Faculty, staff and students will be honored at the 2024 University Spring Awards ceremony and reception from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday, May 6 at the Owen Pavilion at the Madren Conference Center.

The awards ceremony recognizes faculty for teaching, research and service; staff members for exemplary contributions; and honors undergraduate and graduate students with achievement honors and awards.

To attend, contact Lacy Randles at lspearm@clemson.edu.

Here are the faculty and staff honorees:

Provost Outstanding Teaching Awards 

Junior Special Rank Outstanding Teaching Award

Lillie Langlois is a lecturer in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation. She teaches graduate courses for the online Master of Wildlife and Fisheries Resources program, including Mammalogy, Ornithology, Wildlife Behavior, GIS and Wildlife Conservation Policy. She received her Ph.D. from Penn State University (PSU) and previously taught at PSU and the University of Pittsburgh. Her current research interests focus on landscape changes associated with shale gas development and the effects on forest bird populations. Her research intertwines ecology, ornithology and GIS. Her previous research investigated avian exercise physiology by simulating migration in wind tunnels at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany and Advanced Facility for Avian Research in Canada. She has conducted field work on birds and mammals in diverse ecosystems including the tundra of Alaska, temperate forests of New Zealand and landscapes across central Europe. Outside of academia, she enjoys traveling, biking, hiking, birding and gardening. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband and two children.

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Senior Special Rank Outstanding Teaching Award

Amy Pope, a principal lecturer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, teaches primarily general education physics courses. Pope strives to make learning physics accessible to all students and has done so by developing a course on the Physics of Sports. Her pedagogical approach emphasizes critical thinking, gamification and learning by addressing misconceptions. She works to minimize the opportunity gap experienced by students in her courses through interventions in the classroom and by developing supplemental courses to support student success. Her teaching has been recognized through the 2002 College of Science Dean’s Distinguished Lecturer Award, the 2020 Association of General and Liberal Studies Jerry G. Gaff Outstanding Teacher Award and the 2017 College of Science Outstanding Lecturer Award.

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Junior Tenure-Track Outstanding Teaching Award 

Golnaz Arastoopour Irgens is assistant professor of Learning Sciences, director of the IDEA lab and vice president of the International Society for Quantitative Ethnography. She is a former K-12 computer science and mathematics teacher. Her research focuses on designing inclusive digital learning environments integrating computer science and critical pedagogies and using quantitative ethnography to model learning. In her design-based research, she draws on participatory methods in which children, teachers and stakeholders co-design learning environments that serve their communities. Arastoopour Irgens has published over 50 articles in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and she is the developer of GROOVA, a data visualization tool for elementary-school students. In 2021, she served on the writing team for the South Carolina K-12 science standards. Arastoopour Irgens has received numerous early career awards, which include the Clemson College of Education Junior Researcher of the Year award, the National Science Foundation CAREER award and runner-up for the AERA Jan Hawkins Award.

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Senior Tenured Outstanding Teaching Award

Catherine DiBenedetto, associate professor of Agricultural Education and the undergraduate coordinator of the Agricultural Education program, teaches undergraduate courses and prepares pre-service teachers for their student teaching experience. She serves as the advisor of the Clemson Collegiate FFA/Alumni and leads the Teach AG campaign to recruit and retain agricultural education teachers in South Carolina. She is the co-director of the CAFLS Office of Teaching and Learning Scholars and the co-consulting editor of the Land-Grant Press Teaching Section.

DiBenedetto’s research agenda focuses on career readiness, teacher effectiveness, self-efficacy and experiential learning in agriscience laboratories. The impact of her research influences career aspirations and agricultural literacy to engage teachers and students in real-world experiences to prepare them with the 21st-century employability skills needed to become future leaders. She was awarded a $500,000 USDA NIFA Professional Development for Agricultural Literacy grant to help agriscience teachers explore the floriculture industry. DiBenedetto utilizes her industry knowledge, and her pedagogical expertise  to benefit individuals she teaches.

