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Eastern faculty win BOR teaching and research awards

Published on June 03, 2024

Eastern faculty win BOR teaching and research awards

Kwangwon Lee

Three Eastern faculty members were recognized at the conclusion of the 2023-24 academic year as part of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) annual Board of Regents Faculty Awards. Assistant Professor of Education Kwangwon Lee won the statewide faculty research award; David Ballena, lecturer in the Music Department, was honored with the statewide teaching award for adjunct faculty; and Manuel Otero, assistant professor of English, received the Eastern campus-based teaching award.

The awards, which recognize Connecticut State University faculty for excellence in teaching or research, are given to assistant and associate professors in tenure-track or tenured positions and adjunct faculty members. These faculty have distinguished themselves as outstanding teachers; are doing exceptional research, scholarly, and/or creative work in the classroom; and have established a track record of promoting instructional improvements for their departments.

“CSCU faculty’s dedication and commitment to the success and betterment of our students is unmatched,” said CSCU Chancellor Terrence Cheng. “This year’s award recipients have made incredible contributions to our institutions and academic disciplines and have made a lasting impact on our students’ lives. I congratulate each of the recipients on this well-deserved recognition and wish them continued success as they serve as leaders in and out of the classroom.”

Lee’s research focuses on young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), specifically on infant and toddler’s pre-verbal communication and social interaction. Since arriving at Eastern in 2019, Lee has received 10 grants in support of his research; he has authored nine peer-reviewed articles; written four manuals for parents of children with ASD; and made 17 regional, national and international presentations.

“His research at Eastern has further moved the field by establishing research-tested intervention methods for developing competencies in social and instrumental turn-taking,” said Sudha Swaminathan, education professor and department chair. Swaminathan also applauded Lee’s “work ethic, collaborative spirit, energy and extraordinary passion for expanding his thinking and that of his colleagues and students.”

David Ballena

In addition to his research on ASD, Lee has done additional research at Eastern on teacher preparation, using assistive technology with children with disabilities and the challenges people with mental health issues face during travel. Lee is also the creator and coordinator of Eastern’s graduate program in Special Education.

“I have been very fortunate to be part of the supportive and encouraging Education Department here at Eastern,” said Lee. “I am very grateful and honored to receive this award. I hope it represents how our Center for Early Childhood Education is nationally and actively involved in early childhood education research. Without the support of my dedicated colleagues and our Eastern student researchers, I couldn’t have achieved this honor.”

Ballena was recognized by the Board of Regents for his outstanding teaching as a part-time faculty member in Eastern’s Music Department. In nominating Ballena for the award, his colleagues in the department noted, “Dr. Ballena’s impact extends beyond his professional expertise to encompass his

character and identity, profoundly impacting the student body. Students routinely attest that his mentorship, guidance and care are invaluable to their growth as musicians and individuals.”

In addition to teaching several courses each semester, Ballena is also director of the Chamber Music Program, which performs a chamber music recital each semester. He also leads a weekly piano studio class and coordinates a piano studio recital each semester as well as an annual Piano Gala. Ballena has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and the Aspen Music Festival. He is also a member of the “New World Trio,” which performs throughout Connecticut. Recently he joined music colleague Emily Riggs to accompany students on a 10-day field course to Vienna, Austria, titled “Vienna: City of Song.”

Manuel Otero

In addition to Lee’s and Ballena’s awards, Manuel Otero, assistant professor of English, received the Eastern campus-based teaching award. With a Ph.D. from the University of Oregon, Otero has taught linguistics and English composition since arriving at Eastern in 2019. He is now the co-director of the First-Year Writing program. Otero also helped create a course for the Medical Interpreting in Spanish minor and developed a linguistic anthropology course for the Anthropology major.

“Dr. Otero prepares his students to do thoughtful, insightful work, and they are clearly responding to his teaching,” wrote Stephen Ferruci, professor of English and department chair. “His commitment to effective teaching extends beyond the classroom and his office hours, however, as he is also part of a group of faculty who meets each summer to assess the first-year writing program.”

"Each of these faculty members works tirelessly to bring out the best in their students and they continue to raise the bar in their respective disciplines,” said Regent Ira Bloom, who chairs the BOR’s Academic and Student Affairs committee. “Our institutions continue to offer an affordable, high-quality education because of the outstanding work our faculty members are doing at both the campus- and system-level. Because of their work and dedication, our colleges and universities continue to reach new heights and milestones.”

Written by Ed Osborn