2022 Faculty Award Winners Recognized for Outstanding Achievement

The College of Arts & Letters recognizes its 2022 Faculty Award winners for the work they do to enhance curriculum and student experiences. These four impactful leaders have shown outstanding leadership, teaching, innovation, and community engagement and were honored at the 2022 Faculty Welcome Reception on Sept. 29.

The 2022 Faculty Award winners include:

  • Paul Varg Award – Robin Silbergleid
  • Community Partner Award – Kate Birdsall
  • Fixed-Term Faculty/Academic Specialist Leadership Excellence Award – Alexis Black 
  • Faculty Leadership Award – Trixie Long Smith 

Paul Varg Award

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Professor Robin Silbergleid

Robin Silbergleid, Professor in the Department of English, is this year’s recipient of the Paul Varg Award, which is presented each year to a College of Arts & Letters faculty member who provides the highest quality education for students at Michigan State University by challenging them intellectually; instilling a love of learning; encouraging students to seek truth and continue inquiring and growing beyond the university experience. Recipients also must maintain a national reputation in their field and provide service to the college, university, and community. The award is named after Paul Varg, the first dean of the college who was a respected teacher, researcher, and administrator.

Silbergleid, who works in the areas of creative writing, 20th and 21st century American literature and culture, autotheory, and motherhood studies, was nominated by Ellen McCallum, Professor in the Department of English, who wrote: “Dr. Silbergleid has defined her career by working synergistically across creative and critical modes. Her path through genres and across creative writing and literary studies produces courses that explore those same traversals, ably demonstrating the intellectual challenges of creative expression, as well as inspiring lifelong learning by equipping students with the skills to analyze and articulate their own experiences.” 

McCallum also added that “Professor Silbergleid indisputably exemplifies the ideals of this award in both teaching practice and her research and creative work. In particular, I want to emphasize how Professor Silbergleid’s teaching of creative writing, both creative nonfiction and poetry, ‘Encourages students to seek truth and to continue inquiring and growing beyond the university experience.’”  

Community Partner Award

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Associate Professor Kate Birdsall

Kate Birdsall, Associate Professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures (WRAC), is this year’s recipient of the Community Partner Award, which annually recognizes a faculty member for their community contributions at the local, state, national, and/or global levels. Linked to the College’s mission to “enrich community, economic, and family life,” this award honors the significant involvement, student mentorship, and overall leadership of the faculty member in one or more community engagement activities.

Birdsall, who serves as Director of The Cube, an experiential learning, user experience, and community publishing initiative in WRAC, was nominated for the award by Kate Fedewa, Academic Specialist and Assistant Director of Undergraduate Programs in WRAC, and the team of students who are involved with The Cube.

“Dr. Birdsall has directed The Cube since its creation in 2018. Her contributions as a student mentor and community ally at The Cube have enriched the lives of Michiganders on campus and far beyond. She believes whole-heartedly that through collaboration good things can happen,” Fedewa wrote in her nomination letter. “Her contributions at The Cube are extraordinary. She mentors dozens of students every year, helping them grow as individuals and often land their first jobs.”  

The team of students from The Cube collectively wrote in their nomination that “Dr. Birdsall is everything a mentor should be — knowledgeable, confident, and so giving of both her time and expertise. Her patience, dedication, and determination inspire us to show up and do our best work every single day, and she’s the kind of mentor who always has time to answer questions and work through problems.”  

Fixed-Term Faculty/Academic Specialist Leadership Excellence Award

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Assistant Professor Alexis Black

Alexis Black, Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre, is this year’s recipient of the Fixed-Term Faculty/Academic Specialist Leadership Excellence Award, which recognizes fixed-term faculty and academic specialists who demonstrate leadership excellence, making a substantive impact in their area. Award winners foster excellence, encourage others on their own path to intellectual leadership, and enhance diversity across the college.

Black, who is an acting movement specialist and a certified Intimacy Director, was nominated for the award by Professor Rob Roznowski, Head of Acting and Directing in the Department of Theatre. He wrote that Black “has led with kindness and compassion. Her leadership style is one of empathy and making others feel heard and respected. She worked on the CAL Culture of Care subcommittee on onboarding new faculty and staff members and led multiple workshops and presentations for faculty. It is that prestige, experience, and knowledge of industry standards she has infused within the Department of Theatre production practices and the overall student experience.”

Black also was nominated for this award by Stephen Di Benedetto, Department of Theatre Chair, who wrote that “in her leadership, she has made a substantive impact upon the theatre program and its connection to the professional theatre community. By bringing her creative work in intimacy and stage violence to MSU, her teaching is shaping future industry standards. She leads by example, works to create new structures and engagements to better the lives of our faculty, staff, and students, and brings her energy and professional expertise to all she does for us. Her service to department and university is strong and dedicated to cultural wellbeing.” 

Faculty Leadership Award

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Associate Professor Trixie Long Smith

Trixie Long Smith, Associate Professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures (WRAC), is this year’s recipient of the Faculty Leadership Award, which rewards faculty who demonstrate outstanding leadership — the kind who go beyond the performance of routine tasks, are generous in sharing insights, and provide the hard work and mentoring that creates vision and excellence in programs and departments

Smith, who serves as Director of The Writing Center and the Red Cedar Writing Project, was nominated by Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Chair of WRAC, who wrote: “During my time serving as Associate Chair and Director of WRAC’s graduate programs, Trixie was — and continues to be — an exceptionally valuable, thoughtful, kind, careful, and caring member of and leader in our graduate community. She never hesitates to jump into large-scale curricular and programmatic work, and she works in potent, powerful, positive ways to support the development of an incredibly significant number of M.A. and Ph.D. students.” 

Smith also was nominated by Grace Pregent, Associate Director of The Writing Center, who wrote that “Dr. Smith’s work fosters connections between people, departments, colleges, and universities. Her style of leadership hinges on mentoring future leaders and making opportunities for others to develop their individual leadership styles with feedback mechanisms for support. Within the organizational model, Dr. Smith has created programs and initiatives that are collaboratively designed, implemented, and assessed by The Writing Center as a unit, which offers undergraduate and graduate students a wide range of opportunities for professional development. Over a dozen writing center consultants who have been mentored by Dr. Smith now direct their own Writing Centers as leaders in the field.”