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Trinity Faculty Recognized for Exceptional Merit

Monday, August 19, 2019
Kathy Surpless points at a computer monitor, showing two students the screen

by Kale Ridge '21 and Jeanna Goodrich Balreira '08

Ten Trinity University faculty members were recognized for their exceptional achievements during the 2018-19 academic year. This cohort of scholars was selected on the basis of having a “banner year” in their teaching, research or creative activity, and service, thereby exemplifying the University’s commitment to education and the values of perpetual discovery and enduring excellence.

The recognition comes with a one-time salary supplement of $10,000 for each selected faculty member, made possible by a generous gift from an anonymous donor. As part of this campaign, the University will recognize twenty additional scholars over the next two years (ten per year). To be eligible for consideration, faculty members must hold the rank of associate or full professor. Individuals may not receive a distinguished achievement award and a one-time salary supplement in the same year.

“This achievement honors many of our colleagues who vastly exceed the already high expectations of this University,” says Deneese L. Jones, Ph.D., vice president for Academic Affairs. “Their contributions to their students, departments, and their fields of research distinguish them as exemplars in the Trinity community.”

Meet and congratulate 2019’s awardees:

Carlos Ardavin headshotCarlos X. Ardavín-Trabanco, Ph.D.
Professor, Modern Languages and Literatures

A professor at Trinity University for more than two decades, Ardavín-Trabanco regularly teaches courses centered around his research areas of Spanish literature and culture. In 2017, Ardavín-Trabanco was awarded the University’s distinguished award for outstanding scholarship, research, and creative work, recognizing his impressive publication record of more than twenty peer-reviewed articles and ten edited or co-edited books. An innovative and creative teacher, Dr. Ardavín-Trabanco recently taught a Languages Across the Curriculum (LAC) entitled “Madrid: A Cultural History” and received a grant from Trinity’s Collaborative for Learning and Teaching to re-design SPAN 3330 to facilitate students’ critical thinking and creativity. When asked to describe his teaching, one student said, “Dr. Ardavin’s office door was always open to his students. I don't know if I've ever had a professor who truly cares about us so much. I will be sad to leave this class.”

John Huston headshotJohn H. Huston, Ph.D.
Professor, Economics

Huston began his at Trinity in 1983 and has distinguished himself as an exceptional researcher, teacher, leader, and citizen of the University. Throughout his tenure, Huston has served twice as Chair of the Department of Economics, from 1994 to 1997, and again from 2006 to 2015. Huston has received eight University awards, the most recent being the Dr. and Mrs. Z.T. Scott Faculty Fellowship (2007), Trinity’s highest award for excellence in teaching and advising. He currently serves as the chair of Trinity’s interdisciplinary minor in Mathematical Finance, last year he celebrated the achievement of growing the program to more than twenty-five majors. In 2018, Huston published two co-authored journal articles with his departmental colleague Roger Spencer and is currently developing a paper for publication with undergraduate student Decroy Edwards. Huston consistently receives high scores on his course evaluations, with students citing his diligent preparation, commitment to supporting students, and passion for economics.

Michele Johnson HeadshotMichele Johnson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Biology

Johnson joined Trinity’s Department of Biology in 2009. Her research focuses on the evolution of lizard behavior, and she has used her platform to progress initiatives to support women in science. She has also worked closely with local elementary teachers to advance science education in San Antonio. Johnson was a 2014 recipient of a Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) Biology Outstanding Mentorship. At Trinity, she has been awarded the early career faculty award for distinguished research and service and the president’s award for excellence in student advocacy. The recipient of more than half-a-million dollars in grant funding from the National Science Foundation, in the last two years, Johnson has published twenty articles and created a blog called Lizards and Friends to promote science literacy among elementary school students. Active in University service, Johnson serves as the faculty advisor to the student organization TWIST (Trinity Women in Science and Technology) and is the President of the University’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. 

Julie Persellin headshotJulie Persellin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Chair, Accounting

Persellin has been teaching at Trinity for more than twenty years. Prior to her appointment at Trinity, Persellin worked for Arthur Andersen LLP as the audit senior for the office’s largest SEC client. In 2018, Persellin received the “Innovations in Audit Education Award,” from the American Accounting Association for her achievements as a teacher. She recently incorporated insights from a workshop led by the American Accounting Association to develop a new course project using Tableau data visualization software in “Intermediate Accounting I.” Persellin’s scholarship has been impactful in her field, according to the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), she is in the top 10% of all authors on the platform as measured by all-time downloads. Her papers have been downloaded more than 1,500 times. Persellin is very active in University service, in addition to serving as department chair and overseeing the master of science in accounting program, she chaired a research two search committee and serves as a member of the School of Business Strategic Planning Task Force, the United Way Executive Committee, the Commission on Promotion and Tenure, and the Chapman-Halsell Building Renovation Committee. 

Kimberley Phillips headshotKimberley Phillips, Ph.D.
Professor, Psychology and Director of Neuroscience

Since 2010, Phillips has served as the co-director for Trinity’s popular interdisciplinary neuroscience major. As an affiliate scientist at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, Phillips has published more than 60 papers on the neurological and biological basis of behavior in primates. She has received numerous local and national grants to support her research, most recently from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In 2018, she was honored with Trinity’s award for distinguished scholarship, research, creative work or activity. She currently serves as the President of the American Society of Primatologists. Phillips is a dedicated mentor to undergraduate researchers throughout the academic year, she recently co-published articles with Trinity students in the journals Behavioural Brain Research and Animal Cognition. She recently attended a Faculty Development Seminar sponsored by the Council on International Educational Exchange to develop new interdisciplinary courses on the Cuban healthcare system and courses on poverty to be taught in Havana, Cuba with Dr. Dania Abreu-Torres (ML&L). 

