2012 University Faculty Awards

Nine Wichita State University faculty members were honored during the 2012 Faculty Awards. Christine Downey-Schmidt with the Kansas Board of Regents will give remarks and assist with presenting the awards. The honorees chosen were recognized for setting the gold standard for teaching, research and creative activities at WSU.

2012 Honorees

Academy for Effective Teaching Elizabeth Berhman
Natalie Grant
Excellence in Creative Activity Julie Bees
Mark Laycock
Excellence in Research Mark Schneegurt
Young Faculty Scholar Royce W. Smith
Leadership in the Advancement of Teaching Carolyn Shaw
Excellence in Teaching Doris Burgert
Preethika Kumar

The Community Research Award was not bestowed in 2012.

View the University Faculty Awards 2012 Photo Gallery

Excellence in Teaching

The University of Wichita Board of Regents, now known as the WSU Board of Trustees, established a corpus of $50,000 in 1964 to provide grants to recognize superior teaching. The recipient is awarded $2,000.

D.BurgertDoris Burgert, Instructor of Educational Psychology, Department of Counseling, Educational and School Psychology, College of Education

Doris Burgert earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and Spanish (1975) and a Bachelor of Science in English Education (1976) at the University of Kansas, and Master of Arts in English (1979) and Master of Education (1995) from Wichita State University. She has been with Wichita State since 1978 as an English lecturer and instructor, an instructor with the former Learning Resource Center, and , since 2000, became an academic counselor and instructor with the College of Education.

Doris Burgert wants her students, as future educators, to become great teachers and believe that they influence their students positively.

“When they are teachers they will have to teach on the belief that they are making a difference, even if they don't see that immediately,” she said.

She makes her point on the first day of her Learning and Evaluation class, when she asks students to raise their hands if they had motivational teachers. Most raise their hand. Nearly all drop when she asks if they told those teachers about the impact they had.

A photo of a graduating student in her Hubbard Hall office is Burgert’s reminder of how rare and special it is when a student does tell a teacher about making a difference. The student had called her before his commencement ceremony to tell her thanks and then sent her the photograph of him in his cap and gown.

The photo also serves as a reminder that students' effort in their improvement is important, something she first discovered when she had to work particularly hard to get an A in a high school Latin class. Encouraging effort is a key to motivation and success, said Burgert, and that’s a concept she wants her students to learn and pass on.

Her own motivation for teaching comes as the semester progresses and she sees that her students are “crossing the line into becoming critical thinkers and thinking how teachers in that discipline think,” she said. To help them apply their knowledge, she developed student workbooks with various simulated classroom experiences.

Burgert has always loved the field of education. Little wonder considering her parents were both faculty members at the University of Kansas, with Ivy League backgrounds. All but one of her five siblings went into the education field.

She believes strongly in helping both current and prospective teachers, according to her colleagues.

“When I first came to WSU, Doris proved to be an invaluable resource in my development as a teacher,” said Catherine Bohn-Gettler, counseling, educational and school psychology (CESP) assistant professor. “She was willing to share materials with me, critique my materials and be a sounding board for ideas and issues I was having. She was, and remains, very creative in trying to solve problems, always keeps the best interests of the students in mind, and is an advocate for students and effective teaching.”

If more faculty are needed to teach the sections of classes she teaches – CESP 334 Growth and Development and CESP 433 Learning and Evaluation – she mentors them to help them “avoid the pitfalls of teaching a wide variety of undergraduates who have different levels of motivation when entering these classes,” said department chair Marlene Schommer-Aikins.

Burgert consistently receives exceptional student perception teaching evaluations, according to her colleagues, and was rewarded with a 2003 WSU Academy for Effective Teaching Award and the 2011 College of Education Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award.

P.KumarPreethika Kumar, Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, College of Engineering

Preethika Kumar earned the Bachelor of Science in electronics and computer engineering at Bangalore University in India in 2000. She earned the Master of Science and the doctorate in electrical engineering from WSU in 2004 and 2007, respectively. She joined the WSU faculty in 2007.

