Faculty honored for excellence in teaching and service

Three Penn State Shenango faculty who were honored for excellence in teaching and service were presented with plaques and cash awards at recent events.

Donn Townsend, instructor in general engineering, was awarded the 2008 Leonard R. Riforgiato Memorial Teaching Award; while Dara Sterling, part-time instructor in health and human development, received the 2008 Margaret Cunningham Foley Memorial Teaching Award; and Jim Elder, senior instructor in communication, was awarded the first Penn State Shenango Teaching Service Excellence Award.

The Leonard R. Riforgiato Memorial Teaching Award is a campus award bestowed on a full-time faculty member who has been chosen through a series of steps that include nomination and recommendation from both students and the nominee's peers. Riforgiato, for whom the Shenango campus teaching award was named, was an associate professor in history and the first recipient of the Penn State Shenango Teaching Award. He taught at the Shenango campus for 26 years until he died in 1999.

According to one of Townsend's student nominators, "Donn Townsend is a standout instructor at Penn State Shenango. He's easily approachable for help at any time. He loves what he does and he teaches in a way that students can understand, even those who struggle with math."

Townsend began at Penn State Shenango in 1983 as a math tutor in its Learning Center. In 1984, the Shenango campus hired him as a full time instructor in its Electrical Engineering program. During most of his years at the campus, Townsend taught electrical engineering and math courses and continued to tutor both traditional and adult students.

In the fall of 2003, Townsend took a leave of absence for a year to do missionary work in Japan with his wife Daisy. Upon his return the following year, Townsend expanded his teaching portfolio at the campus to include physics courses.

In addition to teaching and tutoring, Townsend was involved in the campus' Faculty Senate, participated on various search committees and was the adviser of the Word of God Bible Study Club. Outside the University, Townsend was a foster parent for several years in the 1990s and is an active member of his church.

Townsend graduated from Goshen College in Goshen, Ind., with a bachelor's degree in math. His master's degree, which he received from Purdue University, is in electrical engineering. Before being hired at Penn State Shenango, he worked in the electrical engineering field for several years.

Townsend, who retired this June, is preparing to once again travel to Tokyo with his wife where they will do missionary work for three to five years through OMS (originally Oriental Mission Services) International based in Greenwood, Ind. Townsend had these words to say about the last 23 years at Shenango, "If you love what you're doing, you’ll never work a day in your life."

The Margaret Cunningham Foley Memorial Teaching Award, which was presented to Dara Sterling, recognizes outstanding part-time faculty at the campus. This award was established in 1998. Margaret Foley was an English instructor at Penn State Shenango from 1967 to 1994. She died in 2000.

One of Sterling's students wrote, "Dara Sterling was one person that I will definitely remember throughout my life for many reasons. Just entering a room, she would undulate a mood of joy and contentment ... Her tone and volume while speaking always told the class how important everyone's life was to her. She always had great enthusiasm with every new idea and concept ..."

Sterling was hired as an adjunct faculty member in the fall of 2004 to teach an introductory nutrition course. Over the last several years, her teaching load increased to include courses in kinesiology-wellness and fitness. In addition to teaching part-time at Shenango campus, Sterling is employed by UPMC Horizon as a wellness dietician.

Sterling received her undergraduate degree in food and nutrition from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master of education in health education from Penn State.

Outside of work, Sterling is a board member of the Community Health Partnership of Mercer County and the Community Food Warehouse; a four-year team captain for the Silver Street Saints (First United Methodist Church) Relay for Life team; as well as being involved in other church activities.

"I love teaching nutrition and wellness theory -- two of my passions -- at Shenango because of the non-traditional student population and the diversity they bring to the classroom," Sterling stated.

The Penn State Shenango Service Excellence Award, presented to Jim Elder, was created at the campus to recognize a faculty member who has provided outstanding service in the community.

According to one colleague, "Jim is a fine representative of our campus and is well-known in our community through his efforts on behalf of the United Way of Mercer County, as well as his years of service to the Sharon Kiwanis, his church, and other organizations."

Elder has taught at Penn State Shenango for more than 40 years. In addition to his reputation as an exceptional teacher, Elder has served the campus administratively over the years with posts in student recruitment, University Relations, Alumni Relations and in the executive office. He currently serves as elected senator to the University Faculty Senate and is chair of the campus' McDowell Endowment Committee.

Supporting the community has always been an important role in Elder's life. One particular organization that Elder has been involved with is the United Way of Mercer County. Over the years Elder has supported the United Way in various capacities including serving on the Communication Committee for more than 10 years, sitting on the organization's board of directors and participating on its allocation committee. He continues to be an advocate of the United Way through his support of the annual Penn State Shenango campaign drive as a consistent solicitor and several years as co-chair of the campaign.

Another organization in which Elder has given of his time and talent is the Kiwanis Club of Sharon. Currently, Elder is serving his third term as president. In his role as president, Elder has directed and participated in the planning, fundraising and allocation of funds for service project throughout the Shenango Valley, benefiting mostly children and youth.

During his tenure as acting director of University Relations at the campus in the mid- to late- '80s, Elder initiated the sale of Penn State Berkey Creamery ice cream cones at Buhl Day as well as Creamery ice cream half gallons in the springtime, an event which continues to raise thousands of dollars for student scholarships and special projects.

Over the years, Elder has been a guest speaker for numerous area organizations as well as a narrator at various events including the Shenango Valley Chorale and the First Presbyterian Church of Sharon.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009