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W&M professors receive state’s highest honor for faculty

  • Outstanding faculty
    Outstanding faculty  Professor of Biology John Swaddle was named a 2016 recipient of an Outstanding Faculty Award by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia SCHEV.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Rising star
    Rising star  Assistant Professor of Anthropology Jennifer G. Kahn was named a 2016 Rising Star, a subcategory of the Outstanding Faculty Awards announced each year by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia SCHEV.  Courtesy photo
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Two William & Mary professors have been recognized as 2016 recipients of Outstanding Faculty Awards by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).  There are only around a dozen awards given each year. Faculty members at all of the institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth, public and private, are eligible for consideration.

The W&M awardees are John Swaddle, professor of biology, and Jennifer G. Kahn, assistant professor of anthropology. The 2016 list brings William & Mary’s total number of SCHEV Outstanding Faculty Awards to 40, more honorees than any other college or university in the Commonwealth.

“It takes broad-ranging accomplishments of absolutely compelling quality to win an outstanding faculty award,” said President Taylor Reveley. “William & Mary is very proud of professors Kahn and Swaddle.”

This statewide honor has been bestowed annually since 1987 to selected faculty members for their excellence in teaching, research, knowledge integration and public service. The OFA program celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2016. This year also marks the 12th year of Dominion Resources’ sponsorship of the Outstanding Faculty Awards (OFA).

“With Dominion’s support, this annual recognition of Virginia’s most outstanding faculty members is truly one of the agency’s most rewarding activities,” said SCHEV Director Peter Blake. “We are honored to highlight the accomplishments of these professors who lend their extraordinary talents to their students, their institutions, and the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

William & Mary’s two 2016 honorees have a number of things in common. For instance, both were doing fieldwork out of the country when the OFAs were announced. Swaddle is a behavioral biologist serving a year as visiting research associate at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, in the U.K. Kahn, an anthropologist and archaeologist, is doing fieldwork in the Pacific Islands.

Both also work on environmental topics. Swaddle studies the effects of human activity on ecology and evolution, particularly in birds. Kahn uses archaeology to explore the strategies used by South Pacific island populations over time to deal with a near-constant set of environmental changes.

Both Swaddle and Kahn regularly include William & Mary students, undergraduates as well as graduates, in their research work. They even have had a common research student, Kelly O’Toole ’14, now in a graduate program at U.C. Boulder. O’Toole worked with Swaddle studying fire ecology in Australia and also worked with Kahn at excavations on Mo’orea, the island neighboring Tahiti. O’Toole’s honors thesis combined ecology and cultural anthropology, a pairing that Swaddle points to as an excellent example of the power of interdisciplinary liberal-arts approaches at William & Mary.

Swaddle came to William & Mary in 2001. He was the inaugural speaker for the twice-yearly Tack Faculty Lecture Series and has received a number of other awards and honors, including the Reves Center International Faculty Fellowship, the Plumeri Award for Faculty Excellence, the Phi Beta Kappa Faculty Award for the Advancement of Scholarship and the Alumni Fellowship Award. His current research involves how rapid environmental change affects bird populations.

“In particular, we’re looking at how exposure to low amounts of mercury, which is increasing globally, affects the development, physiology, behavior and breeding of birds,” Swaddle explained. “We have found large effects from fairly small amounts.”

Swaddle also is leading a group that’s studying how noise pollution affects the behavior and fitness of songbirds. “Because of the noise, birds need to change how they sing, which affects their breeding,” he said.

He is part of a collaborative known as Sonic Nets, along with Mark Hinders, professor of applied science. The idea is to use “nets” of sound to discourage pest birds from farms and airports.

Kahn was honored with the “Rising Star” version of the Outstanding Faculty Award, a special category for younger faculty members. She arrived at William & Mary in 2012 after earning an anthropology Ph.D. from U.C. Berkeley in 2005, followed by positions in academia and in museums.

Her areas of research interest include an investigation of the colonization and settlement of the Pacific Islands as well as an exploration of the daily life of Polynesians in the past through analysis of monumental architecture such as temples, residential sites and agricultural complexes. She conducts field work in Hawaii and in the Society Islands group of French Polynesia, where she has worked since 1999. She regularly includes contemporary residents of the islands in her work.

“Currently, I am working in the 'Opunohu Valley of Mo'orea on a project for eco-tourism and cultural resource management,” she said. “I am working with a surveyor to map all of the archaeological sites in the valley near where a nature/archaeological trail will be. This map will be used to choose archaeological sites to be described along the trail and also will be used by the Territorial government of French Polynesia to conserve the sites in the valley for the long term.”

Outstanding Faculty Award recipients will be recognized during a Feb. 16 ceremony at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, at which they will be addressed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Each award consists of an engraved plaque and $5,000 underwritten by the Dominion Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Dominion Resources. Dominion is the parent company of Dominion Virginia Power.

The Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award program is administered by SCHEV and funded by a grant from the Dominion Foundation, which has fully supported the OFA program since 2005. A total of 354 faculty members — including the 2016 recipients — have received the honor since 1987.

SCHEV is the Commonwealth’s coordinating and planning body for postsecondary education. The agency provides policy guidance and budget recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly, and creates the statewide strategic plan, the Virginia Plan for Higher Education.