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CETL wins Board of Regents’ Academic Staff Excellence Award

| Gary Johnson

Photo caption: The award-winning CETL staff members are, from left, Avonlea Hanson, Kelly Austin, Katie Larson, Dr. Angie Stombaugh, Cindy Albert and Tiffany Lewis. (Photo by Shane Opatz)

While the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) has long been a valuable instructional resource for faculty members at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the dramatic pivot to remote and hybrid learning during COVID-19 “took their work to a whole new level,” says Provost Patricia Kleine.

“They helped instructors understand how to best support students in the transition and how to navigate technology that was new to them and their students,” Kleine says.

For its efforts to empower and assist instructors, CETL is the recipient of this year’s UW System Board of Regents Academic Staff Excellence Award that recognizes exceptional service to the university. Recipients were announced June 6 and awards will be given out June 10 as part of the Board of Regents monthly meeting at UW-Milwaukee.

CETL is the first teaching center to win the award, which is the UW System’s highest recognition bestowed on members of its academic staff.

Award recipients are selected for superior performance resulting in significant contributions to the department and institution; use of positive personal interaction to manage work changes; and a consistently creative approach that improves productivity and work quality. Each recipient is awarded $7,500.

CETL’s director, Dr. Angie Stombaugh, says the center’s staff collaborated with multiple UW-Eau Claire departments to ensure high-quality instruction during the pandemic, calling the Regents honor “a team award.”

“The pandemic has shown us the teaching center is vital on our campus,” Stombaugh says. “What the pandemic did for us was amplify our team’s capabilities and how we help our faculty.”

CETL touches all faculty, staff and students at UW-Eau Claire through innovative and creative delivery of programming to support teaching and learning, Kleine says.

“CETL leadership and staff never need to be told what to do to support plan initiatives — they are immediately able to see where they can best contribute and are quick to develop programs to do so,” Kleine says.

In nominating CETL for the award, Kleine called the center the “go-to” place for faculty and staff for improving instruction and advancing equity, diversity and inclusion in the classroom.

Kleine says CETL is known for helping faculty and staff in “weathering whatever challenges get in the way” of the university’s commitment to excellence in teaching and learning.

A monumental challenge came during the pandemic in March 2020 when UW-Eau Claire, like other universities in the UW System and around the country, pivoted from in-person instruction to remote and hybrid learning.

CETL and UW-Eau Claire’s Learning and Technology Services (LTS) staff had been meeting to plan for the “worst-case scenario” of moving all classes online and created a detailed triage plan, with CETL being the central point for all teaching and instructional needs.

The collaborative planning allowed CETL and LTS to jointly support faculty and staff after the move to online learning. CETL offered professional development on critical technology and pedagogy skills for teaching online to support instructors.

Dr. Manuel Fernandez, professor of Spanish and director of UW-Eau Claire’s Latin American and Latinx studies program, is among those who were appreciative of CETL’s expertise guiding instructors during the transition to remote and hybrid learning.

“I think I speak for many at UW-Eau Claire when I say that managing the situation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic would have been vastly more difficult had CETL not be around, not been ready to hit the ground running like Olympic champions, and not done so as magnificently as they did,” Fernandez says. “They have done a job that has helped our university and our students survive and even flourish and learn in very, very challenging times.”

CETL associate director Cindy Albert says that before the pandemic, about 50% of faculty took advantage of CETL services. Nearly 100% of faculty members sought CETL resources during the pandemic.

“We were stretched to support people in new and different ways because we had new clients,” Albert says. “We’re here to support the faculty.

“It has reinforced that our faculty is exceptional. They stepped up and were willing to try new things. They wanted to meet the students’ needs. We knew they were good, but they really showed how good they are.”

CETL staff members pointed out that its innovative new faculty orientation introduced the center to many new instructors to prepare them for the college classroom.

“It is helpful to connect with them right away,” says CETL program associate Kelly Austin. “They know we are here when they need us.”

Dr. Abby Hemmerich, associate professor and chair of UW-Eau Claire’s communication sciences and disorders department, is among those praising CETL’s work with new instructors.

“For new- or early-career academics, teaching in the classroom is among the most intimidating and anxiety-inducing tasks, and yet a task in which most Ph.D. faculty receive very little training while in their doctoral programs,” Hemmerich says. “CETL staff are exceptional with early-career faculty, providing insights, suggestions, support and encouragement in a supportive and non-threatening manner.”

Other recent key contributions of the center include:

  • Transforming UW-Eau Claire’s liberal education program.
  • Creating collaborations that foster an inclusive learning community.
  • Building a plan to provide all faculty and instructional academic staff with professional development in transparent design to enhance success for all students.
  • Collaborating with McIntyre Library to assist faculty in using open educational resources to reduce costs for students.
  • Collaborated with the Division of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Student Affairs to establish the EDI professional development program on campus.