Preethika Kumar first realized teaching is a calling more than six years ago when her adviser and mentor, Steven Skinner, an electrical engineering professor, asked her to teach a class for him while he was away at a conference.

That first teaching experience ignited what she calls “a passion for teaching,” and she has continued to stoke the fires ever since, attending several faculty development workshops, participating in the College of Engineering's mentorship program, doing invited presentations in fellow faculty members' classes and developing new courses.

She has also helped the department improve the performance of its GTAs by visiting their classrooms and providing feedback, and has helped some new faculty members improve their teaching, according to department chair John Watkins.

When she teaches a course that is a prerequisite for another course, she meets with the instructor of the advanced course to ensure her students are well prepared to move on.

With her research focused on the next generation of computing – quantum computing – she has developed a new introductory course for both undergraduate and graduate students. This has opened up new research opportunities for students, especially for undergraduates. She currently has four undergraduate students, one graduate and one doctoral student doing research in this field.

Even if students in the introductory course don't go on to work in the field, the class will make them aware of challenges next-generation design engineers will face, she said.

When John Harrison, a former School of Music tenured faculty member who is now an adjunct professor in the College of Engineering, invited engineering faculty to talk about their discipline in his sections of Engineering 101, Kumar attended all the sessions.

“What really impressed me was her ability to sense students' comprehension of what she was sharing and her quickness in adapting, finding new analogies and new ways of explaining things …,” he said. “Moreover, one of the students … who had not said a word all semester was responding to her questions, which was good to see.”

Students often write glowing letters of praise, citing that she is well organized, well prepared and clearly presents the subject. One student wrote that he regretted he hadn't taken other courses with her.

Another noted how she comes early to class to answer questions or visit with students, which fosters her reputation as a caring and likeable faculty member – qualities often cited by students and ones she is glad she portrays.

“It's important to develop one's character as a good person,” said Kumar. “You can be the smartest person in the world but if you're not a good person, it doesn't mean much.”

As the electrical engineering and computer science department outreach coordinator since 2009, she has designed and oversees circuit-building exercises, such as building a simple-circuit amplifier, for middle and high school students who tour the college.

Leadership in the Advancement in Teaching Award

Wichita State University's Board of Trustees established the Leadership in the Advancement of Teaching Award in 1982 to recognize exemplary effort and leadership in improvement and learning at WSU. The recipient is awarded $1,000.

C.ShawCarolyn Shaw, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Carolyn Shaw received the Bachelor of Arts in political science, magna cum laude, from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania and the doctorate in government from the University of Texas, Austin, in 2000. She joined the WSU faculty in 2001.

While she didn't become a United Nations as she'd planned as an undergraduate, Carolyn Shaw has broadened her international passion from language to politics. Along the way has built a connection to the U.N. for WSU students and even taught a semester abroad.

Since coming to WSU in 2001, Shaw has overseen WSU's highly successful Model UN program, in which students take the role of foreign diplomats in simulations of UN meetings. Students research their roles and represent their assigned countries during a national simulation conference in New York City, during which they visit the UN and get briefings from actual diplomats. In January 2013, WSU Model UN students will go to Ecuador for their first-ever international Model UN conference.

Shaw excels in leading the Model UN program because she's a proponent of using role-playing as an effective tool for learning. It falls under the concept of “active learning,” a recurring topic in her publications and workshop presentations. It is a concept in which students are given situations – from small group discussions to role-playing to presentations – and the teacher becomes “a facilitator and not a sage on the stage,” explained Shaw.

She's written five refereed articles about active learning, with two of them published in a premier political science pedagogical journal, The Journal of Political Science Education.

Three years ago she created 13 online simulations that are used as part of five different international relations textbooks to help students connect concepts to current events. In the mypoliscikit.com simulations, students take the role of a particular individual, ranging from a head of state to a 13-year-old Sudanese refugee, in various scenarios.

