Faculty Honors

2021-22 Award Recipients

Outstanding Educator Award

Peggy Wittwer

lisa arter

Originally from Kanab, Utah, Assistant Professor of Elementary Education Peggy Wittwer has been a Thunderbird since 1974, and graduated in 1978 with her first bachelor’s degree in business. Nearly a decade later, she returned to SUU to pursue a new career path in education, and with a second degree, worked as a special education and fourth grade teacher for a few years until earning a master’s degree in education here in 1997. She started her career at the University as an adjunct professor and then was hired as a full-time faculty member in 2002. She now has 21 years at the institution under her belt, and has made an indelible mark on teacher education here. Peggy also serves as SUU’s director of Cedar Mountain Science Camp, a residential environmental program for youth primarily in the fourth through sixth grades. Every June, she and her team engage with more than 400 youth campers at the SUU Mountain Center, giving them a hands-on approach to environmental science. She and her colleagues foster an appreciation for the natural world by using the surrounding national parks, state parks, and mountains as their classroom.

When not in the field, Peggy is preparing pre-service student teachers to become caring in-service educators through experiential education. “Learning by doing” is her most prominent teaching philosophy, and her students have a variety of opportunities to learn through hands-on activities. She models different types of teaching approaches to give her students a full arsenal of techniques they can use to succeed, both in student-teaching and upon taking the helm of their own classrooms after graduation. Peggy forges strong connections with her students and goes the extra mile in and out of the classroom. Once her students become colleagues in education, she maintains contact with them and ensures that Learning Lives Forever through her various chat groups that allow her to continue mentoring students long after they leave SUU.

Outstanding Educator Past Recipients

Distinguished Educators

John "Jeb" Branin

Jeb Branin

Jeb Branin is an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre, Dance, and Arts Administration who has taught and nurtured SUU students for 24 years. He has earned degrees from Snow College, Utah State University, and Brigham Young University. He teaches many general education courses for his department, and in the past, taught “English Through the Internet” courses through the MOFET Institute and Talpiot Teacher College in Tel-Aviv, Israel.

Additionally, he designed the “SUU in London” program, taking students and community members to London, England, to study theatre. Jeb carefully constructs his courses using the principles of intentionality, interconnection, and reflection and believes that failure is essential to learning. He provides his students opportunities to fail safely and learn by correcting their mistakes.

Bryan L. Koenig

Bryan L. Koenig

Dr. Bryan Koenig is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and chair of SUU’s Institutional Review Board. He holds degrees from St. John’s University, College of William and Mary and New Mexico State University and has taught at SUU for the past five years. Dr. Koenig’s teaching philosophy is centered on the belief that every student is unique, and structures his courses to provide students opportunities to tailor their work to their interests. He actively engages his students by using a flipped teaching approach, including having class members replicate classic experiments. He continually looks to improve and excels at fostering solid relationships with his students. His wife, Crystal Koenig, is also an SUU faculty member, and their two children are their “tiny T-Birds.”

Iliana Portaro

Iliana Portaro

A proud, first-generation college graduate born in Lima, Peru, and raised in Santa Ana, California, Associate Professor of Spanish Iliana Portaro is committed to reducing barriers to undergraduate completion by incorporating high impact practices such as writing, group work, research, and experiential education into her courses. With degrees in her field from UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis, Dr. Portaro helps students to experience the Spanish language within her classroom and in other contexts that foster their growth as language learners and students of Latin culture. Iliana approaches teaching languages as an ongoing process and aims to provide her students with the tools to be lifelong learners. Admirably, Dr. Portaro continually adapts her teaching strategies to keep her classes relevant and engaging.

Distinguished Educator Past Recipients

Outstanding Educator for Inclusion & Diversity

Brianne Kramer

Brianne Kramer

In her five years at SUU, Brianne Kramer, assistant professor of teacher education, has worked diligently to make her courses and the community an inclusive place for all. Originally from Napoleon, Ohio, she earned
her Ph.D. from the University of Toledo. Dr. Kramer helped to institute a Diversity Professional Learning Community (PLC) here, leading book studies with more than 70 faculty, staff, students, and community members. Brianne served on the SUU Attainment Gaps Committee, participated in AACU Institute for Equitable High Impact Practices, and co-chairs the College of Education EDI Committee. She has recently begun serving on the new University Equity and Inclusion Committee to coordinate, inform, advocate and account for campus-wide initiatives that support the expansion of equity, diversity, and inclusion at SUU.

