Inaugural College of Education Award winners announced

May 22, 2024

The first-ever College of Education Awards were given in May 2024 to faculty and staff who have made extraordinary contributions to the college community. 

The awards recognize individuals for their research, teaching and leadership. They were developed and disseminated by Associate Deans Emily Bouck and Matthew Koehler, and supported by Dean Jerlando F. L. Jackson.

Sparty statue is shown with sunlight behind.

The 2024 winners are:

The winners were chosen by representatives from each academic department in the college: John A. Hannah University Distinguished Professor Barbara Schneider, Professor Rebecca Jacobsen, Assistant Professor Alexandra Allweiss and Associate Professor Leps Malete.  

Early Career Award: Matthew S. Harkey

This honor recognizes a tenure-track faculty member for their outstanding research. Harkey, who has been with the college since 2020, is an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology. His nomination was supported by Paddy Ekkekakis, professor and department chair, and Karin Pfeiffer, professor. 

Matthew Harkey headshot. He wears a dark gray blazer over a white button-down shirt. His tie is a light blue. His brown hair is short.

Harkey has produced 90 peer-reviewed publications, 138 conference abstracts and garnered over 2,300 research citations since 2017.  

“The practical applications of [his] work are profound,” wrote Ekkekakis. “His research program challenges conventional approaches to early identification and treatment of post-traumatic osteoarthritis, with the potential to significantly impact patients who have suffered knee ligament injuries. This pioneering work supports the goals and lifestyles of physically active individuals, aiming to improve health and well-being across the lifespan.” 

Pfeiffer echoed the strengths of Harkey’s work, writing: “[He] is one of the most promising early career scholars I have encountered. His drive, innovative research approaches and commitment to advancing our understanding of [anterior cruciate ligament] recovery make him an ideal candidate for the MSU College of Education Early Career Research Award.”  

Mid-Career Research Award: Marisa H. Fisher

This honor recognizes a tenured associate professor for outstanding research. Fisher, who has been with the college since 2013, is an associate professor in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education (CEPSE) and a faculty affiliate in the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative. Fisher’s nomination was supported by Kui Xie, professor and department chair, and Connie Sung, professor. 

Marisa Fisher. She wears a reddish blouse. Her blonde hair is about shoulder length.
Marisa H. Fisher

In her career, Fisher has secured 19 grants from foundations and state and federal agencies, and is currently an active principal investigator on three grants. She has published 56 peer-reviewed articles, nine book chapters and has more than 1,900 citations. Fisher and Sung co-direct the MSU STRIDE Center

In her nomination letter, Sung wrote: “[Her] exemplary career and significant contributions to the field of special education, particularly in addressing the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, not only exemplify the highest standards of research excellence but also make her an outstanding candidate for this award.”  

“It is noteworthy that many of [her] publications include graduate students and even undergraduate students as coauthors,” wrote Xie. “This shows her dedication to support students and help them grow as researchers. But her mentoring effort goes beyond research. She brings her extensive clinical skills and experience to the classroom, contributing significantly to the academic and professional growth of her students.”  

Senior Career Research Award: Connie Sung

This honor recognizes a tenured, full professor for outstanding and impactful research within their field. Sung, who has been with the college since 2012, is a professor in the CEPSE department. Her nomination was supported by Kui Xie, professor and department chair, and Cary Roseth, professor. 

Connie Sung. She wears a black and white striped shirt. She wears dark-rimmed glasses. Her black hair falls past her shoulders.
Connie Sung

Sung’s career includes 62 peer-reviewed articles, one edited book and 23 book chapters. She has more than 2,030 journal citations and is a regular invited speaker and presenter at national and international conferences. In 2023, Sung was named a Fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA). 

“Connie Sung’s dedication, innovation and significant contributions to the field make her an ideal candidate for the Senior Career Research Award,” wrote Roseth. “Her work not only advances academic knowledge and fulfills MSU’s land-grant mission, but also has a profound, tangible impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities.” 

Xie also echoed praises for Sung, writing: “She played a key role in the co-founding of MSU’s STRIDE Center, where she conducts community-based and participatory research, bridging the gap between research and practice. Additionally, [her] commitment to interdisciplinary, interagency and international research collaborations is also evident in her extensive international partnerships across Europe, Asia and Africa, enhancing social inclusion and employment settings for individuals with developmental disabilities using technology.”  

Outstanding Teaching Award: Spyridoula Vazou

This honor recognizes a fixed-term faculty or academic staff member or a tenure-stream faculty member for outstanding, impactful teaching. Vazou, who has been with the college since 2022, is an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology. Her nomination was supported by Assistant Professor Jeemin Kim, Professor Karin Pfeiffer and two students. 

Spyridoula Vazou. She wears a brown and white tweed blazer with black edging. Her brown hair is curly and falls about her shoulders.
Spyridoula Vazou

Among her teaching accomplishments at MSU thus far, Vazou “transformed” the KIN 345 course, according to Kim. She added content to and renamed the course (now called “Exercise Psychology”) to be more representative of the entire field. She also developed hands-on lab learning experiences, such as instilling motivational interviewing (a counseling technique) and incorporating exercise into classroom spaces (to improve, and draw connections to, its cognitive and psychological benefits).  

