Faculty tout external awards as way to build community, acknowledge importance of work

Awards and Recognitions

Dan Moser, April 28, 2023

Faculty tout external awards as way to build community, acknowledge importance of work

It’s not necessarily every faculty member’s thing, but seeking external awards has important ramifications beyond individual professional recognition. 

Participants in a panel discussion during the April Faculty Connector encouraged colleagues to take advantage of opportunities to seek out awards for their research, teaching and service. The monthly Faculty Connectors are hosted by the Office of Research and Economic Development. 

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s efforts to boost the number of faculty receiving major external honors are paying off. In the last seven years, Nebraska has doubled the number of annual external awards earned by Husker faculty, from 40 to 84. That’s an average increase of 20% a year. And from 2013 to 2023, the university saw 33 faculty elected as fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  

Increasing external honors has been a strategic goal – even though it challenges the “Nebraska Nice” mentality of keeping quiet about success and ambitions. 

“I am a person who collects gold stars,” said Lily Wang, director of the Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction and Charles W. and Margre H. Durham Distinguished Professor of engineering and technology. From elementary school on, she said, “I definitely have that in my DNA.” 

She believed it was especially important to get involved in professional societies early in her career because women are underrepresented in her field.  

Crystal Garcia, assistant professor of educational administration, agreed. “Embed yourself in associations and contribute,” she said. “They see when people are there to do the work.” 

Wang called the awards process “scaffolding” in building a career, while Garcia referred to honorifics as “a way to build community” within your department and across institutions.  

“Awards elevate the work you’re doing,” said Garcia, who has received early career honors in her field. “That’s good for one’s career, but also for one’s institution and, more broadly, their field of work.” 

Wang said, “It gives you street cred.”  

In 2020, she received an Editor’s Award for the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. 

Successfully seeking awards goes hand-in-hand with helping colleagues receive them, too, the panelists said. It’s important to call award opportunities to colleagues’ attention and to be open to writing recommendation letters.  

When you do that for others, Wang said, it motivates people, shows them they’re valued and “helps build your brand, the department’s brand, the university’s brand.” 

It can seem like imposing, or presumptuous, to ask colleagues to help you apply for awards, so Garcia said she starts with people she’s close to.  

“I’m very intentional about it. I seek out folks who are generally moving toward the same values in my field. … Don’t feel embarrassed to ask, and recognize the time and labor people put into this for you.” 

Express your interest in applying for awards to department chairs, mentors and deans, Wang said. And be sure to read the instructions for individual awards closely. 

And if you don’t receive an award the first time, apply again – and again, Garcia said.  

“The work that you’re doing deserves to be known. … Don’t undersell what value you have brought to your field,” she added. 

Chancellor Ronnie Green, also a member of the panel, noted that increased recognition of faculty work is one of the goals set forth by the university about 10 years ago. Some faculty and some departments have embraced that challenge; others have not. 

“There’s going to be some people, no matter what you do, that’s just not their thing. They don’t want the recognition,” he added. 

Green noted Nebraska’s commitment to helping faculty pursue national and international honors is obvious in the resources it has devoted to it. Petrina Suiter, who serves as external recognition and awards coordinator in ORED, has helped increase the university’s success. As a member of the Research Development team, Suiter provides a variety of support resources, including tips, lists of available awards, lists of past award winners and more.  

Contact Suiter for assistance with nominations and to provide updates on award accomplishments.  

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