2021 Learning Communities Awards

For the 21st 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 – Ebby Luvaga

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 Dr. Ebby Luvaga, Teaching Professor for the Department of Economics. Ebby has served as coordinator of the Agricultural Business learning community for over 23 years. In this role, she demonstrates her commitment to students' learning and success, including their transition to university life and studies. Ebby encourages the professional development of student leaders through the recruitment, training, and supervision of peer mentors, and has worked with over 200 peer mentors during her tenure. She embraces the core values and goals of the program by being an advocate for learning communities and their impact on student's development and learning.

Ebby is one of the best recruiters for students' involvement in learning communities as she meets with prospective students and their parents or guardians, administration, and faculty and staff from other universities. Additionally, Ebby serves as a contributing member in her department and college and also university-wide. She assisted in the early years of developing college-wide communities and college recognition for contributions to learning communities. Ebby has served on various Learning Community committees that have served to create the learning communities and their best practices we have today, including co-chairing the Curriculum and Faculty Development Subcommittee for many years. We appreciate all that she has contributed and continues to provide, to ISU students. Dr. Ebby Luvaga is a true advocate for Learning Communities!


Equity Award – Audrey Kennis

This award honors members of the Iowa State community who have made significant strides to advance and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within learning communities. Our inaugural awardee for the Equity Award is Audrey Kennis, Retention Coordinator in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences and coordinator of the Fostering Opportunity and Collaboration through Unity and Scholarship (FOCUS) learning community. Audrey has spent her entire career at ISU working to enhance access, improve affordability, and encourage inclusion. She spent 5 years as a Multicultural Liaison Officer in the College of Design, and during that period created the BUILD learning community. This program not only supported the transition experience of incoming multicultural students but was also intentional in supporting the continued development and mentoring of the upper-division peer mentors. In her current role, Audrey works with the CALS diversity and inclusion team to promote inclusion in a college with rapidly changing demographics. Although it was not a part of her job description, she has taken on the primary leadership role for the multicultural peer mentoring program (FOCUS), which also functions to help retain the multicultural students we recruit by providing support as well as the community. Audrey also serves as the CALS Learning Community college administrator, bringing together the Learning Community Coordinators from across the college and helping them to further develop their programs and share best practices to help all of our LCs become more welcoming, inclusive, and impactful.


Outstanding Innovation – Suzanne Hӓrle

This award honors 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 is presented to Suzanne Hӓrle, Director of International Student Success in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, many of our incoming international freshmen students found that they were unable to travel to the U.S. to begin their academic experience at Iowa State. As a result, Suzanne, along with numerous collaborators across campus, came together to develop the International Adventure LC (IALC). The first experience of its kind at ISU, the IALC provided a 100% virtual experience in which the first-year international students could take courses in common, connect, receive support from upper-division peer mentors, and explore career options while living abroad. 59 first-year freshmen, from twenty countries, participated in the IALC from their home countries in the fall 2020 semester. This opportunity would not have existed if Suzanne had not stepped forward to deliver this collaborative recruitment, engagement, and retention initiative. Her innovative approaches, curricular planning, exemplary leadership skills, and student advocacy make her a trusted and sought-after innovator. Her dedication to student success goes above and beyond her defined role on campus. Suzanne works tirelessly to ease the student transition to college, and in turn, engages more profound learning experiences for first-year and international students at ISU. 


