The Mario & Alma Pastega Awards

About the Pastega Award

Mario and Alma PastegaThe Mario & Alma Pastega Awards represent Western Oregon University’s highest recognition for faculty and staff excellence. Two awards are given each year to faculty: The Pastega Award for Excellence in Scholarship recognizes significant and enduring scholarly or creative achievement; the Pastega Award for Excellence in Teaching honors teaching that engages, inspires and educates students in the greatest possible learning. The Pastega Staff Excellence Award recognizes classified or administrative staff members who demonstrate exceptional service to the university.  Each award provides a $1,000 honorarium.

History of the Awards

Beginning in 1985, three awards for scholarship, teaching and staff excellence were created through generous annual gifts from Mario Pastega (1916-2012), an Oregon soft drink bottler and one the state’s leading philanthropists and benefactors of education, serving as a trustee on the foundation boards of both Oregon State University and Western Oregon University.  In 1986, the first paired Pastega-funded awards in scholarship and teaching went to philosophy professor, Dale Cannon, for his work in philosophy for children, and Pat Gallagher, professor of education for her work in early childhood literature.  The first recipient of the staff excellence award in 1985 was Forrest Hiner, lead painter with the Physical Plant.  In 1997,  Mario Pastega and his wife, Alma, donated an additional $40,000, matched by the Oregon State System of Higher Education, to permanently endow the three annual awards in their name: the Pastega Award for Excellence in Scholarship, the Pastega Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the Pastega Staff Excellence Award.

Award process

Faculty award recipients are honored at a ceremony in May, during which each recipient makes a presentation about his or her work. Staff award recipients are traditionally recognized at the commencement breakfast in June. Candidates for all Pastega Awards are considered through nominations by colleagues, students and coworkers. The faculty award recipients are selected by a committee comprised of past Pastega recipients and one student appointed by student government. Final selections are subject to approval by the university president.  The Pastega Staff Excellence Award is coordinated through Human Resources and a committee of past staff award recipients who recommend three candidates to the university president for final selection.


Excellence in Scholarship Award

Gareth R. Hopkins, Ph.D.

The Mario and Alma Pastega Excellence in Scholarship Award honors a classified or administrative staff member who demonstrates exceptional service to the university. Once nominees are received, a screening committee submits a list of finalists to the president, who then chooses the recipient.

Gareth R. Hopkins, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology, is this year’s recipient of the Mario and Alma Pastega Award for Excellence in Scholarship. more

Hopkins, an ecologist whose scholarly work centers on understanding how organisms are affected by and respond to environmental change, is perhaps best known internationally for bringing a multi-disciplinary and evolutionary perspective to conservation issues. His prolific research activities include the publication of 30 peer reviewed papers and, with his students, presenting work at 20 national and international conferences. Since arriving on campus in 2018, Hopkins has mentored 25 undergraduate research students.

“Getting undergraduate students involved in research can be completely transformational,” says Hopkins. To that end, he has forged new partnerships for WOU that seamlessly integrate teaching and research. One such project brings together WOU students, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, City of Salem, and Oregon State University professor Ashley D’Antonio and her students to study how endangered local freshwater turtle species respond to habitat restoration and human recreation at Minto Brown Park in Salem.

The multifaceted research project is giving students an opportunity to engage in everything from field surveys and analysis of camera images, to the design and creation of turtle basking structures. The project has also provided an opportunity for WOU Computer Science Associate Professor Lucas Cordova and his students to create a mobile app and website ( to engage community members in turtle monitoring efforts.

Another collaboration, with WOU Biology Professor Ava Howard and a team of undergraduates, is monitoring the responses of insects, amphibians, and reptiles to restoration of an endangered Oregon White Oak ecosystem near Adair Village outside of Corvallis.

“We have students focused on acorns, tree physiology, birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects, all working together in a cross-disciplinary way with the overarching theme of how we conserve ecosystems and the organisms that live in them,” says Hopkins. “It is a local project of local concern but with regional, national and international consequences.”

