Awarding rapid adaptation

When the University of Utah shifted to all-online coursework this spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of students, faculty and staff adapted the way they do things.

But a few individuals and teams of staff and faculty members stood out for their efforts. University leaders are recognizing them with the new Online Excellence Awards this fall.

Online Excellence Awards Recipients

Naina Phadnis

Naina Phadnis, an assistant professor and assistant director of the School of Biological Sciences, developed and taught the school’s first online/hybrid biology course in 2016. This spring, Phadnis ran a workshop for her colleagues and consulted one-on-one to help others make the transition. She is “deeply engaged in building online infrastructure,” a nominator wrote.

Natalie Stillman-Webb

Natalie Stillman-Webb, a professor in the College of Humanities’ Department of Writing and Rhetoric Studies, assigned innovative online assignments related to COVID-19 and offered a summer workshop for K-12 public school teachers.

Aaron Fischer

Aaron Fischer, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, set up a working group for colleagues who then consulted with others in the department. Fischer also established emotional and social programs for K-12 teachers struggling with the shift to online teaching.

College of Engineering team

Anthony (Tony) Butterfield, an associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering; Swomitra (Bobby) Mohanty, an assistant professor in the Departments of Metallurgical Engineering and Chemical Engineering; and Stacy Firth, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Together, the team developed an online lab course for a first-year class, rewrote assignments to develop projects related to the public health crisis and helped students figure out substitute materials they could find around them, including delivering supplies to students at home.

Research Quest team

Tracey Collins and Madlyn Larson, from the Natural History Museum of Utah, pivoted the Research Quest program online to serve parents teaching at home and teachers delivering lessons online. Their efforts reached 40,000 students and 250 teachers.

Jim Logue

Jim Logue, IT manager for the College of Education, stepped in to be the videographer, composer and producer for the college’s all-online commencement. He also managed the college’s laptop loaner program in collaboration with the J. Willard Marriott Library, arranging curbside pickup and house calls.

Bryce Nelson

Bryce Nelson, graduate coordinator for the Department of Physics & Astronomy, developed online student town halls, thesis defenses and a first-ever online Advising Day for over 50 graduate students—which resulted in a 50% acceptance rate. She also worked with international students to help them navigate changing federal policies.

“She exceeds every expectation that is set for her, and the department would simply not have been able to function these last three months without her,” wrote Peter Trapa, dean of the College of Science, in the nomination letter.

Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dan Reed noted that the pandemic response required faculty and staff from across campus to adapt rapidly to extraordinary circumstances. The awardees exemplify the One U spirit of adaptation and commitment to our students, Reed said.

“These faculty and staff members not only shifted outreach and coursework online, they also adapted pedagogy and practice in innovative ways to help their students learn, retain knowledge and complete coursework during this difficult time,” he added.

“Once the pandemic subsides, their knowledge and experience in online education delivery will help the University of Utah pivot more nimbly as we prepare scholars, researchers and workers for the global economy of the future."