2022 Learning Communities Awards

For the 22nd consecutive year, the Learning Communities Awards Committee honored individuals for their extraordinary contributions to learning communities at Iowa State University. The honors were presented at the 24th Annual Learning Communities Institute on Monday, May 16, 2022.


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 award is given in honor of founding Learning Community Co-Directors, Corly Blahnik and Doug Gruenewald for their outstanding leadership and advocacy of learning communities.

The Learning Communities Advocate Award was presented to Dr. Mack Shelley, University Professor in Statistics and Political Science. Mack embodies the definition of an advocate with his extensive engagement through scholarly presentations, publications, and service to the Learning Communities program at Iowa State. Mack has given numerous presentations for the educational benefit of the Learning Communities audience. Over the past 20+ years, examples include sessions on Predictors of Academic Success for Freshmen Residence Hall Students, Effects of Learning Communities on Undergraduate Student Outcomes, Developing an Assessment Plan, Control Groups, LC Best Practices: Ways of Knowing, and Consultants in the Round: Assessment Basics. Further, Mack has prepared presentations and briefings on research regarding additional tuition (and fees) revenue attributable to the increased participation and retention in Learning Communities.

Mack’s LC-specific publications include: “Learning Communities and Higher Education: Effects on Undergraduate Academic Performance and Retention,” with Laura Doering and Larry Ebbers. And most recently, Mack co-authored “Learning Communities: A Sound Investment in Higher Education,” published with KB Gwebu et al.

Over the years, Mack has advised the scholarly work of many ISU faculty, staff, and students with an analysis of institutional data from a study of the effectiveness of learning communities, attitudinal data from a panel study of Learning Communities at ISU, a survey of students participating in three Engineering learning communities, and faculty interests in and attitudes toward learning communities. He has analyzed differential student participation in learning communities, controlling for gender and ethnicity, the relationship of differential learning community participation on student retention and graduation, and budgetary implications for enhanced retention through learning community participation.

Additionally, Mack has provided over ten years of service on the Learning Communities assessment subcommittee and continues to lend his expertise in assessment and evaluation through consultation with our central office when and wherever needed. Mack is an enthusiastic and tireless advocate for our program, as evidenced by his continued engagement through research endeavors, presentations, publications, service, and simply being an exemplar supporter of our program.


Learning Community Champion Award

This award honors an individual who has significantly contributed to the advancement of learning communities at Iowa State University. This year’s recipient of the Champion Award was Brenna Dixon, Associate Teaching Professor in English. Brenna Dixon serves as the English liaison and coordinator for Learning Community English Links. She is a steadfast champion of the many learning links the English department has established across the university. She is diligent and visionary in her approach to conceptualizing communities.

Brenna Dixon exemplifies tremendous professionalism and dedication to constantly improving the learning experience for students at ISU. For fall 2022 alone, she is working to guarantee excellent staffing for 39 LC English links. She invests much of her time communicating with instructors of these learning links, supporting them, providing them with resources, and engaging in classroom observations and midterm check-ins. Brenna is a true champion of learning communities who works tirelessly on enhancing student and instructor experiences, thereby contributing to student retention through success and finding a sense of belonging.

Learning Community Collaborator Award

This award honors an individual in the Iowa State community who has demonstrated the spirit of learning communities through collaboration. The Learning Communities Collaborator award recipient was Dr. Denise Williams-Klotz, Assistant Director of Multicultural Student Affairs.

Dr. Denise Williams-Klotz demonstrates the spirit of collaboration through the numerous presentations provided for various Learning Community audiences over more than a decade. Dr. Williams-Klotz has presented on numerous topics, including addressing the engagement, retention, and success of multicultural students, strategies for partnering with Multicultural Student Affairs to serve students in LCs, understanding the unique needs and experiences of student Veterans, military personnel, and their families, promising practices in peer mentor and student leader recruitment, and much more. Additionally, for the past eleven years, Denise has provided exemplary diversity and inclusion presentations supporting the professional development of our peer mentors. Dr. Williams-Klotz embodies the spirit of collaboration through her continued contributions to Learning Communities at Iowa State.