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Faculty and Staff Awards for Excellence 

Frank A. Burtner Award for Excellence in Advising

Mashrur “Ronnie” Chowdhury is a distinguished academic and researcher specializing in the intersection of transportation, cybersecurity and smart city technologies. He holds the prestigious Eugene Douglas Mays Chair of Transportation in the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering at Clemson University and serves as a professor in Automotive Engineering. Chowdhury is also recognized for his pivotal role as the founding director of the USDOT UTC National Center for Transportation Cybersecurity and Resiliency and the USDOT UTC Center for Connected Multimodal Mobility. Additionally, he co-directs the Complex Systems, Analytics and Visualization Institute (CSAVI).

Chowdhury completed his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the Bangladesh Institute of Technology in 1988, followed by a Master of Science in Transportation from Morgan State University in 1991. He then earned his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of Virginia in 1995.

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Algernon Sydney Sullivan Non-Student Award 

Julie Biggers is a gifted and seasoned professional instrumental in shaping the lives of thousands of students for more than 37 years at Clemson University. 

She arrived at Clemson to pursue her Master of Education in Community Agency Counseling after receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Kinesiotherapy from Catawba College. Upon her graduation, she began her career as a career counselor. Biggers currently serves as director of career development in Clemson’s award-winning Center for Career and Professional Development, where she oversees counseling, program development and workshops.

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Ted G. Westmoreland Faculty Excellence Award 

During her 25 years at Clemson, Jennifer Hanna has devoted her time and expertise to enhancing the business calculus sequence and was awarded the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences Faculty Teaching Award in 2008. She has coordinated MTHSC 1020 and 2070, co-authored the Lecture and Note-Taking Guide, mentored graduate student instructors, taught in a variety of course modalities and is currently working on adding metacognitive and lab components to her precalculus course. 

As a passionate supporter of student success, Hanna is intentional about mentoring her Peer Assisted Learning leaders and has a long-standing collaborative relationship with the ASC Peer Learning Support Programs leadership team.

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Class of 1956 Staff Excellence Award

Tracey O’Kelley served as director of the Class of 1944 Visitors Center and advisor to the Clemson Guide Association until her retirement in April 2024. O’Kelley spent 25 years helping Clemson put its best foot forward with the best part of her job getting to work with Clemson students every day. Through the mentorship of Clemson’s “front door” welcoming committee, O’Kelley had a hand in the story of nearly every Clemson student over the last two decades. During her career at Clemson, O’Kelley and her team welcomed more than a million visitors to campus and led more than 1,000 student tour guides. Further, O’Kelley helped plan school field trips to Clemson historic sites, farms  and educational facilities, supported Alumni Reunion weekends, hosted guests in the President’s Suite and coordinated Fall and Spring Blitz events for prospective Clemson students. O’Kelley is a two-time Clemson graduate, with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and a Master of Arts in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management.

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Ralph D. Elliott Award for Outstanding Service to Off-Campus, Distance and Continuing Education

April Pelt, the director of Online Education for Clemson University’s College of Education, collaborates with faculty to create innovative and engaging student-centered online and HyFlex learning experiences.

In her role, she not only supports the development of nationally recognized online master’s programs, but also works with faculty and leadership to offer HyFlex doctoral programs that extend the Clemson experience to students across the nation. 

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Thomas Green Clemson Award for Excellence –  Staff 

Debra Sparacino recently retired from Clemson University after 43 years of service, most recently as university registrar for nearly 10 years. During her career at Clemson, she also held positions in Undergraduate Admissions and Student Financial Aid. She led efforts related to academic policy, data standards, integrity of academic records, administration of student information systems and the use of technology for the delivery of student services along with policies and procedures that assure secure records management and that provide privacy and security for student information. 

