Today during Opening Days, Willamette University recognized outstanding faculty members who have made significant contributions in their areas of teaching, research and service.
Jerry E. Hudson Award for Excellence in Teaching
Named after Willamette’s 22nd president, this award celebrates distinguished teaching and leadership by a faculty member.
Tabitha A. Knight, Assistant Professor of Economics
In just four years, Tabitha Knight has established herself as one of Willamette’s most innovative, challenging and respected teachers.
Students describe her with adjectives such as “honest,” “direct,” “relatable,” “understanding,” “funny” and “engaging.” They rave about how much they learned in her classes, how hard they worked and how she is so supportive and encouraging. In her class “Economics of Race and Gender” and in her work organizing the Women in Economics Club, Knight has also made tremendous contributions to the university’s ongoing work of building a more inclusive and equitable community.
Aaron D. Simowitz, Assistant Professor of Law
Aaron Simowitz is a star in the classroom — a creative teacher successful in any setting and with a variety of students.
He teaches doctrinal courses such as “Bankruptcy,” advanced courses such as “International Business Transactions” and “Negotiating a Business Transaction,” and skills-based courses such as “Negotiation.” Students praise his willingness to try new ways of teaching and providing meaningful feedback, his enthusiasm for subjects and his expertise. Always respectful of students, Simowitz remembers their names and works hard to ensure that international LLM students are integrated into the class with JD students in a way that challenges them but also makes them feel welcome. He is also known for his generosity with his time outside of class.
Robert W. Walker, Associate Professor of Quantitative Methods
In addition to demonstrating excellence in teaching and a dogged commitment to student success, Robert Walker has made significant intellectual and important service contributions to the Atkinson School and Willamette University.
His coursework provides students with high-quality learning experiences and opportunities for subject matter mastery and application within and across public, private and not-for-profit contexts. Sensitive to where and how his subject matter intersects and interacts with other disciplines, Walker is also concerned with ethical managerial behavior and provides appropriate global content.
Walker “meets students where they are” and patiently works with what they bring to his courses. He reconfigured a core course to allow for greater personalized attention and routinely spends considerable time outside of class working with MBA-P students to ensure their success.
United Methodist Award for Exemplary Teaching and Service
This honor celebrates the extraordinary impact a professor can make both inside the classroom and within the community.
Laura J. Taylor, Associate Professor of Economics
Laura Taylor’s students praise her perfect balance between having high expectations and supporting students to meet those expectations. In the words of one student, “She is intense, but in the best way.”
In the area of service, Taylor’s work over the past two years as the first faculty chair of the university’s Budget Advisory Council has been Herculean. Almost single-handedly transforming the committee into an institutional workhorse, she spent countless hours meeting with administrators and gathering and parsing data. Also the point person for faculty questions about financial details of the budget, she handled the responsibility with grace and patience.
Lawrence D. Cress Award for Faculty Scholarship
Named after a former dean of the College of Liberal Arts, this award recognizes the importance of research to the undergraduate experience. The work done by the recipient is often interdisciplinary in nature and involves joint faculty-student research that creates a seamless connection between the scholar and the teacher.
Huike Wen, Associate Professor of Chinese
An expert on gender, sexuality and the media in contemporary China, Huike Wen is one of Willamette’s most creative and prolific scholars.
Over the past three years she has presented her work at five conferences around the world, published two articles in prominent journals and completed the manuscript for her second book, “Defining Love: Romantic Relationships in Chinese Television,” which will be published by University of Hawaii Press next year. Her most recent research explorations involved grant-funded travel to Ghana and Senegal to learn more about Chinese immigrants in West Africa.
Wen’s colleagues describe her scholarship as innovative, interdisciplinary and collaborative — the ideal of the teacher-scholar model we prize at Willamette.
Robert Misner Award for Law Faculty Scholarship
This award was established in memory of former College of Law dean and professor Robert L. Misner in recognition of his innumerable contributions and his commitment to faculty excellence.
Andrew Gilden, Assistant Professor of Law
Though early in his career, Andrew Gilden is already an accomplished scholar, with his research focusing on how intellectual property intersects with people’s non-monetary interests.
In a world where images are used and manipulated in ways unimaginable even a few years ago, the traditional reduction of such content to a piece of property potentially with monetary value is no longer adequate (if it ever was) to protect the legitimate interests of individuals in how their identity is portrayed.
Similarly, Gilden’s scholarship investigates the question of heirs’ rights related not just to the proceeds that flow from the work of a deceased artist, but also how that work can be used. Gilden has published numerous articles, including in law reviews by Georgetown, Washington University, the University of Iowa, Harvard, Stanford, and William and Mary.
Mortar Board Professor of the Year
This award is presented to a member of the College of Liberal Arts faculty by Willamette University’s undergraduate chapter of Mortar Board, a senior honor society that serves as a resource for high-achieving, motivated students to forge bonds and give back to the community, preparing them for lifelong commitment to service and excellence in scholarship.
Michaela Kleinert, Associate Professor of Physics
Michaela Kleinert challenges students in the classroom and inspires them to reach their highest academic and personal goals.
Students praise Kleinert’s commitment to teaching and thoughtful mentoring, her passion for research and her caring, supportive nature. Enthusiastic about what she teaches, Kleinert strives to make the classroom an inclusive space and is an especially inspiring role model to women in STEM fields.
Several students called Kleinert’s class on optics the most challenging — and rewarding — course they ever took. One student said, “Professor Kleinert wrote our course material, and it was by far the best textbook and learning material. Her class did not just make high-level physics accessible; it taught us to trust ourselves and work together when problem-solving.”
Kleinert’s tireless work in the lab supervising research projects also motivates her students to do their best work. Another student said, “Professor Kleinert gives guidance that allows for creativity and mistakes, while also being there to help us figure out how to pick up the pieces when it doesn’t work out. She is encouraging and kind, and pushes you just enough that you are able to learn physics better than you believed you could.”
Kleinert makes a lasting impact on her students and provides a shining example for them to carry forward into the world after Willamette.