We’ll admit it, we are biased. We think that we have some of the greatest business and technology faculty and staff in the country. This past year they went above and beyond to pursue excellence and care for students during the challenging school year. We’re excited to announce those faculty and staff who were named as 2020-2021 COBA award winners for the Department of Management Sciences, the Department of Accounting and Finance, and the School of Information Technology and Computing.
By student vote, the 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year for the Department of Management Sciences is Dr. Phil Vardiman. Dr. Vardiman is a beloved professor who is known for his jokes, his enthusiasm, and his care for his students. He is often seen engaging with students in his office, the classroom, or on walks around campus. Presley Davis (’21) shared, “He has continued to be my number one supporter throughout my time with COBA. He cares for his students and wants to share our successes. He’s a lovely professor and friend.”
Skylar Morris (’21) expressed his gratitude for Dr. Vardiman saying, “This man is single-handedly the reason I am happy where I’m at with my choice of major and career. He is so exciting, passionate, and happy to be teaching us. He is also the reason I am pursuing grad school because he has made me feel like I can be better. Every time I have an accomplishment, I want to tell him because he cares so much about his students and gets so genuinely excited. This man is truly the best professor I’ve had.”
By student vote, the 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year for the Department of Accounting and Finance is Dr. Jody Jones, another widespread student favorite. A newer addition to the COBA faculty, he stands out for his engagement with students and his ability to simplify hard topics. Senior finance major, Jon Bennett, explained, “He makes the topics interesting and applicable to real life. He goes above and beyond for his students. He makes going to class seem fun even at 8:00 AM.” Dr. Jones shared that it is a blessing and honor to know you are appreciated by your students and peers and to know one is valued.
Rebekah Jones, a senior finance and marketing major, expressed the impact Dr. Jones has had on her. “Jody goes above and beyond to ensure his students’ success not only in college but also post-graduation. His class has offered the most real-world applicable information in my COBA experience. Additionally, the level of difficulty is at a perfect point where you are motivated to try hard and learn, but he always offers grace with grades if you show that you are willing to work hard and redo assignments. Jody has a great sense of humor which makes him very approachable and easy to talk to before or after class. I appreciate getting to know him a bit each class and learn from his experiences. So much of why I love ACU is because of the opportunities there are to get to know professors who truly care about you – Jody has exemplified that.”
By student vote, the 2020-2021 SITC Teacher of the Year is Dr. Brian Burton. Senior digital entertainment technology major Camila Rodriguez shared, “Dr. Burton is an amazing mentor. He always pushes us to do our best work and encourages us to pursue our goals and ambitions.” Dr. Burton is a valuable member of the SITC team and SITC Director Dr. John Homer shares why. “Dr. Burton has led the DET program for more than a decade, mentoring and working with every student who has gone through. He is dedicated to his work and cares deeply about his students. I think this award shows that his students feel similarly about him.”
Finally, the 2020-2021 Online Teacher of the Year is Dr. Mindy Welch. As a member of the ACU Dallas online team, Mindy has been a valuable asset to her students. Dr. Jennifer Golden explained that Dr. Welch loves her ACU students. “She is patient, encouraging, helpful, and a great professor overall. She receives consistent exceptional feedback in her classes. It is a pure joy to work with her because she is always coming up with new and innovative ideas to make the online classroom engaging, challenging, and spiritually encouraging. I cannot think of a better person for our Online Teacher of the Year.”
Director of the online MBA program, Dr. Vardiman, expressed, “Mindy is a teacher who not only wants her students to learn but also succeed in life. She loves teaching!!! Mindy is willing to go the extra mile for each of her students. She is wonderful to work with and sets the bar very high in her teaching style. She shares the example of Christ in how she cares for her students.” Upon receiving the award, Dr. Welch shared, “Honestly, it means so much to me! I know that Christian higher education is an act of service in God’s Kingdom. It is about preparing the next generation to show passion and leadership. Getting an award like this is just an affirmation from God that I am where he needs me to be.”
The Dean’s Award for Research was given to Dr. Monty Lynn for his outstanding research that resulted in the publication of two books this summer. Dr. Lynn hopes his research results in helping others. “Having these books recognized with the Dean’s Award for Research is an honor and adds to the hope that these works make a contribution to scholars, practitioners, the church, and students.”