It's a concept that even longtime faculty are adapting in their classroom after seeing Shaw's success, according to Mel Kahn, a political science professor at WSU since 1970 and a convert to using simulations.

This year, Shaw has been teaching a new honors class, “Intercultural Dialogue,” in which half the students are American and the other half are international to study how to create effective multinational communications. The class is discussing the UN Millennium Development goals that address issues such as poverty and the spread of diseases and are to be reached by 2015.

Shaw also sees international travel and dialogue as an effective means of learning. Since joining the WSU faculty, she revived her department's travel seminars and will lead the fourth such student tour group, this year to Poland, Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary.

She and her family spent spring 2011 in Lublin, Poland, where Shaw taught as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Marie Curie Sklodowskiej.

She has an extensive publication record in the areas of democracy, international relations and active learning, including authoring the positively reviewed book “Cooperation, Conflict and Consensus in the Organization of the American States,” 13 refereed articles, and being invited to an international conference and to be the subsequent author for a volume on “Turning Teaching into Learning in Higher Education.”

Shaw received WSU's Excellence in Teaching Award in 2007.

Academy for Effective Teaching Award

Established in 1996, these awards are given by WSU's Academy for Effective Teaching, a group of outstanding emeriti faculty nominated for membership by current faculty and staff at WSU. Recipients of the AET Teaching Award are chosen through a multi-stage process. After collecting nominations from current upper-division and graduate students, the 10-person AET Steering Committee creates a short list of excellent teachers, each of whom is invited to submit a teaching portfolio. On the basis of the portfolios, the AET Steering Committee recommends winners to the Provost, who makes the final award. Awardees who are full-time faculty receive a $2,000 addition to their base salary beginning the following academic year; adjunct awardees receive a one-time $2,000 award.

E.BehrmanElizabeth Behrman, Professor, Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Elizabeth Behrman earned the Bachelor of Science in mathematics from Brown University in 1979, the Master of Science in chemistry and the doctorate in chemical physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1981 and 1985, respectively. She joined the WSU faculty in 1990, after a professorship in a fourth scientific field, ceramic engineering, at a leading science college at Alfred University in New York.

Learning should be sweet, says Elizabeth Behrman, and to bear that out, she hands out chocolates and other candies to students who ask questions.

She realizes she teaches tough scientific subjects, including introductory physics with calculus, and that teaching them effectively can be difficult. But she makes every effort she can to ensure that if students make every effort they can, they will succeed in her class.

She has a reputation for being tough but high quality, fair and exciting, and conveying well her passion for science, according to colleague and student evaluations.

Her syllabi are multiple pages and detailed, outlining homework assignments, study problems and quiz dates, with motivational sayings interspersed: “You, too, can succeed!” “Find a study partner – or two,” “Don't fall behind.” She encourages students to work together because research shows that students learn more by interacting with one another in a concept called peer instruction.

“It's not cheating,” she said of such groups. “It's helpful.”

It's not unusual for her to spend evening and weekend hours outside of the classroom working with students. One student recalled that when she took Quantum Mechanics, Behrman met with the students for four hours every weekend for about three months to help.

She expects students to complete several physics problems a week, understanding that by having them do such tasks, those students – many of whom go into engineering, chemistry, physics and other technical fields – will be better educated about science.

“You can't understand physics problems by watching someone else do them any more than you can get stronger by watching exercise videos,” Behrman said.

A voracious reader – her home library consists of 5,000 books that she organized and cataloged last summer – she pores through science and physics pedagogy books, picking up teaching tips.

Years ago, she became the first among the physics faculty to use a clicker response system in her large lecture classes, after reading about such a system. In her initial use of the system, she made color-coded flash cards for students to respond to problems shown on an overhead projector until funds became available to purchase more sophisticated electronic technology. Now such a response system has became a standard feature in WSU's smart classrooms.

