awarded the Inspirational Leadership Award, the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terror Service Medal.

James P. Etter Creativity and Innovation Award: Dr. Brian Freeland

The James P. Etter Creativity and Innovation Award is presented to a member of the University community in recognition of an innovative or creative contribution that has made a significant impact on their community, industry, and world.

Brian Freeland
Dr. Brian Freeland

Dr. Brian Freeland is the Dean of the School of Health Sciences and has held that role since 2014. He holds a bachelor’s degree in teaching in physical education from Radford University, a master’s degree in sports management from the United States Sports Academy and a doctoral degree in sports management and leadership from Northcentral University.

With over 16 years of experience in higher education, Dr. Freeland has made significant contributions to academia. He spearheaded the development of innovative programs in health sciences, healthcare administration, sports management, and esports. Under his leadership, these programs have expanded and achieved remarkable student satisfaction and academic success outcomes.

Dr. Freeland’s commitment to excellence extends beyond program development. He has implemented graduate faculty advising initiatives and created an optimized scheduling model to provide personalized support to students, foster their academic growth, and enhanced courses.

Dr. Freeland has championed educational support initiatives, including faculty training in innovative teaching methodologies through teaching excellence webinars. Furthermore, his collaborative approach to education, exemplified by the team-teaching model with industry experts, enhances the learning experience and provides students with valuable insights into real-world practices.

Dr. Freeland is a coach in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), where he mentors young basketball players and instills in them the values of teamwork and perseverance.

Excellence in Diversity Award: The Out F.R.O.M. the Shadows Conference Committee

This year, the Excellence in Diversity Award is given to a committee that has made an outstanding commitment to fostering diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. The Out F.R.O.M. the Shadows Conference Committee created a welcoming and supportive community through its visibility, communication, and educational efforts.

The Out F.R.O.M. the Shadows Conference began when a small group of English Department faculty brainstormed opportunities to add more inclusivity and diversity to the University’s curriculum. The conference is an opportunity for all voices to communicate their creations, ideas, and perspectives.

The first Out F.R.O.M. the Shadows Conference took place in October 2022, and the second annual conference was held in October 2023. The committee has planned a third conference for October 2024.

Mikhaila Urrabazo is a Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Religion and a Master of Education: Academic Advising in Higher Education, both from AMU. Mikhaila is also a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success honor society.

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