Gary Seighman headshotGary Seighman, D.M.A.
Associate Professor and Director of Choral Activities,  Music

Seighman oversees a comprehensive choral program while teaching undergraduate courses in conducting and secondary methods. In addition to leading Trinity choirs on local, regional, national, and international tours, Seighman frequently presents at state, regional, and national conferences on topics ranging from rehearsal planning, voice building, musicological research, and the application of successful leadership models to the choral classroom. Exemplifying the goals of the Trinity Tomorrow strategic goal to increase students’ international engagement and awareness, in spring 2018, Seighman traveled with eight choral students to perform concerts across China. Later that summer, the Trinity Chamber Singers, led by Seighman, were selected as the featured choral ensemble for the Classical Musical Festival -- Eisenstadt Summer Academy in Austria. Seighman’s achievements as a conductor and educator are further evidenced by his recent selection to serve as Chorusmaster for performances of the San Antonio Symphony and the Texas Music Educators Association Region 11 Choir. Last year, in addition to impressive service to the University and the profession, Seighman organized the first-ever Alumni Choral Festival to coincide with the University’s 150th Anniversary Celebration.

David Spener headshotDavid Spener, Ph.D.
Professor, Sociology and Anthropology

Celebrating more than twenty years of service to Trinity, Spener served as chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology from 2012-18. He regularly teaches in the “Inventing Mexico” course as part of Trinity's First-Year Experience program and recently undertook a significant revision of “Sociological Imagination,” a popular Pathways course. Students regularly praise his teaching for expanding their world views; one said, “This is one of the most intellectually challenging courses I have taken at Trinity, and it is also the one that has pushed me to question my own perspectives and those of the people I am surrounded by.” Fluent in Spanish, Spener recently published a Spanish-language translation of his monograph We Shall Not Be Moved/No nos moveran: Biography of a song of struggle (Temple University Press). Last November, Spener (SOAN) presented his research of musical history, Canto unido, un encuentro americano (United in Song, an American Encounter) and performed a concert with a cast of Chilean singers in a recital in Santiago, Chile, in the theater of Radio Universidad de Chile. 

Claudia stokes HeadshotClaudia Stokes, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, English

Professor of English, Stokes was named department chair in 2014. A specialist in nineteenth-century American literature, Stokes is the author of two monographs and currently developing a third. A distinguished scholar, Stokes was a fellow in the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar (2016) and received the Dr. and Mrs. Z.T. Scott Faculty Fellowship (2018), Trinity’s highest award for excellence in teaching and advising. Last year, she was awarded the 1921 Prize given by the American Literature Society for the best essay on American literature published by a tenured faculty member for her essay, “Novel Commonplaces: Quotation, Epigraphs, and Literary Authority,” which was published in the summer of 2018 in American Literary History. Active in university, professional, and community service, Stokes is an elected officer of the American Literature Society, a trustee of Temple Beth-El, and a member of the board of directors for the Jewish Federation of San Antonio.

Kathy Surpless headshotKathleen Surpless, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Geosciences

Surpless’ research examines sedimentary rocks and the basins in which they form; her research is critical for targeting energy resource exploration because petroleum, natural gas, and coal formed in ancient sedimentary basins. To support her work, Surpless has received grants from the American Chemical Society's Petroleum Research Fund and from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program. Surpless regularly involves undergraduates in her field research in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Last year she published a special paper with the Geological Society of America, the culmination of four years of research; the paper featured a Trinity student co-author and the efforts of more than nine other undergraduate researchers. In 2008, she received Trinity’s award for distinguished teaching and research by an early career faculty member. In her capacity as department chair, last year, Surpless shepherded the Geosciences department through an external program review and subsequent substantive curricular revision.

Dennis Ugolini headshotDennis Ugolini, Ph.D.
Professor, Physics and Astronomy

Ugolini came to Trinity in 2003, where his research focuses on LIGO Interferometer Studies. Ugolini is a part of the LIGO research consortium, which made the 2015 discovery of gravitational waves, confirming a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity. He chaired the Department of Physics and Astronomy between 2013 and 2019, serves on the Commission for Promotion and Tenure, and was a member of the QEP Development Team. In 2008, he received Trinity’s award for distinguished teaching and research by an early career faculty member. In recent years, Ugolini has taken the lead to develop and teach a new Summer Math Bridge course. This nine-day course, held before New Student Orientation, enables students to strengthen their pre-calculus skills before pursuing a STEM major. Ugolini’s efforts to offer this course is supported by a three-year, $150,000 grant from The Hearst Foundation. Further demonstrating his committment to student success efforts, Ugolini served as co-PI with Wilson Terrell (ENGR) on “Financial Aid for Science and Technology students, Enhanced with Research” (FASTER). 


Kale Ridge is the writing intern for the Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing and a rising junior pursuing a history major. He can be reached via email at kridge [at] trinity.edu.

Jeanna Goodrich Balreira ’08 is the director for content strategy for Trinity University’s Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing. Get in touch at jgoodri1 [at] trinity.edu or @jeannabalreira.