“Every year I try something new – some things are successful, some less so – I keep the things that work, modify or discard the ones that don't,” Behrman wrote in a teaching philosophy statement.

She's taught nearly every class offered within the physics curriculum, including “Physics for Poets,” as well as classes within the mathematics and chemistry departments.

She also promotes learning outside of those classes, having coordinated a physics-related Kansas Science Olympiad event and an activity for a College of Engineering summer camp for girls, and judging projects in the Kansas Junior Academy of Science. She's reviewed textbooks and has been a senior reviewer for the Advanced Placement Course Audit, in which reviewers evaluated thousands of syllabi from AP courses throughout the nation and the world.

N.GrantNatalie Grant, Assistant Professor and Bachelor of Social Work Program Director, School of Social Work, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Natalie Grant earned the Bachelor of General Studies (1999), the Bachelor of Social Work (2000), the Master of Social Work (2001), the Master of Arts in criminal justice (2005) and the Doctor of Education in educational leadership (2011), all from WSU. She was an instructor in Fairmount College from 2001-06, until joining the social work faculty as an instructor and BSW program director in 2007.

Natalie Grant understands that future social workers will encounter all kinds of life scenarios when they enter the field.

“Social work is not just any degree,” wrote Grant in her nomination essay. “It is one where you become a professional helper with the skills, values and ethics that are upheld on the highest of levels. People in need in our community and in our world are very vulnerable and social workers have a very special place in the helping process.”

When she joined the social work faculty, she immediately started making an impact. Her background in advising prepared her for the responsibilities of directing the Bachelor of Social Work program that graduates about 75 students each year. She also created a new course in social work while reviving an old one.

She “is one of the most energetic and creative professors that I have met,” noted Brien Bolin, director of the School of Social Work.

Grant revived the program's Women and Poverty class, an elective that became so popular it outgrew the WSU West Campus location and was relocated to Maize High School's auditorium.

She created a diversity class, tailored to future social workers. The class's digital storytelling project has become a key part of understanding diversity. Groups of students create 5-minute videos, complete with script and narration, covering “every 'ism that exists,” Grant explained, from racism to sexism and other topics such as religious intolerance. She shared this innovative teaching practice at a recent national conference for BSW program directors.

From her work as a social worker and student adviser, she has realized that most people often express they want to be happy.

“It's a go-to phrase, but what it means can be very different for each person based on one's perspective,” she said.

Concluding that students will encounter the same phrase, she created “The Happiness Project,” where each student creates a presentation – through art, dance, photography or some other creative activity – that defines their happiness. Before they can help others with happiness and healing, they need to define their own, she said.

The topics of happiness, self-care among social workers, empowerment practices for diverse populations and curriculum are now part of her research focus. She has given a number of presentations about happiness and self-care to social work professionals and others within the field, including foster parents.

To help students understand caring engagement, her classes have included outside activities, such as adventure courses or community service learning projects for those in need.

“My goal is to take social work to the next level in terms of establishing that we are tough, worthy and ready to make this community a better place one step at a time,” she said.

In addition to her full teaching load and leading the BSW program, Grant serves on a number of school, college and university committees.

Excellence in Creative Activity Award

The Excellence in Creative Activity Award, established in 1999, is given to a faculty member who has established an exemplary record of creative activity that has brought recognition to the University. Creative activity can include work in musical compositions, visual arts, choreography, writing, and performance. Full-time faculty who have been at WSU for three years are eligible. The recipient is awarded $2,500.

J.BeesJulie Bees, Professor of Piano, School of Music, College of Fine Arts

Julie Bees earned the Bachelor of Music degree in 1974 from Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, a diploma (equivalent to a master's degree in performance) from the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, and the Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Colorado in 1982. She joined the WSU faculty in 1986.

Julie Bees remembers clearly what led to her becoming a pianist: a one-octave toy red piano she received as a Christmas gift when she was 5 from her grandmother.