Scholarship – Dr. Jennifer Bundy

This award honors an individual or a research team that has significantly contributed to the scholarship of learning communities. The 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 2021 recipient of the Scholarship Award is Dr. Jennifer Bundy, Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Science, who serves as coordinator of the Animal Science/Dairy Science/Pre-Vet learning community. Jen has significantly contributed to the scholarship of learning communities by authoring or coauthoring five publications in animal science journals. Contributions include Orban, S., J. Bundy, M. Retallick. 2019. The personal and professional development benefits of being an undergraduate peer mentor. NACTA, 63 (suppl. 1).; Siberski, C. and J. Bundy. 2019. "The Transfer Student Transition: Factors Impacting the Experiences of Undergraduate Students Upon Transfer". Animal Industry Report. 2019(1).; Baranko, L. J. Bundy, K. Powell. 2019. Implementation and effectiveness of an animal sciences transfer student orientation course at North Dakota State and Iowa State Universities NACTA, 63 (suppl. 1).; Bundy, J. M. 2018. The animal and dairy science learning community assist students with acclimation to Iowa State University. Animal Industry Report. ASL R3279; and Bundy, J. M. 2018. Organization of a first-semester learning community based on student interests and backgrounds in coordination with an introductory animal science orientation course. J. Anim. Sci. 96: Suppl. 2. Congratulations to Dr. Jen Bundy for her extensive contributions to the scholarship and advancement of Learning Communities!


Partner Award – Office of Admissions Recruitment Team

This award honors an individual department or office that has partnered with and supported learning community initiatives at Iowa State University. The recipients of this year's Partner Award are the Office of Admissions Recruitment Team. This nomination recognizes the outstanding work of Katharine Johnson Suski, Executive Director; Jorge Calderon, Assistant Director for International Recruitment; Chengwu Jacky Xia, Admissions Recruiter; and Stacey Barnes, Business Systems Analyst. All were instrumental in developing and implementing the International Adventure learning community (IALC) for the fall 2020 semester. In late March 2020, this team gathered to discuss the creation of an online learning community for incoming international students who would not be able to travel to the United States due to travel restrictions from COVID-19. In partnership with the Provost Office, college deans, and Learning Communities Office, the group strategized building an online learning community to accommodate students living and studying around the world in various time zones. While courses were being decided and the program was being developed, the recruitment team jumped into action by creating a website to describe the program to students. They also developed an online registration form that would automatically notify the IALC coordinator when students enrolled in the program. Additionally, multiple webinars were developed and presented to share the idea with prospective students and answer questions. Jorge and Jacky were in constant contact answering questions from students and parents about how this online program would work for students. Due to their tireless communication and connection with students and their families, 59 students enrolled in the program from 20 different countries. The success of the IALC would not have been the same without the vision, persistence, hard work, and collaboration of the Office of Admissions recruitment team. Thank you for your outstanding partnership!


Collaborator – Jonathan Compton

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

Our first, of two, recipients of the Collaborator Award is Dr. Jonathan Compton, Senior Research Analyst in the Office of Enrollment Research and Analytics within the Division of Academic Affairs. Jonathan is known as the "go-to" person when it comes to obtaining information from the Registrar. Without his help, research into effective learning community practices and impacts would not be possible. He fields data requests from all over the university if they involve using Registrar data. These requests can be very tricky and time-consuming as the Registrar data often involve confidential information and the data either needs to be de-identified, coded, or an IRB approval needs to be verified. Jonathan's nominators state: Jonathan always provides our data in a timely fashion and he takes the extra time to format it to make sure it is easy to work with on our end. His help is invaluable to the running of our learning community and the research we are conducting on student retention and success. Jonathan always responds promptly and patiently to all of our questions about learning community data collection and analyses. He takes the time to provide details and explain everything, which is especially important when it comes to very large data sets. Without Jonathan's collaboration, the data-informed decisions that enable reflection on and improvements of the ISU learning communities could not happen. 


