2020 Learning Communities Awards

For the 20th consecutive year, the Learning Communities Awards Committee honored individuals for their extraordinary contributions to learning communities at Iowa State University. 


Corly Brooke Learning Community Advocate Award

This award recognizes an Iowa State faculty or staff member who has made significant contributions to the success of our students and learning communities. This year's Corly Brooke Learning Communities Advocate Award is presented to Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Martino Harmon. Dr. Harmon began working with the Learning Communities program in 2013, when he joined ISU as the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs. In addition to providing senior leadership oversight of Learning Communities, advocating for our mission at the institution and touting our reputation as one of the stellar programs in the nation, Dr. Harmon has been actively engaged in a variety of ways over the past seven years. He has provided keynote addresses for our peer mentor celebrations, offered words of encouragement to our coordinators during our annual recognition breakfast events, and has presented on the importance of mentoring and learning community engagement at our Mid-Year and May Institutes.  Dr. Harmon was named Senior Vice President for Student Affairs in 2016, and although our reporting structure changed, he maintained his high level of engagement in our program activities. In 2018, Dr. Harmon offered to serve as our Senior Leadership Mentor for the ISU 4U Promise learning community, where he invited LC participants into his home, provided ongoing outreach, and offered his genuine care and concern for each student’s success. Dr. Harmon exemplifies what it means to support student success at ISU and has been a tremendous advocate for our learning communities. We are forever grateful for his contributions to the success of our thriving program.


Champion Award

This award honors an individual who has significantly contributed to the advancement of learning communities at Iowa State University. This year's champion award goes to Dr. Shawna Saad, Interim Senior Associate Registrar. Shawna has been a long-standing advocate for Learning Communities and student success at ISU. She has always gone above and beyond to provide outstanding support for our program. Over the years, Shawna has been tasked with balancing Learning Community seat reservation needs within the University in order to maximize student enrollments in Learning Communities and allow all student to complete their orientation with full schedules in their first term.  She has managed all of this in years of unprecedented growth at the university. In the last 5 years alone, Shawna has overseen the course reservations for 1,300 learning teams, having 6,200 learning team reservation in 4,400 individual course sections, which ultimately placed 26,000 student in 71,000 section seats! Additionally, Shawna has served as a representative on the Learning Communities Advisory Committee and advocated for the program across colleges and departments. Shawna’s positive attitude, her creative ideas, and her unfailing customer service has contributed to the great success of Learning Communities at Iowa State. Thank you for being a Learning Communities champion, Shawna!


Collaborator Award

This award honors an individual in the Iowa State community who has demonstrated the spirit of learning communities through collaboration. 

This year's recipient of the Collaborator Award is Matt Pistilli, Director of Assessment and Research for the Division of Student Affairs. Within his first three years at Iowa State, Matt has shown himself to be a key contributor and collaborator to Learning Communities, serving at institutional and individual program levels.  Matt's service on the Learning Communities Assessment Committee has helped guide assessment and evaluation efforts campus-wide. His collaboration with the Learning Communities Central Office has been extensive, reaching from research projects to articles and presentations. In addition to providing large-scale addresses and workshops, Matt has provided consultation to many of our individual learning communities. One of Matt's nominators stated; "Matt Pistilli was a great help to our learning community—he answered many questions about our outcomes and assessment, and was a huge asset in our redesign of the learning outcomes.  He provided thoughtful questions for us to consider as we structured our assessment strategies." Another nominator shared, "He provided me with some insight on ways to assess what we were doing and how we could use that data to propose change.  Matt has been a great asset to Learning Communities and has shown ways we can take the program to the next level." Thank you, Matt, for your collaborative work with Learning Communities!     


Early Achievement in Learning Communities Award

This award will recognize an individual ISU faculty or staff who has demonstrated outstanding performance in learning community coordination early in their professional careers.

We are excited to announce that Clayton Johnson is our first, of two, Early Achievement in Learning Communities awardees. Clayton began coordinating the Engineering Exploration Learning Community in 2015.  Within the first year in this role, Clayton began experimenting with new ways of delivering content in Canvas, building community and training and supervising peer mentors. In addition to bringing his innovative solutions to fruition, Clayton has actively shared his lessons learned and successes in support of the professional development of other coordinators through presentations and conversation. In addition to his role as a coordinator, Clayton represents the College of Engineering on the LC Advisory Committee, is an active member of the Assessment and Peer Mentor Committees, serves as the College Administrator for the COE, and is the lead of the College of Engineering Learning Community Task Team (LCTT). One of Clayton's nominators shared; "Clayton has created an ordered and streamlined process for the LCTT meetings" by offering engaging topics, timely agenda items, open dialogue, producing tangible results from sub-committees organized from within the LCTT, and more. Clayton has shown a true commitment to the Learning Communities program early in his LC career. Congratulations, Clayton!