Early Achievement in Learning Community Coordination

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

Nicole Prentice was the first of two Early Achievement in Learning Communities awardees. Nicole is the co-coordinator of the Chemical Engineering first-year and the Chemical Engineering Transfer learning communities. Nicole’s nominator shared that she helped transition the chemical engineering learning community to an online format during the COVID-19 pandemic and integrated successful online components into the traditional in-person format after returning to in-person classes during this academic year. Nicole helped train peer mentors to interact with first-year chemical engineering students in a virtual format to ensure their successful transition into the chemical engineering program. She went above and beyond to check in with the peer mentors to ensure that they felt supported and to learn of any concerns they had for their success and the academic success and mental health of the students in the learning community. Because of Nicole's efforts the department was able to identify students in need of extra assistance early and direct them to proper support services on campus. 


Early Achievement in Learning Community Coordination

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 went to Mackenzie Schwartz. Mackenzie is the co-coordinator of the Chemical Engineering first-year and the Chemical Engineering Transfer learning communities. Mackenzie’s nominator stated: Mackenzie demonstrated superior leadership in ensuring that the chemical engineering learning community continued uninterrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The department’s learning community is critical in helping chemical engineering students to adjust to the program, to identify resources, and feel supported to succeed. Mackenzie prepared both in-person and virtual training materials for all of the chemical engineering peer mentors and initiated and coordinated virtual industrial tours to help students learn more about the chemical engineering profession. Students noted that the learning community experience was "exceptional,", especially with the challenges of coordinating virtual activities to accommodate social distancing. Since returning to in-person classes this academic year, Mackenzie has seamlessly integrated the successful virtual components of the learning community with the more traditional in-person components to provide students with a more enriching and diverse experience.


Equity Award

This award honors Iowa State community members who have made significant strides to advance and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within learning communities. The 2022 Learning Community Equity Award recipient was Dr. LeQuetia Ancar, Director of Multicultural Student Success and Assistant Director of Engineering Student Services in the College of Engineering. She also serves as the Leadership through Engineering Academic Diversity (LEAD) learning community coordinator.

Dr. Ancar continues to build collaborations with peer Directors of Multicultural Student Affairs, peer Engineering Student Services staff, and department advisors to add new programming and improve existing programming within LEAD. Dr. Ancar is always readily available as a resource to department advisors regarding College of Engineering Diversity and Equity efforts. This includes engaging in educational and motivating programming within the college and university in support of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts. In addition, Dr. Ancar has successfully proposed an expansion of the LEAD learning community for fall 2022, effectively doubling the college’s enrollment for LEAD this coming fall semester. Dr. Ancar also leads the college programming and mentoring efforts with the summer APEX program in collaboration with Multicultural Student Affairs. Finally, Dr. Ancar has partnered with Directors of Multicultural Student Success to offer an increasingly successful and in-demand POP UP SHOP for Career Fairs on campus, added a social event for students staying during holiday breaks, and added study tables/academic support programming all of which benefit our Learning Community participants.


Learning Community Partner Award

This award honors an individual department or office that has partnered with and supported learning community initiatives at Iowa State University.

This year's Partner Award recipient was the Office of New Student Programs. New Student Programs maintain a highly collaborative partnership with Learning Communities. NSP has ensured that LCs are an integral part of the incoming student experience by sharing information about our program through OnCyte and Online Orientation presentations. Their staff recognizes that it truly takes a village to support our newest Cyclones and that learning communities play a significant role in creating a positive transition for new students. Additionally, more than 40 Cyclone Aides and Cyclone Aide Advisors introduce new students and families to our program and share the benefits of joining a learning community every year. We appreciate all that New Student Programs provides to promote learning communities at ISU!


Learning Community Scholarship

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 2022 recipient of the Scholarship Award was the ISU LC tuition revenue research team led by KB Gwebu from the Department of Residence, as well as the following contributors, Dr. Jonathan Compton, Enrollment Research and Analytics; Kyle Holtman, Learning Communities; Dr. Aurelia Kollasch, University of Lynchburg; Dr. Jen Leptien, Learning Communities; Dr. Matt Pistilli, Division of Student Affairs Assessment and Research; and Dr. Mack Shelley, Departments of Political Science and Statistics.

This research project team spent over two years investigating the tuition revenue generated through learning community participation at Iowa State University. In addition to providing this critical internal analysis, the team produced an article demonstrating the retention benefits of learning community participation in the first year at an R-1 institution. Their article, Learning Communities: A Sound Investment in Higher Education, was published in the Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice in 2021. This scholarship supports that investment in learning communities is beneficial to student success in higher education and provides a framework for other institutions to complete a similar analysis of their programs.