Research opportunities like these can build self-esteem and foster students’ sense of self-belief that they have something to contribute, says Hopkins. It can also open doors that may otherwise feel closed.

In the case of the turtle habitat project, Western students have interacted with Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife staff and presented their research findings, both of which can lead to internships and future job prospects.

Hopkins also routinely encourages his students to present their work at conferences, where they are seen as equals with scientists who are eager to hear their findings.

“They’re analyzing data, writing it up, and presenting it to the scientific community. They are contributing,” he says. “When they give a presentation, I always tell them, Remember, no matter how nervous you are, you are the expert on this. There’s no one who knows what you did better than you, because it’s original research.”


Excellence in Teaching Award

Erin Baumgartner, Ph.D.

The Mario and Alma Pastega Award for Excellence in Teaching honors a full-time faculty member who demonstrates excellence in teaching and relationships with students, both in and out of the classroom. Once nominees are received, a screening committee submits a list of finalists to the president, who then chooses the recipient.

Erin Baumgartner, Ph.D., Professor of Biology and this year’s recipient of the Mario and Alma Pastega Award for Excellence in Teaching, joined the faculty in 2008. more

Baumgartner, whose background is in marine biology, specifically fish behavior, says that her mother often jokes that she declared her major in kindergarten – such was her love of fish, beginning with the freshwater fishes of Kansas, where she grew up.

But it was an unsatisfactory experience in her first college-level biology class that has had a lasting impact on her teaching.

“I was sitting there, being lectured at, getting factoids, and all the joy was being sucked out of it,” she recalls. “I remember thinking, I thought I liked biology, but I guess I don’t. I regularly take that memory with me into every class I teach. Because if my students feel that way, then I’m doing something wrong.”

By bringing a bit of fun into the classroom, Baumgartner hopes to spark students’ curiosity and show how biology and science are relevant to their everyday lives.

Case in point is one of the first-year seminars that she teaches: Fast Zombies Versus Slow Zombies.

“I’m a huge fan of horror movies, books, podcasts and TV series,” she says. “So we look at the underlying biology behind horror tropes, why things scare us, and what causes a physiological fear response, as a way to understand some basic biology. We talk about how you might have the same fear response when you ride a roller coaster or take a test and how you can manage that response. It’s really a lot of fun.”

This may sound like fun and games, but to Baumgartner, it’s a philosophical approach that centers students. She readily admits that many students in her general biology sequence won’t go on to become biology majors, and that’s OK. Her goal is to empower any student in her class, science major or not, to feel confident asking questions, using scientific habits of mind and scientific information to better understand the world they live in.

“By and large, Western students are excited to be here,” she says. “They are excited to learn, find out new things, and try something new. They recognize what being here represents to them and the people who care about them. They’re not taking it for granted.”

As for her part, Baumgartner doesn’t take it for granted either. She feels a great responsibility to meet her students where they are and help them develop resilience to set them up for success.  She likes to turn the phrase “college-ready” on its head.

“I want to foster a growth mind-set for my students. It’s going to take work, a little bit of practice, maybe some failure moving forward, but you can do hard things,” she says. “It’s on us, in the teaching profession, to be what I call student-ready. It is contingent on me to do the things that I need to do to support students, work with them and help them build and add to the strategies, practices, and information they need to be successful and to be able to do hard things.”


Staff Excellence Award

Allen Risen

The Mario and Alma Pastega Staff Excellence Award honors a classified or administrative staff member who demonstrates exceptional service to the university. Once nominees are received, a screening committee submits a list of finalists to the president, who then chooses the recipient.

Allen Risen is the 2022 recipient of the Mario and Alma Pastega Award for Staff Excellence. Since Allen Risen started working on campus 31 years ago, he’s seen a lot of changes. more

The number of students at Western has nearly doubled, and he has worked for four different directors and for nine different Presidents during his tenure. Most importantly for Risen – the University’s Occupational Environmental Health and Safety Officer – he has witnessed the expansion of the University’s physical plant to include nearly 60 buildings, all of which he oversees.

