The Charger Blog

Faculty Members Honored for Scholarly Achievements, Impact on Students

Nominated by their students and colleagues, five professors have been recognized for their research, leadership, and dedication to students’ success.

May 17, 2019

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

(L-R) Kendell Coker, Tiffany Hesser, Olena Lennon, Chong Qiu, and President Steve Kaplan.

Every year, several of the University of New Haven’s outstanding faculty members are honored for their creativity, commitment to service, and excellence in teaching. Recipients’ colleagues and students nominate them for the awards, and a committee of faculty members vote to select the winners, who are honored at an awards ceremony. The event ends with a “last lecture,” during which a faculty member delivers a hypothetical “final talk” about something that is important to them.


Chong Qiu headshot
Chong Qiu, Ph. D.
Excellence in Research and Creative Activity

Chong Qiu, an assistant professor of chemistry, received the Excellence in Research and Creative Activity Award, which recognizes a full-time faculty member who has demonstrated outstanding achievements in research, scholarship, or creative activity during the past academic year, and who has also served as a mentor. Qiu, who recently earned the prestigious National Science Foundation’s Early Career Award, often involves students in his research, which focuses on aerosols – tiny particles suspended in the air – in the atmosphere.

“His work involves some of the best undergraduates that I have encountered at the University, and his projects concerning air quality and particulate studies are socially relevant in an age of industry-driven climate change,” wrote a colleague who nominated Qiu. “His work is frequently interdisciplinary, involving students and professors in engineering and computer science.”


Margaret Savilonis headshot
Margaret F. Savilonis, Ph.D.
Excellence in Leadership and Service

The Excellence in Leadership and Service Award was presented to Margaret Savilonis, an associate professor of english and theater. The award recognizes a full-time faculty member for outstanding leadership and service to the University community, and to their profession. Savilonis, who serves as an adviser to the honors living learning community, is co-coordinator of the University’s theater program, and she directed the recent production of the comedic thriller “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play.”

“Meg has been instrumental in reaching out to Connecticut high schools and in bringing students to see our productions, widening the visibility of the program and the University to the entire state,” wrote a colleague who nominated Savilonis. “Anyone who has worked with Meg knows how tirelessly, rigorously, and selflessly she strives to make everything – and everybody – around her better.”


Olena Lennon headshot
Olena Lennon, Ph.D.
Excellence in Teaching, Part-Time Faculty Member

Olena Lennon, an adjunct professor of political science and a writing lab tutor in the University’s Center for Learning Resources, received the Excellence in Teaching, Part-Time Faculty Member Award. This award recognizes an adjunct faculty member or practitioner in residence who embodied the principles of excellence in teaching during the 2018-2019 academic year.

“I met Dr. Lennon when I was a nutrition and dietetics major, and she taught an introduction to politics and government course that I was taking,” wrote a student who nominated Lennon. “Because of her passion and knowledge, I gained an appreciation for politics that I never had before, and consequently, I switched to the political science department.”



Kendell Coker headshot
Kendell L. Coker, Ph.D., J.D.
Excellence in Teaching Using High-Impact Practices

The Excellence in Teaching Using High-Impact Practices Award was given to Kendell Coker, an assistant professor of psychology. The award recognizes a faculty member who demonstrates excellence in promoting student engagement through innovative pedagogical techniques or high- impact practices, such as faculty mentored research or service learning. Coker is also the faculty chief researcher for the Tow Youth Justice Institute, a University, state, and private partnership leading juvenile justice reform initiatives.

“Dr. Coker has engaged students in international research during his time teaching at the University’s campus in Prato, Italy,” wrote a colleague who nominated Coker. “Through their interactions with local students and practitioners, students not only had an opportunity to be engaged with different cultures, but they also had a chance to demonstrate and share their own knowledge while developing a more critical lens on how ‘justice’ operates throughout the world.”


Tiffany Hesser headshot
Tiffany Hesser, Ed.D.
Excellence in Teaching, Full-Time Faculty Member

The Excellence in Teaching, Full-Time Faculty Member Award was given to Tiffany Hesser, a senior lecturer of chemistry and the University’s chemistry program coordinator. The award recognizes a full-time faculty member who taught meaningful and intellectually engaging courses during the 2018-2019 academic year.

“Her enthusiasm for chemistry is evident as she shares her experiences on an emergency team rescuing animals to help students link chemistry to practical biological applications,” wrote a colleague who nominated Hesser. “Tiffany challenges students to think beyond just computing an answer to consider what it actually means. She doesn’t just step through a solution to a problem, but rather ‘coaches’ students through the process of solving problems.”

Added a student who nominated Hesser, “I am the engineer that I am today because of Dr. Hesser’s guidance and never-ending support.”


Ibrahim “Abe” Baggili headshot
Ibrahim (Abe) Baggili, Ph.D.
2019 Last Lecturer

Following the awards ceremony, Ibrahim “Abe” Baggili, Elder Family Endowed Chair of Computer Science and Cybersecurity and founder and co-director of the University’s Cyber Forensics Research and Education Group, delivered the 2019 Last Lecture. University of New Haven President Steve Kaplan selects a faculty member each year to deliver the talk, and the speaker’s identity is revealed just before the presentation.

Baggili, an internationally recognized expert in cybersecurity and digital forensics, began the lecture by inviting the audience to respond to his survey via their cell phones. He then discussed what he learned about the audience from the information they provided – and from many audience members signing into a fake Wifi account. Baggili passionately explained that it is his wife’s love and support – not the cybersecurity program’s recognition – that drives him.

A “last lecture” challenges top academics to give a hypothetical “final talk” about something that matters deeply to them and to offer the wisdom they would wish to impart to the world if they knew it was their last chance.

The last lecture series is modeled after a presentation made in 2007 by Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University professor, who delivered his “last lecture” titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” a month after he learned that the pancreatic cancer he had been diagnosed with a year earlier was terminal. He died ten months after delivering the address, and his talk became the basis for a New York Times best seller.