Our second early achievement in learning communities award goes to Katie Shields, coordinator of the Civil Engineering Keystone learning community. Within her first three years as a coordinator, Katie has shown excellence in all of her work. From LC student participation in the Freshmen Research Initiative to worksite tours in industry Katie has organized dynamic experiences for her learning community participants. Katie is also highly engaged in our learning community professional development events, serves on the Peer Mentor Committee, Peer Mentor Scholarship subcommittee, and routinely shares promising practices in LC programming and peer mentor hiring, training, and supervision. One of her colleague's described how Katie has mentored her throughout the development of a new LC for fall 2020; "Katie was always willing to sit down and talk through things with me and offer up advice. She is so committed to providing the best support to new students and is always looking for new and improved ways to enhance her course so that the students are continuously engaged and building their skills to help prepare them for their future careers. She is a devoted professional and truly cares about student success." We congratulation Katie for all of her contributions to enhancing the LC program!


Outstanding Innovation Award

This award will honor members of the Iowa State community who have made new and creative contributions to learning communities. The primary criterion for the award is innovation; i.e., the introduction of new developments that have extended the horizons of learning communities at Iowa State and enhanced learning for our students. Areas of innovation might include novel curricular plans, effective cross-disciplinary collaborations, creative integration of students’ social and intellectual lives, imaginative responses to student needs, effective coordination of multiple facets of the learning community experience, or any other contribution that has extended the boundaries of learning communities at Iowa State.

This year's Outstanding Innovation Award was presented to Autumn Cartagena, Academic Adviser in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  Autumn's nominators shared "The College of LAS is the academic home to all ’open‘ students at the university; this is a group of students with diverse needs who require evidence-based practices supporting them as they find their academic paths at the University.  After several years of incorporating LC components into the LAS 101 course, Autumn prepared for a successful launch of the LAS 101 experience as the HOME (Helping Open Option Students Manage Exploration) learning community in fall 2019.  Within HOME, Autumn developed the concept of "neighborhoods" for students, based on general areas of interest, co-curricular experiences, and peer mentors. Student comments about HOME reveal that the experience was highly beneficial. Examples of student comments include: "It helped me to find a major that I would really enjoy by going on the HOME tour," "This class helped me manage my exploration as an open option student by going to different events that helped me guide what I might be interested in and what to continue exploring," and "It helped make Iowa State feel more like a home." Furthermore, Autumn's innovation to continually build upon the HOME LC success is evidenced by plans for offering specific course connections in which Open Option students have historically registered.  Congratulations, Autumn!


Partner Award

This award honors an individual that has partnered with and supported learning community initiatives at Iowa State University. In summer 2019, ISU made the transition to Workday for its financial systems management. With this significant process change came the monumental lift to create and assign all new funding allocation sources for our 90+ Learning Communities. There were many people involved in this transition; however, one individual stood out by providing exceptional, continued support in all aspects of the financial transition: Mary Jo Krakau, Finance Specialist in Operations & Finance for Team Hickory. As described by one of the nominators, Mary Jo "converted the LC budgets to one centralized system and did so with professionalism, speed, and accuracy. This project required Mary Jo to pioneer a Workday report that quickly and easily summarized our expenses and balances. Her work to create these easy-to-read reports was shared beyond the learning communities network and even influenced the work of additional finance specialists in other ’trees‘ at ISU. Mary Jo is a true partner and we are incredibly lucky to have her as a learning community partner." We want to thank May Jo for rising to the challenge, exceeding our expectations, and for being an exemplary partner to all involved with Learning Communities.


Scholarship Award

This award honors an individual or a research team that has significantly contributed to the scholarship of learning communities. Scholarship may include publications that are technical papers, conference proceedings, journal articles, capstones, theses, or dissertations that have been published, accepted for publication, or submitted and in review during the past two years (2018 to present). 

The 2020 recipients of the Scholarship Award are Dr. Clark Coffman, Associate Professor in Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology and Dr. Stacey Barnes, Assistant Director of Reporting and Project Management in the Office of Admissions, who have served as co-coordinators the Sky is the Limit learning community. In fall 2015, the Sky is the Limit was developed by Clark Coffman with a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and within ISU’s ‘Engage to Excel’ initiative. Together with Dr. Barnes, Dr. Coffman collected and analyzed data on students participating in The Sky is the Limit and compared it to those students who were only enrolled in the first-year open option seminar (LAS 101). From the beginning, their goal was to demonstrate the crucial importance of a learning community for freshmen academic outcomes, with a focus in particular on underrepresented minorities. Their analyses of these students’ retention data revealed that LC participants had higher one-year retention rates than LAS 101, and this difference was particularly marked when comparing URMs. Their results have been presented at the Accelerating Systemic Change Network Conference in April 2019 and their manuscript has been submitted to the Journal of College Retention: Research, Theory & Practice. Congratulations, Clark and Stacey!