“I started begging my mom for a real piano and lessons for about the next year-and-a-half,” Bees said.

She took several years of private lessons with a teacher who had only one degree of separation of learning piano from Chopin. The virtuoso pianist's “Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52” became Bees' premier piece and she continues to be lauded for her playing of Chopin.

She's played in various celebrated halls in the United States, numerous recitals and concerts at Wichita State, and recitals across Europe – in Scotland, Belgium, The Hague, Austria, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Russia, Finland, Poland and Spain.

During her recent tour through Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, she was thrilled when former students came to her recitals and noted how classical music is being embraced by young audiences in Asia. In 2013, she'll return to perform with the SAR Philharmonic again in Hong Kong.

“I love performing,” Bees said.

She confesses she's struck each time with a bit of stage fright, and she appreciates that fear because she knows that as soon as she sits in front of the piano, her subconscious – where her creativity resides – will take over as she feels the audience's energy. She remembers having an extraordinary performance experience as a teenager and writing only the word “Whee” across pages of her journal.

As a teenager, she was a finalist for the New York Philharmonic Auditions for Young Performers – with acclaimed pianist Leonard Bernstein judging who would perform in his televised “Young People's Concerts” – in the newly opened Avery Fisher Hall in New York's Lincoln Center. She has appeared at Carnegie Hall as soloist with the Youth Symphony Orchestra of New York and was a semifinalist in the renowned Clara Haskil International Piano Competition in Switzerland.

Early in her career, she met various people with a WSU connection and was already impressed by the caliber of the piano program before interviewing in 1986. First it was a WSU student at a summer music festival. Then she met piano professor Paul Reed. Later she met Mark Wait, a WSU alumnus who also studied at Peabody and was on the faculty at the University of Colorado where she earned her doctorate.

Bees is often sought out for her expertise in effective piano performance and pedagogy, combining master classes with her recital tours.

Her artistic reputation has helped improve WSU's piano program, say colleagues. An endowment was created on her behalf by internationally renowned pianist Konrad Wolff, a former Peabody faculty member, to provide scholarships and produce an annual Konrad Wolff-Ilse Bing Annual Chamber Music Competition at Wichita State.

In addition to teaching and performing, Bees produces the classical music events of the College of Fine Arts Connoisseur Series, which brings four major artists or groups in various performance genres to Wichita.

M.LaycockMark Laycock, Director of Orchestras/Associate Professor of Music, Ann Walenta Endowed Faculty Professorship of Distinction, School of Music, College of Fine Arts

Mark Laycock earned the Bachelor of Arts in music history and literature from the University of Southern California in 1988, the Master of Music in instrumental conducting from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln in 1990 and the Doctor of Arts with primary emphasis in orchestral conducting and secondary emphasis in music history and literature from the University of Northern Colorado in 2005. He joined the WSU faculty in 2006.

When Mark Laycock started playing trombone in the famed USC Trojan Marching Band, he wasn't even a music major. He had gone to the University of Southern California, hoping to become one of its acclaimed film school alumni.

“I finally decided music was something that I couldn't live without,” said Laycock, about switching his major. “And now I make really great home videos,” he joked.

Since joining the WSU School of Music in 2006, Laycock has “brought a new spark of inspiration to our musical family,” said Elaine Bernstorf, a music education professor. Through his creativity and humor, he's brought “unexpected twists into the traditionally conservative genre of the symphony orchestra,” she said.

Along the way he's helped broaden experiences and education of not only WSU orchestral students, but those in Kansas and elsewhere.

Since taking up the baton for the WSU Symphony Orchestra, Laycock has led the group to concerts in Spain and in 2011 they performed by invitation at a premier venue, Carnegie Hall.

Audiences were introduced to Laycock's creativity and humor at his first concert as director of orchestras – when the students performed the first selection without a conductor. Following the piece, Laycock appeared on stage and quipped, “Did I miss anything?” He had made his point that well-rehearsed student should be center stage not the conductor.  