Collaborator – Alexis Elliott

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

Our second recipient of the Collaborator Award is Alexis (Lexi) Elliott, Career Services Coordinator for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Career Services Office. Many learning communities rely on career fairs, CyHire, employer engagement, and their career services teams in general, to meet students' professional development needs. In addition to providing these activities, Lexi was instrumental in organizing virtual career fairs this year. Virtual career fairs added many hours of extra work than their in-person counterparts. Lexi trained hundreds of employers on how to run their virtual rooms successfully. For the three career fairs that Lexi supported in the fall, this extra training made the lives of 2,481 ISU students less stressful. As the Math & Stat LC (MSLC) requires career fair attendance, this is an important accomplishment. Additionally, Lexi runs the Classroom to Careers blog, which can be used within learning community orientation courses. She takes requests for the blog and reviews job posts that come through CyHire. When employers do not add majors who qualify for the position, Lexi takes the extra step to click the appropriate boxes, which increases visibility for our students. Lexi provides this for all LAS learning communities, even though some coordinators may not be aware of it. We appreciate Lexi for her exceptional collaborative spirit!


Early Achievement – Patrick Determan

This award recognizes 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 Patrick Determan is our first, of three, Early Achievement in Learning Communities awardees. Patrick is the co-coordinator of the Software Engineering learning community (SELC). When learning that the SELC would be virtual in fall 2020, he researched and worked with the SE peer mentors to create a Minecraft server to help foster engagement and build a community for the LC students. Additionally, the LC began using Discord as a communication tool, which allowed students and mentors to communicate regularly and receive quick answers to questions. Patrick encouraged the mentors to use this as the primary communication tool. The Discord quickly grew to have multiple channels for the different teams and classes to meet our students' needs. This is something the SELC will continue using to build community before arrival on campus next fall. One of the SELC mentors, Ethan, shared "Patrick has shown a propensity for student inclusion, collaboration, and inspiration while managing the SELC. He is humble and implores student and mentor feedback before decisions to let everyone help build a better community. Patrick builds students up and gives them the best possible community for everyone to grow as individuals and academics." 


Early Achievement – Aliza Mackenzie

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

Our second early achievement in learning communities award goes to Aliza Mackenzie, coordinator of the Mechanical Engineering Learning Teams (MELTs) learning community. For the past three years, Aliza has led the Mechanical Engineering Learning Teams (MELTS). Under her leadership, the learning community has grown. She supervises no fewer than 16 peer mentors (which includes overseeing the hiring process, onboarding training, and supervision), coordinates 16 sections of the ME190 learning community course, plans programming events for 300 students, assists with course grids, and thinks about areas of growth for the communities. Aliza's leadership of MELTs has a direct result on retention and the satisfaction of incoming freshmen. She balances her Learning Community responsibilities with an advisee caseload of 275-315 students per semester. The feedback from student surveys indicates that she excels at both roles! Additionally, Aliza serves on the peer mentor committee, routinely shares best practices, and participates in many of the programmatic opportunities within the Learning Communities program. Aliza demonstrated her commitment to enhancing undergraduate student success in everything she does in her LC duties.


Early Achievement – Sarah Wehner

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

Our third early achievement in learning communities award goes to Sarah Wehner, coordinator of the Biology Encourages Success Teams (BEST) learning community. BEST is seamlessly integrated as an essential component of the BIOL 110 course, in which Sara serves as the instructor-in-charge. In this course, Sarah provides an introduction to degree requirements, university policies and deadlines, campus resources, academic success strategies, degree planning, and registration procedures.

BEST is designed to support first-year students entering the Biology Program (approximately 140 entering first-year undergraduates each fall semester). The primary goal is to help navigate students through their first year as Biology majors and facilitate lasting connections with peers, program faculty, and staff, both in and outside the classroom. Students feel comfortable approaching Sarah and asking questions about courses, professors, and their career goals. She effectively guides these students toward opportunities such as scholarships, research internships, and research experiences in labs here on campus. Here great communication skills and ability to establish strong interpersonal relations have enabled her to foster a spirit of cooperation and mentoring, as well as helping to create a collegial atmosphere among our Biology, Genetics, and Environmental Studies Student Services team. Additionally, Sarah has guided while serving on the Learning Community Assessment Committee over the past two years. Because of Sarah's continuing effort to enrich BEST and the overall learning community program, she promotes an innovative and exciting undergraduate culture that enhances our majors' first-year experience.