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UNI faculty recognized for community engagement

April 15, 2011

Julie VanDaele, communications specialist, Veridian Credit Union, 319-236-5694,

Gloria Gibson, UNI executive vice president and provost, 319-273-2517,

Stacey Christensen, Office of University Relations, 319-273-6728,

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- The 2011 recipients of the Veridian Credit Union® Community Engagement Award exemplify how community engagement can help put theory into practice, as well as make their professional lives a little more personal.

The awards honor full-time tenure-track or tenured faculty member from any of the University of Northern Iowa's five undergraduate colleges who combines his or her instructional and scholarly efforts with projects that benefit the greater community. Each recipient receives an award and a check for $1,000 payable to a nonprofit organization of their choice. If the faculty member is involved with a business or more than one organization, funding is awarded to an approved organization of the faculty member's choice.

"These faculty members have inspired meaningful partnerships among students and community organizations," said Jean Trainor, president/CEO of Veridian Credit Union. "Community engagement mirrors our vision of playing a vital role in enriching the community, and these awards are an opportunity for Veridian to express gratitude to those who are engaged in the Cedar Valley.”

The 2011 Veridian Credit Union Community Engagement Award recipients are:

Francis Degnin, associate professor of philosophy and world religions in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts.

Degnin was hired by UNI because of his emphasis on community service and his "public" philosophy. He serves in various roles around the Cedar Valley, but Degnin's largest area of community service has been to Covenant, Sartori and Mercy hospitals, where he serves as their ethics consultant. His role allows him to bring experience back to the community and his students, enabling them to take the results of his classes and apply them to the rest of their lives. Degnin will donate the money to the American Red Cross in support of the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami Relief.

Donald Gaff, assistant professor of sociology, anthropology and criminology in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Gaff has focused a lot of his efforts on unearthing some of the Cedar Valley's prehistoric secrets. His archeological surveys have helped the Hartman Reserve rethink how they build and maintain trails, plan for construction projects and maintain utilities. Prior to Gaff's research, there was little consideration for the historical treasures within the park. Gaff has made numerous presentations to draw attention to the potential of archaeology to contribute to a community's understanding of its history. His new discoveries are helping to fill in the archeological record of a poorly understood part of Iowa. Gaff will donate the money to The Friends of Hartman Reserve.

Christopher Martin, interim head and professor of communication studies in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts.

Martin has been involved with the College Hill Partnership since its formation in 2008. He has helped develop marketing materials, draft press releases and has chaired several major events to bring positive attention to College Hill. He works with his students and empowers them to plan and organize events and to get quality, hands-on experience. Much of the College Hill Partnership's growth during the past few years can be directly attributed to the efforts of Martin and his students. Martin will donate the money to the College Hill Partnership.

Jihwa Noh, associate professor of mathematics in the College of Natural Sciences.

Noh has been active in building relationships with schools and math teachers in the Cedar Falls and Waterloo community school districts, fostering learning for both the university and the schools. Along with a colleague, Noh designed a school-based field-experience model that benefitted UNI math pre-service teachers with extended, high-quality field experiences. Noh, along with her students, facilitated math club sessions at Waterloo West High School offering assistance with homework and college entrance exam preparation. Noh will donate the money to Waterloo West High School.

Erica Voss, assistant professor of art in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts.

Voss has directed the content in several of her courses towards issues of community engagement and involvement through the arts. She also taught a seminar that focused on the theme "Artists and Community" and presented material on how artists have integrated their work into various community-based projects. Recently, Voss' Sculpture I class collaborated with members of Newel Post, a day facility for adults with mental disabilities or illness. She allows her students to grow by putting art into practice in the community. Voss will donate the money to Newel Post.

The 2011 Community Engagement Award winners were recognized at the seventh annual Cedar Valley Nonprofit Awards luncheon on Friday, April 15. The luncheon was presented by UNI's American Humanics program.

In 2006, Veridian Credit Union partnered with UNI to annually recognize the outstanding contributions of UNI faculty members to community engagement in the state.

Veridian Credit Union®, founded in 1934 in Waterloo, Iowa, is a not-for-profit financial cooperative owned by its members. The credit union offers a full range of consumer financial services and employs more than 500 Iowans throughout 25 branches, including 13 in the Cedar Valley, Independence and Oelwein. For more information, visit or call 800-235-3228.