“It was apparent from day one that she values innovative teaching methods that span beyond the traditional lecture material,” wrote Riya Hathi, a 2023 Kinesiology graduate. “She approaches the subject material with enthusiasm and fosters an environment that is dynamic, engaging and supportive.” 

Fellow nominator Sophie Sinnott, who graduated in 2023, agreed. “Using techniques from her teachings has helped me improve on encouraging patients throughout the day as they complete their exercises,” wrote Sinnott, who is a physical therapy technician. “I have great respect for her as [an associate] professor and thoroughly enjoyed attending her class.”  

Fixed-term and Academic Staff Leadership Award: Candace Robertson

This honor recognizes a fixed-term faculty or academic staff member who demonstrates leadership excellence and whose impact is substantial and transformative. Robertson, who has been with the college since 2013, is the assistant director of student experience and outreach for the M.A. in Educational Technology program (MAET) and the M.A. in Learning Experience Design (MALXD) in the CEPSE department. Her nomination was supported by Brittany Dillman, graduate programs director for the MAET and MALXD, and Jennifer A. Schmidt, professor and CEPSE associate chair.

Candace Robertson. She wears a fuschia sweater, with a black scarf over top. Her brown hair is tied up in a bun. She wears dark-rimmed glasses.

Robertson’s work is award-winning, earning five MSU AT&T Faculty-Staff Instructional Technology Awards, the Online Learning Consortium Effective Practice Award (2021) and the MSU Graduate School mentoring Award (2022) with Dillman and MAET/MALXD Program Director Liz Boltz. In addition to her regular responsibilities, Robertson championed much of the work to establish a department-level fixed-term and academic staff annual review process. 

“Anyone who has ever worked with Candace knows that being creative is her biggest strength and her favorite thing to do. Candace’s creativity always comes from asking big questions and attempting to come up with wild solutions to those problems,” wrote Dillman. “She is [also] a team-oriented and collaborative leader. … After she has created and collaborated, Candace’s question is always, ‘How do we do better next time?'” 

“She works behind the scenes in countless ways to build both relationships and processes to support the advancement and well-being of those around her,” wrote Schmidt. “She is a model of the visible and invisible work of effective leaders. Notably, these leadership efforts extend beyond her program and beyond the CEPSE department: She has been an advocate and bridge-builder across the college, and we are all better off for it.”  

Support Staff Leadership Award

This award recognizes a support staff member who demonstrates leadership excellence, and whose impact is substantial and transformative.  

Due to the outstanding nominees, the award committee decided to recognize two awardees in 2024. 

Christina Mazuca Ebmeyer

Ebmeyer, who has been with the college since 2004, is the fiscal officer and supervisor in the Department of Kinesiology. Her nomination was supported by Pfeiffer and Ekkekakis

Christina Ebmeyer. She wears a black cardigan over a black and white polka dot blouse. Her brown hair is about shoulder-length.

“Christina consistently exceeds expectations,” wrote Pfeiffer. “If you ask anyone in her department, they will have multiple stories of how Christina went above and beyond to assist them. And if she initially cannot figure out how to resolve an issue, she ponders and comes back with an innovative solution.”  

In one example provided by Pfeiffer, Ebmeyer created a new system, of her own accord, to inform faculty of spending on grant budgets. Such a system did not exist prior to Ebmeyer’s above-and-beyond efforts.  

Indeed, “‘above’ and ‘beyond’ should be Christina’s two middle names,” wrote Ekkekakis. “Christina has a strong sense of responsibility. She takes pride in her work and feels personally invested in the success of the department. Not only is she the perfect example of ‘first one in, last one out,’ but, because of her diverse skills and constant willingness to help, she has become the ‘go-to’ person for an extraordinarily broad range of issues. Frankly, ‘talk to Christina’ is probably the most frequently used phrase within the Department of Kinesiology; she is the answer to most questions.”  

Amanda McNew

McNew, who has been with the college since 2004, is a senior administrative business professional in the Dean’s Office. Her nomination was supported by Lisa A. Reeves, chief of staff and Ann E. Austin, University Distinguished Professor and senior advisor to the MSU vice provost for faculty and academic staff affairs. 

Amanda McNew. She wears a black, short-sleeved blouse. Her auburn hair is curly and cropped above her shoulders. She wears dark-rimmed glasses.

In her role, McNew supports and assists in resolving budgetary matters and interpreting university policies. As new hires to the Dean’s Office came into their roles, McNew also served as support during training. In addition, McNew is the fiscal officer and liaison for all nine of the Dean’s Office administrative units, including Academic Staff and Student Affairs and the Office of Research Administration

“Her preparation, meticulous note-taking and reliance on university policy for guidance demonstrate her comprehensive knowledge of the programmatic activities associated with the dean’s office,” wrote Reeves.  

In one example, Reeves explained how McNew collaborated with fellow support staff to create a college-survey, which developed and disseminated a specialized report for tracking sponsorship requests.  

“She not only embodies leadership qualities, but also possesses a warm and welcoming spirit,” wrote Reeves. “[She is] always ready to assist and contribute positively to the administration infrastructure of the College of Education.” 

Austin also wrote: “What distinguishes Amanda as she manages [her] array of critically important responsibilities for the college is the way in which she approaches her work. She is highly professional, always bringing expertise, insight and good judgment to her work. … Each day as she carries out her responsibilities, Amanda models effective leadership — the kind of leadership that serves others, models excellence and encourages everyone with whom she works to be the best.”