It’s a big job for one person.

“I am kind of the mini OSHA, DEQ and fire marshal on campus,” says Risen. “I keep the University in compliance with those regulations, completing about 18 building inspections a month, relaying deficiencies to building managers and facilities services. Then every three months I go back to make sure any deficiencies have been corrected.”

As the primary liaison between campus facilities and outside agencies, Risen also has built close relationships with the local fire marshal and others who regulate environmental safety on campus or might be called upon during an emergency.

“We also use our buildings for training, especially in the summertime,” says Risen, who engages with local law enforcement, search and rescue, and with the fire department so they can get familiar with the basic layout of campus buildings. When buildings on campus have been decommissioned, he’s worked with the Burn to Learn program so that firefighters can safely put their skills into practice.

Risen started his long career at Western in public safety, and over the years he’s been privy to the serious and not-so-serious sides of life on campus – from the time when a student’s attempt to make a homemade firework went awry to clearing the pole vault pit of a group of students goofing around in their birthday suits.

And while his time at Western has been enjoyable, Risen says he’s planning on retirement within the next couple of years. He’s looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Darla, and their children and grandchildren. Also high on the list are tinkering on his property north of Independence, traveling and more time to get his boat out onto Detroit Lake.

“Remodeling and landscaping keep me busy, and I like to do a lot of things out in my shop – woodworking and building things,” he says, going on to describe how he’s restoring a vintage mini chopper for the grandkids to play on.

Over the years, he and Darla have visited Australia, Sweden, France and England, and he says she recently surprised him with a birthday trip to Alaska. After a planned trip to Europe was canceled due to the pandemic, last summer they vacationed in Washington, DC.

“I like traveling and learning— Darla likes to take me out of my comfort zone,” he says with a laugh.


Excellence in Service Award

Breeann Flesch, Ph.D.

The Mario and Alma Pastega Excellence in Service Award honors a classified or administrative staff member who demonstrates exceptional service to the university. Once nominees are received, a screening committee submits a list of finalists to the president, who then chooses the recipient.

Breeann Flesch, Ph.D., professor and chair in the Computer Science Division, is this year’s recipient of the Mario and Alma Pastega Award for Excellence in Service. more

As a mathematician and computer scientist, Flesch is trained to question assumptions. And as a voice for change on the Western campus and in the local community, she’s using those skills to serve the greater good.

“Questioning assumptions means something very specific in a mathematics or computer science sense,” says Flesch. “But if you take that to the realm of systemic change, it means that you don’t rest on your laurels. If it’s always been done a certain way, what are the underlying assumptions? And doing something because it’s always been done that way has certainly not served large groups of folks of varying identities.”

It’s this approach that Flesch brought to general education reform at Western, first as co-chair of the university’s General Education Task Force and later, serving on the General Education Committee. Flesch and the team of colleagues she worked with were instrumental in evaluating and changing important aspects of the university’s general education framework, with an eye to how certain graduation requirements were negatively impacting first-generation students, students of color, and those from low-income backgrounds.

“WOU prides itself in being an access institution and Emerging Hispanic Serving Institution, with many first-generation students. We need to make sure we are being really mindful of our students and the debt they incur to get our college degrees,” she says, noting that a failure to address the systemic shortcomings has a direct impact on social mobility and the future success that students work so hard to achieve.

Flesch says her sense of urgency around systemic change has been influenced in part by the experience of being an underrepresented gender in a STEM field.

“As you can imagine, being a woman, getting a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics had its challenges,” she says. “Now I’m in a position of privilege, I feel it’s my responsibility and my job to topple that patriarchy and make sure other folks don’t have to endure in the same way that I did.”

To that end, much of Flesch’s service work falls under the heading of diversity, equity and inclusion, such as being a SafeZone Trainer and Search Advocate. She also a co-organizer of Fem in STEM, to connect underserved and ally students in STEM fields.