Dr. Lynn’s research and the resulting books were born from his own experiences in the classroom and his desire to teach others how to use their vocation to reach out to help a hurting world. “Several years ago, a couple of ACU business students inquired about how they might apply what they had learned in business within developing economies. Because of their inquisitiveness, we created a special topics course in the class, International Poverty and Development. The course was cataloged a couple of years later and we still offer it today. Although my training in this field was limited, I looked for learning and research opportunities. Two observations became clear along the way. One was that while many Christian congregations engaged in relief and development activities, they often did so without the benefit of international development insights. A second observation was that a wonderful history of Christian engagement in relief, development, and advocacy existed but few knew the actors or ideas that flowered through the ages.”
The 2020-2021 COBA Staff Person of the Year was awarded to Professional Development Manager Steph Brown. Steph has taken the COBA professional development program to the next level with the implementation of COBA EDGE which helps prepare students for internships and jobs beginning their freshman year. She keeps business and technology students engaged and on track as they learn and grow professionally during their time in the college. Dean Brad Crisp explained why Steph is such a valuable member of the COBA team. “Steph took on two significant challenges for the college over the last year. First, she took over the Internship for Credit courses for each major, both administering the growing program and teaching the academic portion of the students’ internship course experience. Internships make a huge difference in the professional development and career placement of our students. Second, Steph partnered in the pilot of the Suitable platform, which was initially called Accelerate in the spring and will be called Compass this fall. COBA believes strongly in holistic student development, and we appreciate Steph’s contributions to not only help our students grow professionally but in all parts of their lives.”
Steph was humbled by the honor. “The award is, of course, sincerely appreciated. In all transparency, however, I have a difficult time accepting an award for myself when I have witnessed our other staff members have such a positive impact themselves. The past year has shown how every staff person in COBA has risen to the occasion and taken care of business, no pun intended. They have taken more responsibilities on top of their existing initiatives and done it with such a spirit of collegiality. I care for my colleagues and feel cared for by them. That, in itself, is better than receiving a reward.”
The Outstanding Junior Faculty Member Award was given to SITC professor Dr. James Prather. Dr. Prather is known for engaging with students both inside and outside the classroom to help them pursue their goals. He said, “The Weathers Fellowship for Outstanding Junior Faculty is indicative of the excellent support we have here at ACU for teaching and research. I’m excited for what this award will enable me to do with my students over the next year. Many talented faculty have received this award in the past and I’m honored to be counted among their number.”
Dean Crisp added, “Drawing on his education in computer science and biblical studies, Dr. James Prather combines his passion for faith and technology in ways that inform and strengthen his teaching, scholarship, and service. He actively mentors students spiritually, inside and outside of class. James engages students in undergraduate research, supervising students as they present research at international conferences. And, he is a fun and loyal colleague. Dr. Prather shows that the future is bright for the School of Information Technology and Computing.”
Finally, the Dean’s Award for Service and Leadership was given to all of the COBA faculty and staff. Juggling what the year brought forth was not an easy task. Dr. Crisp was proud of the way the faculty and staff members showed students and their colleagues’ dedication and perseverance throughout the challenges of the pandemic.
“As I have watched COBA faculty and staff navigate a pandemic over the last year or more, I have seen our faculty and staff serving and leading in so many ways beyond their normal roles. Faculty learned new skills in online teaching, taught in classrooms scattered all across campus (while also engaging the students on Zoom), engaged in important and difficult conversations about how we can better serve our students, and all the while cared for students dealing with health challenges and other disruptions. And, our staff continued to advance their individual responsibilities while rising to unique challenges related to the pandemic, building renovations, the winter storm, and so much more. I couldn’t give the Dean’s Award for Service and Leadership to just one individual this year because all of our faculty and staff are so deserving.”
As a college, our vision is to inspire, equip and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. The past year has taught us that this vision is more than words on a page. This vision came alive in countless classrooms and offices all over this campus and inspires us to be the change we want to see. Let’s go change the world, Wildcats.