The symphony's annual repertoire of about a half-dozen performances now includes a family concert – meant to inspire new patrons for WSU orchestra events – centered around a theme. Players were encouraged to show up in costumes at a Halloween concert. One year WSU President Don Beggs narrated “The Night Before Christmas” while the symphony performed related music. This past year, the theme was film music and the orchestra accompanied a Charlie Chaplin silent movie and played “Lion King” movie favorites.

Besides ensuring students have works by major composers “under their fingers,” Laycock said, he introduces them to modern-day works, “where the ink is still wet.

“If a young person is going to perform as a musician today, they need to be able to do everything from accompany Barry Manilow to play (Austrian composer Gustav) Mahler,” he said.

“His programming is outstanding,” noted John Clinton, dean of the University of Central Oklahoma's College of Fine Arts and Design. “Through his creativity and thoughtfulness, students … are receiving a demanding yet consistently appropriate range of repertoire.”

Laycock also has an impressive record of guest conducting, leading all-state orchestras in Iowa, Nebraska, Alabama and Maryland; the Wichita Orchestra and Wichita Grand Opera; and groups in Slovakia and Canada.

Annually he works with as many as 100 high school orchestras throughout the United States as a guest clinician to help teachers prepare for festivals and competitions.

He's played a key role in the success of the String Kansas project, recognized by Carnegie Hall for its innovation, in which students across Kansas became “virtual” audience members and even co-players in WSU Orchestra concerts.

Excellence in Research Award

The Excellence in Research Award, established in 1997, recognizes a faculty member who has established an exemplary record of research that has advanced the University's research mission. Full-time faculty who have been at WSU for three years are eligible. The recipient is awarded $2,500.

M.SchneegurtMark Schneegurt, Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Mark Schneegurt earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science, both in biology, from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York in 1984 and 1985, respectively. He earned a doctorate in biology from Brown University in 1989. He joined the WSU faculty in 2000, after holding post-doctoral research positions with Eli Lilly and Co., Purdue University and University of Notre Dame.

Mark Schneegurt is searching for signs of life at North American lakes that could help scientists determine whether there was or is life on Mars.

For the past decade, Schneegurt – along with WSU students and other collaborators – has studied soils from the barren, crusty Great Salt Plains in northern Oklahoma. Salts from an ocean that covered the area early in Earth's history are buried beneath the flats and percolate to the surface. The flats have an active microbial community despite the deadly extreme salinity. Now he's studying salty lakes in the Pacific Northwest.

Schneegurt is an internationally recognized expert in hypersaline microbiology with more than 10 publications in the field. His recent paper in the journal Astrobiology extends the work to the study of microbes growing in high magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt) environments.

Evidence from unmanned missions to Mars suggests that it once had surface water, but now is arid. Some soils may be rich in magnesium sulfate – the same salty stuff in unique epsomite lakes in the Pacific Northwest.

For years Schneegurt's work was funded by the National Science Foundation, but it got the attention of NASA officials in 2010 when the agency gave him a multiyear grant. NASA sees his work as providing practical insights into how to protect Mars from terrestrial contamination by spacecraft.

“Studying how an organism lives on Earth gives us an idea of how it can live on Mars,” Schneegurt said. The research could apply to Saturnian and Jovian moon that have oceans beneath their icy crusts.

His other current research, funded by a Kansas National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant, looks at algal biodiesel as an alternative energy source.

He also has a grant from Flossie E. West Memorial Foundation to study Kansas prairie plants for anti-cancer activities, a research project conducted by high school students and teachers. Schneegurt has a continuing interest in supporting primary research and science education in the community.

Schneegurt has been a prolific author and researcher, publishing nearly 70 peer-reviewed publications, including one as a co-author in Science, and being awarded more than 20 grants totaling nearly $5 million. The more than 75 research students from his lab have made more than 100 presentations at regional, national and international scientific meetings.