“For me service is activism. Service is action for political or social change,” says Flesch. “I have a habit of raising my hand when I think something needs to be done or changed. I don’t want to sit back and complain. I raise my hand and do the work. That’s what service is, doing that work.”

This commitment extends beyond campus as well, where Flesch recently helped Monmouth’s Central School District revise the sexual education curriculum, using current data, demographics and health statistics to bring the district into alignment with state standards and to better serve students in the district. She also serves the greater community as a member of the Marion & Polk County Communicable Disease Task Force.

Mario and Alma Pastega
Faculty Excellence Awards Committee

Jay Thompson (ex-officio), Dr. Scott Beaver, Dr. Rachel Harrington, Dr. Kristin Latham-Scott, Dr. Cindy Ryan and Dr. Ken Carano

Mario and Alma Pastega
Staff Excellence Award Committee

Jenn Sauer (ex-officio) Susan Griffin, Kellen Hendrickson, Patrick Moser, Tina Fuchs, Anna Hernandez Hunter and Sharyne Ryals

Award Recipients





2022 Gareth R. Hopkins Erin Baumgartner Allen Risen Breeann Flesch
2021 Cornelia Paraskevas Jaime Cloud Debbie Braun Melanie Landon-Hays
2020 Kenneth Carano Kristin Latham-Scott Susan Griffin Cindy Ryan
2019 Rachel Harrington Scott Beaver Anna Hernandez-Hunter
2018 Marie LeJeune Peter Callero Jeanie Stüntzner
2017 Eliot Dickinson Vivian Djokotoe Bruce Tuma
2016 Darryl Thomas Cheryl Beaver Sharyne Ryals
2015 Kevin Walczyk Maureen Dolan Kellen Hendrickson
2014 David Doellinger Katherine Schmidt Sue Thompson
2013 Tom Bergeron Julia Smith Linda Kunze
Jake Whisenhunt
2012 Henry Hughes Maria Dantas-Whitney Kathy Hill
2011 Kim Jensen Chloe Hughes Nathan Sauer
2010 Mark Girod Karie Mize Ann Barton-Brown
2009 Henry Bersani Jessica Henderson Jon Tucker
2008 Marita Cardinal Kit Andrews Teresa Hutchinson
2007 Gavin Keulks Dean Braa Alice Sprague
2006 Eduardo Gonzalez-Viana Sharon Oberst Lori Pagel
2005 Rob Winningham Diane Baxter John Henslee
2004 Lonnie Guralnick Martha Sargent Twila Domine
2003 Sarah Boomer Lowell Spring Patrick Moser
2002 Richard Davis Kimberly Jensen Jeanne Deane
2001 Victor Savicki Jerry Braza Gary Jensen
2000 H. Del Schalock
Ed Dover
Curtis Yehnert Rudolfo Rodriguez
1999 Marion Schrock Kevin Walzyk Tina Fuchs
1998 Dennis Eddings Denis Moran Rick DeMars
1997 Kim Hoffman Ray Brodersen Don Boderman
1996 Peter Callero George Cabrera Martha Smith
1995 Thomas Ferte Sandra Gish Darin Silbernagel
1994 Richard Meyer Joe Soldati Randy McCauley
1993 Diane Baxter Gary Huxford Ligoy Gamaney
1992 Narasingha Sil Ajmer Singh
Ray Broderson
Barbara Lass
1991 Robert R. Ayres
Eric J. Cooley
Cornelia Paraskevas Larry Spani
1990 Ross R. Cotroneco Erhard Dormund Mona K-Hinds
1989 Kenneth Holmes Lewis Pennock Jill Summers
Margaret Manoogian-O’Dell
1988 David McCorkle Roshani Shay Dori Beeks
1987 Donald H. White Bonnie Staebler Betty Hoyt
1986 Dale W Cannon Pat Gallagher Neal Werner
1985 James T Mattingly Forrest Hiner
1984 Neal R Bandick
1983 A. Laurence Lyon
Lloyd T. Hansen
1982 C. David Jennings
1981 Ruth Million
1980 Erhard Dormund
1979 J. J. Morris Johnson
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