Outstanding Educator for Inclusion & Diversity Past Recipients

Distinguished Faculty for Inclusion & Diversity

Laura June Davis


Laura June Davis’ teaching and research focus largely on American history through the 19th century, with an emphasis on the topics of gender, identity, community, and the military. She holds graduate and professional level certificates in women’s studies, university teaching, and academic advising, all of which make her an excellent practitioner of her work as an assistant professor of history and co-director of the Women and Gender Studies program. Her teaching philosophy centers on student engagement, promoting critical thinking, connecting the dots across time, and building connections with her students. She seeks to dissolve the thinking that “history is boring.” Dr. Davis hails from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and has earned degrees from Cornell, Texas A&M, George Mason University, and the University of Georgia.

Distinguished Faculty for Inclusion & Diversity Past Recipients

Distinguished Faculty - Global Engagement

Shobha Hamal Gurung

Shoba Hamal Gurung

Dr. Gurung has been an exceptional contributor to the University’s global engagement and education for nearly 15 years, creating programs and opportunities for students to travel abroad and to learn from and serve the people of her home country of Nepal. As an associate professor of sociology and women & gender studies, Shobha integrates innovative pedagogies that span multiculturalism and global engagement and aims to help her students develop empathy with people from a wide range of life experiences and conditions while becoming conscientious and responsible global citizens. She mentors and advises student clubs with multicultural and international relevance and strives to help international students find their place at the University. Dr. Gurung holds degrees from Tribhuvan University of Nepal and Boston’s Northeastern University.

Distinguished Service

Distinguished Service

Joshua A. Price

Joshua A. Price

A product of Hillsboro, Oregon, Dr. Josh Price came to SUU eight years ago and has made an indelible impression on the campus community. With a bachelor’s degree in economics from BYU and two master’s
degrees and a Ph.D. in economics, policy analysis, and management from New York’s Cornell University, he uses his extensive knowledge to inspire students by tailoring his courses to their interests. Aside from his work as an associate professor of economics and director of the Health Education Action Lab (HEAL), he volunteers his time to provide color commentary for radio coverage of SUU women’s basketball games and to mentor new football recruits. Josh supports all of his students both inside and outside of the classroom with his knowledge, kindness, and humor.

Distinguished Service Past Recipients

Distinguished Scholarly/Creative Activity

Please note, in 2015-16, the structure of this award changed from a single Outstanding Scholar Award to three Distinguished Scholarly/Creative Activity Awards

Mark DeBeliso

Mark DeBeliso

A Detroit, Michigan, native, Dr. DeBeliso has been teaching in the Department of Kinesiology and Outdoor Recreation since 2010. When COVID-19 took control of many aspects of day-to-day living, Mark decided to use the control he maintained over his mind, and focus on scholarship. Within the last academic year, he has produced no fewer than 12 peer-reviewed publications, two in press, and seven under review covering several topics from motivators for sports participation to physical and combat performance among female United States Marines. Fully embracing SUU’s student-centered focus, Dr. DeBeliso has involved students in 83 percent of journal publications and 100 percent of his conference presentations. Mark holds degrees in mechanical engineering and biomechanics from Utah State University and Oregon State University, respectively.

Danielle Lydia Sheather

Danielle Lydia Sheather

Professor Sheather is a scholar in creative expression through dance, wherein boundaries between scholarly and creative work are murky, and she loves that it allows her to color outside the lines. In her three years at the University, Danielle developed and wrote the first progressive dance track at SUU, which is also the first program of its kind in the state of Utah. This year, she was invited to present at the world-class community and cultural center 92 Street Y in New York City, was commissioned to create a piece for Flatlands Dance Theatre, and organized SUU’s first student screendance concert, combining film and dance. Originally from Ontario, Canada, Danielle holds degrees in dance performance, choreography, and psychology from University at Buffalo and University of Arizona.

Travis Jody Simkins

Travis SimkinsAs a 2019 addition to SUU’s management, marketing, and hospitality department, Dr. Travis Simkins has had a remarkable and successful academic year, publishing two socially and culturally relevant articles in “A” level peer-reviewed journals, with yet a third article under review. In line with his expertise, one paper focused on the role of social acceptability in new product adoption. The other delved into the impact conflicting laws have on the decision to export stigmatized products. In light of these achievements, Dr. Simkins, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wyoming, received a nearly $115,000 grant from the Learn and Work in Utah program to develop, teach, and provide resources for an online Project Management Certification course. He hopes to facilitate innovation with his research.

Distinguished Scholarly/Creative Activity Past Recipients