Last year, Ad Astra of Kansas recognized him as one of the top 150 scientists to work in the state during its 150 years of statehood.

He was awarded Wichita State’s 2010 Leadership in the Advancement of Teaching Award for his extensive efforts to share science in high school classrooms, develop new courses at WSU and contribute to biology textbooks. He was involved in developing WSU's bioengineering program, the master's degree in earth, environmental and physical science, and the forensics program. 

He helped instigate the creation of CIBOR for biomedical research using advanced materials and helped raise funds for WSU's new biological field station building, which will impact environmental field research and science education.

Young Faculty Scholar Award

Wichita State University's Board of Trustees established the Young Faculty Scholar Award in 1988 to recognize faculty members who are between their third and eighth year of service and have records of excellence in teaching performance and substantial achievement in research and/or creative activity. The recipient receives a $2,000 award.

R.SmithRoyce W. Smith, Associate Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History and Theory, School of Art and Design, College of Fine Arts

Royce W. Smith received an Artium Baccalaureus (Bachelor of Arts), summa cum laude, with majors in English, Spanish and humanities/fine arts and a minor in secondary education from Wabash College in Indiana (1996); a Master of Arts with honors and a doctorate in the fields of art history and theory from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia (1999 and 2005, respectively); and a Master of Arts in English from Purdue University in 2000. He joined the WSU faculty in 2005.

Several countries have one and practically any major city now wants one – a biennial exhibition to showcase contemporary art on a grand scale. The topic of biennials is rich fodder for research for Royce Smith, who enjoys world cultures and art created within or because of those cultures.

“Art is a unique and living record of human accomplishment and thought,” said Smith, who offers travel-based courses to biennials and art exhibitions in the United States and abroad.

He'll take two groups of students this summer to the Havana Biennale. Organizing the trip has been one of the highlights of his career, Smith said. In the past, Smith and his students have traveled to Turkey, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Biennial curators often make very limited choices of artists, yet tout biennials as accurate and vibrant chronicles of contemporary culture, said Smith.

“For my students and me, that brings up questions about how representative biennials are, who is or isn’t represented in them, and how they are or aren’t engaging the public,” he said. “Some say they are more spectacle than substance, but for me they are great laboratories for teaching and learning on both local and global scales.”

Venice mounted the first such biennial in 1895 as a way to draw attention back to Italian artists. The Whitney Biennial, perhaps the United States most famous, started in 1932, with the 1980s and '90s marking the biggest boom of biennials across the world.

He's been researching the biennial topic extensively – his passport is jam-packed with stamps from countries he's visited gathering information – and it's the subject of many of his presentations and publications.

His book, “Biennale!: Representation, Crisis, and the Contemporary Mega-Exhibition,” will publish next year with I.B. Tauris Press in London and is much anticipated in the art history community.
After he returns from the Havana Biennale, Smith will be off to another mega-exhibition – to documenta XIII in Kassel, Germany, where he and fellow faculty member Levente Sulyok plan an “exhibition intervention.” The pair will distribute water bottles with special labels of art essays that Smith is writing. Along with information about other little known, off-the-documenta-path spaces and neighborhoods, the labels will refer to other cultural events and traditions not included in the once-every-five-years exhibition.

Smith, who received the 2010 Academy for Effective Teaching Award, is active within the International Association of Arts Critics and will lead a discussion at its Zurich conference in July.

He'll also go to Sydney, Australia, to organize a roundtable discussion during the Sydney Biennial – an exhibit his students will also attend. He is curating the United States contribution to the Paraguay Photography Biennial later this year, and has been invited to teach a related short course in Asunción.

In his short career, Smith has compiled more than 20 presentations, nearly 10 curated exhibitions and roundtables, and more than 20 publications – scholarship that Joanne Roche, a contemporary art professor at California State University, Fullerton calls “rigorous and original.”

His articles are frequently used in classroom instruction and by students researching mega-exhibitions, according to Frederico Freschi of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.

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