Each year, Southeastern President John L. Crain bestows the University’s most prestigious honor, the President’s Award for Excellence, to faculty and staff excelling in the areas of research, teaching, faculty service, and staff service. Meet our 2020 recipients: Brian Crother, Margaret Gonzalez-Perez, Gerlinde Beckers, and Paulette Poche.
President’s Excellence Award in Research
For this year’s recipient of the President’s Award for Excellence in Research, winning the award is actually like déjà vu. That is because Professor of Biological Sciences Brian Crother also received the award in 1999.
“When Dr. Crother received this award roughly 20 years ago, he was one of many great researchers. Now he is simply an institution,” said Professor and Department Head of Biological Sciences Christopher Beachy. “He organizes symposia, has served as president of multiple societies, and his numbers of publications, both empirical and theoretical, grows larger each year.”
A member of the Southeastern faculty since 1991, Crother’s areas of expertise are herpetology, phylogenetics, systematics, and biogeography. Simply put, he studies mostly snakes and lizards, their relationships, and how their distributions are influenced by historical contingency and environmental effects.
Crother has published 85 papers, and his work has been cited over 3,500 times. In 2019 alone, his papers were cited in nearly 400 other papers.
Graduate student mentoring has also been a significant part of Crother’s research career. He believes the research experience between advisor and graduate student is a reciprocal one.
“The students learn from me, and I learn from the students,” he explained. “I teach a number of graduate courses, am the faculty advisor of 25 graduate students, and have served on another 34 graduate committees and seven doctoral committees across the country.
“My commitment to teaching through research is, to me, one of the best reasons to conduct research,” he added. “I believe active scholars bring something extra to the classroom or any teaching situation.”
President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching
Margaret Gonzalez-Perez now has a trifecta of President’s Excellence Awards. In 2009, she was recognized with the President’s Excellence in Faculty Service Award. Then in 2016, she received the President’s Excellence in Research Award. This year she is being recognized with the President’s Excellence in Teaching Award.
A faculty member since 2008, Gonzalez-Perez is best known for her research on international politics and women in terrorism.
“Dr. Gonzalez-Perez works in the extraordinarily challenging field of comparative government and international relations, a specialty that requires her to be familiar with the political workings of literally every government in the world,” said Department Head of History and Political Science William Robison. “Moreover, she is a prolific scholar on the subject of international terrorism, and, sad to say, there are even more terrorist groups in the world than there are governments, and both are constantly changing. Yet, somehow she manages to stay on top of it all and incorporate it into her teaching.”
Gonzalez-Perez said it is an ongoing challenge to maintain a balance between teaching, research and professional service.
“During my years at Southeastern, I have worked hard in all three areas, but I strive to maintain a special focus on excellence in teaching and igniting a love of learning in my students,” she said. “I try to teach my students how to evaluate reliable sources in a world of 24-hour news and social media, examine conflicting perspectives, and develop logical conclusions.
“I intentionally refrain from sharing my personal views on politics, focusing on the need for my students to examine a broad range of data and form their own opinions. I frequently tell my students, ‘I don’t care what you think; I just care that you think.’”
President’s Award for Excellence in Faculty Service
Raised by her mother, a registered nurse for a charity health system, and her father, an educator, Associate Professor of Education Gerlinde Beckers learned the value of service at a young age.
“My parents’ values molded me into becoming a special educator and molded my commitment to service,” she said. “Since joining Southeastern in 2012, I have been actively involved in university, state, and community service. My focus is leading by example for Southeastern students and working with individuals with disabilities.”
Since 2016, Beckers has served as the director of Lions Connected, a post-secondary educational experience for individuals with intellectual disabilities by immersing Lions Connected students in the “college experience,” while preparing them for vocational experience. She secured certification by the U.S. Department of Education to recognize the program as a comprehensive transition and post-secondary program.
Beckers said her proudest accomplishment to date is being the principal investigator of three external service-learning grants. She received $100,500 from Entergy for Project Lion: Learning In Our Neighborhood, a three-year afterschool program that focused on at-risk middle school students in the community. She also received a $7,000 grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation for Project ROAR: Rediscovering Opportunities and Attitudes for Reading, which established book clubs for at-risk middle school students. Thanks to $40,000 from the Council for Developmental Disabilities, Beckers created the Louisiana Post-Secondary Inclusive Education Alliance to increase awareness and opportunities for individuals with disabilities at the post-secondary level.
“Whether she is the first to volunteer to serve on an important committee to advance the mission of Southeastern or to support recruitment and retention efforts in our department,” said Department of Teaching and Learning Head Colleen Klein-Ezell, “Gerlinde is a leader in providing service.”
Presidents’ Award for Excellence in Unclassified Staff Service
Paulette Poche began working at Southeastern as a student worker in Southeastern’s Publication Office in 1970, where she first met her supervisor, mentor and future best friend Judy Couvillion.
Ultimately, Poche began her professional career at Southeastern as a stock clerk in 1988. She worked in various departments and capacities over the years, mostly in human resources and enrollment services.
“Throughout her career at Southeastern, Paulette repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to be of service to the students,” Couvillion said. “This was her commitment, and I know from experience that she was always eager to help those who aspire to be students at Southeastern.”
During her tenure, Poche contributed to many projects on campus, such as the implementation of the PeopleSoft system. She also assisted in the success of Southeastern’s newest system, WorkDay, even though she knew she would retire before it was implemented.
Beyond her job duties, Poche’s service extended to many extracurricular activities. She was a board member and treasurer of Southeast Advocates for Family Empowerment, a volunteer usher at the Columbia Theatre, team member and captain for South Tangipahoa Relay for Life, student conduct hearing board volunteer, and board member of the Ponchatoula Museum.
“Growing up, service was not a defined word, but a natural part of a meaningful life. My parents were my first examples of what it meant to be a part of a greater good by serving,” she said. “I plan to establish a scholarship in my parents’ name, as they afforded me the opportunity to be a student at Southeastern and served as my very first and never-ending examples of true service.”