Sparacino oversaw course and classroom scheduling, University catalogs and curricular changes, course registration, grade reporting, academic record management, transcripts, degree audits and certification, Commencement, support for academic advising, enrollment reporting, NCAA certification and compliance and veterans’ services and compliance. She earned both a Master of Arts in Counseling and Guidance and a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education from Clemson. 

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Thomas Green Clemson Award for Excellence –  Faculty

Cindy Lee has served as chair of the Department of Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University since 2013. She is also a professor in Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences (EEES) and in Biological Sciences. Her research interests include graduate education, mentoring and persistent organic pollutants in natural systems. From 2006 to 2007, she served as the founding program director of Environmental Sustainability at the National Science Foundation. She served as an associate editor for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry and as a member of various subcommittees for the science advisory board of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She was the first woman post-doctoral associate and faculty member in EEES. Lee served as interim associate dean of research and graduate studies for the College of Engineering and Science. She holds a Ph.D. in geochemistry from Colorado School of Mines, a BA in distributed studies (geology and chemistry) from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and a BA in English from Indiana University.

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The Phil and Mary Bradley Faculty Award for Mentoring in Creative Inquiry

Angela Alexander-Bryant, an associate professor in Clemson University’s Department of Bioengineering, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. in Bioengineering from Clemson. Her Nanobiotechnology Lab focuses on innovative therapeutic delivery methods, combining materials science, nanotechnology, gene therapy and drug delivery to advance cancer treatments. She received a 2021 Early Career Award from the National Science Foundation for her work in peptide-based delivery systems for gene therapy.  

Alexander-Bryant also directs the NIH-funded Call Me Doctor ESTEEMED Scholars program at Clemson, promoting early involvement in biomedical research for underrepresented students. Additionally, she mentors three Creative Inquiry (CI) projects, the earliest of which began in the spring of 2018. Her CI projects range from image-guided drug delivery to diversity outreach in bioengineering to nanobiomaterials for delivery of cancer therapies. To date she has mentored 55 CI students through these projects, frequently taking them to present their work at national conferences and even publishing papers with these undergraduates as co-authors.

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Alumni, Public Service and Agriculture, Clemson University Extension Awards

Alumni Master Teacher Award

Kirby Player ’83, ’87 and ’15 serves as lecturer in Agricultural Education for the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences. Player also leads the Palmetto Leadership for the Environment, Agriculture and Forestry and South Carolina Extension Advancement Council as Executive Director.

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Alumni Award for Outstanding Achievements in Research

Godley-Snell Award for Excellence in Agricultural Research

Christopher Saski is the recipient of the Alumni Award for Outstanding Achievements in Research and the Godley-Snell Award for Excellence in Agricultural Research. As an associate professor in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, he integrates his bachelor’s degree in microbiology and doctorate in genetics into his interdisciplinary research approach. His work focuses on understanding genome structure-function relationships in agriculturally relevant species to develop genomic and genetic solutions for sustainable agriculture. Saski’s research program aims to enhance crop value, mitigate pests and innovate agricultural products through the analysis of high-dimensional genomic datasets and the dissection of genetic traits. With expertise in quantitative genetics and genome engineering, he is recognized for his extensive funding, peer-reviewed publications and media engagements, showcasing his dedication to scientific dissemination. Beyond research, Saski mentors students, teaches courses and serves on university committees such as the Research Advisory Board and the Institutional Biosafety Committee. His leadership extends internationally, chairing committees such as the ROSEXEC and contributing to initiatives such as the International Cotton Genome Initiative.

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Rowland P. Alston Sr. Award for Excellence in Public Relations

Paul Thompson is the Urban Horticulture Agent and Master Gardener volunteer coordinator for York, Chester and Lancaster Counties, where he serves the horticulture needs of home gardeners, communities, and green industry professionals. He received his Bachelor of Science in Ornamental Horticulture from Clemson in 1992, followed by a Masters of Ag Plant Health from Clemson in 1994.

His 30-year Extension career began in Berkeley County in 1994, and he moved to York County in 2004, where he has served since.

Read about the student award winners on Clemson News.

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