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.

Cornelia

Excellence in Scholarship Award

Cornelia Paraskevas

The Mario and Alma Pastega Award for Excellence in Scholarship honors a full-time faculty member who demonstrates outstanding creative or scholarly accomplishments. After nominees are received, the Honors Committee votes by secret ballot on whether there will be a recipient that year, and if so, whom the recipient will be.

The Mario and Alma Pastega Award for Scholarship recognizes an educator’s career-long scholarship and the effect the scholarship has on their field of study. This year’s winner, English Studies Professor Cornelia Paraskevas, fits the bill perfectly; she has had multiple books published and has contributed greatly to research in her area of expertise. But in talking to the linguistics and writing specialist, it quickly becomes clear that her 30-plus years at WOU have been equally about being a consumer of scholarship as much as being a producer of it. 

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“I still remain very curious,” she says. “I’ve constantly asked a lot of questions, and I’ve been very fortunate that, when I am brave and ask questions, people are happy to have an exchange. That has helped me a lot.”

When she arrived at WOU with a doctorate in theoretical linguistics, she found that that academic focus didn’t match what students needed to learn in order to become English teachers; most of her students were Teacher Education majors. So, she had to figure out “How do I make myself useful to my students? How to I give them knowledge that is useful for them for what they are going to do, rather than what I wanted to teach?”

Paraskevas sought help from colleague Tom Rand, who arrived at WOU at the same time and whose office was next door. She recalls darkening his doorstep just about every day

Eventually, she identified an intersection between linguistics and writing that allowed her to develop courses that met the needs of students. Then she was off to the races, creating classes such as Linguistics 450, called Register, Style and Genre. But that endeavor also required a lot of learning for Paraskevas.

“I wanted to see how practicing teachers talk about language in their classes and how they evaluate work,” she recalled. “So I called the Oregon Department of Education, and I asked if I could come and get training to score the Oregon writing assessment that they used to do the writing samples. I wanted to see how teachers scored and really what was beneath the surface, how much they actually considered language issues, and in what ways they considered them. So that shaped a lot of the [original] Linguistics 450 class.”

She also created a class, Linguistics 209, for students majoring in early childhood studies. That course, too, sent her on a new journey of discovery. 

“I had to learn to beef up on language acquisition, and then as I started reading more about language acquisition, I ran across a talk about teaching writing to children in kindergarten and earlier,” she explained. “They don’t write, but they could draw, so how do you use those as storytelling? The class was taught only once. But, like so many other things in my work, someone asked me a question and it prompted my curiosity.”

Most recently, this quest for knowledge led her to best practices for online learning and grading, which were required as the university moved to all-online teaching during the pandemic. She spent the summer of 2019 reading about the topic, and about contract grading and specifications grading. Eventually, she was able to parlay what she devised into two published pieces. Then there is the new OER textbook she created for Linguistics 310, which allowed her to replace a resource that was cost-prohibitive for students. “Again, there always been some kind of a stimulus, some kind of nudge from some place. And I’m still doing that.”

Paraskevas’ colleagues, too, appreciate the love for knowledge she has shared with them. Dr. Deborah Dean, a professor at BYU, said in a letter of support for Paraskevas: “Cornelia has shown warmth and encouragement to newer scholars, encouraging and influencing us to continue our growth as professionals. Her influence is felt through the people she has mentored, as well as in the works she has had published.”

Her learning will likely never come to an end, but Paraskevas’ time at WOU eventually will. She is near retirement age, and she’s ready to join her husband, who retired last year. 

“I realized early on that a Ph.D. is the beginning of scholarship, not the end,” she said.

Jamie

Excellence in Teaching Award

Jaime Cloud

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. After nominees are received, a screening committee submits a list of finalists to the president, who then chooses the recipient.

Associate Professor Jaime Cloud, this year’s winner of the Mario and Alma Pastega Award for Excellence in Teaching, is known for bringing her innovative and engaging approach to every classroom she graces, whether the forum is virtual or in real life. Students find her lecture notes, often punctuated by trendy memes and silly sound effects, hold their attention better than more traditional sessions. Her methods earn her high praise from students struggling with complex concepts, such as research statistics.

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But Cloud admits her effort to make the subject matter fun and approachable is just as much for her as it is for students.

“Recording lectures is one of my least favorite things to do. I absolutely hate it because I am such a perfectionist,” she said. “But since I realized I can make this fun for me, too, by searching the internet for the perfect meme or the best sound effect to illustrate the point I’m making—and knowing that every time I goof, that’s a blooper cut I can put at the end of the video—that takes so much of the edge off.”

Cloud’s tactics in classes such as evolutionary psychology, research methods and social psychology may be a little unorthodox, but they get the job done. During the eight years she has been teaching, her course evaluations and verbal feedback reflect the extra time she takes to keep things interesting.

“I have gotten a lot of feedback from students who say ‘Oh, my gosh, your bloopers are so funny and relatable’ and ‘Your lectures are so manageable and easy to watch,’ ” she said.

It took Cloud a little while to develop best practices for student engagement. In her early years, teaching at Alabama’s Birmingham-Southern College and then at WOU, she struggled to find the right balance between being authentic and being professorial; after all, she was only a few years older than most of her students and younger than some. Authenticity won out, largely because being professorial is just not in her comfort zone.

“There were non-traditional students in my classes who were older than me. I detected a lot of hostility and suspicion from them,” she recalled. “I tried to be as professorial as I could, but I think in the end the hostility I experienced was because I wasn’t being real. There was no moment where I gave up my façade–it just wore off. I started sharing more about myself, and then the clouds parted.”

These days, Cloud continues to hold herself to a high bar of relatability. She knows what WOU students need to learn effectively, and it just so happens that her personality is a perfect fit for the task.

“It’s so important to be accessible and approachable and make that personal connection with [students] so that they feel comfortable asking for help, swinging by your office hours so you can explain a concept to them again in a different way,” she said. “My students are learning the material and are comfortable in this college environment, so that’s a win for me.”

Melanie

Excellence in Service Award

Melanie Landon-Hays

The Award for Excellence in Service recognizes faculty accomplishment in service, honoring work that engages and inspires students, going beyond the typical scope of faculty service.

The 2021 Mario and Alma Pastega Award recipient for Excellence in Service, Melanie Landon-Hays, has been told she does too much service on campus, that her many hours spent each week doing committee work are beyond one person’s responsibilities. Landon-Hays, a professor in the College of Education, isn’t having it.

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“[I’ve thought about] whether I liked what I was doing and if it gave me joy,” the Idaho native said. “And it did. I really like getting outside of my own division. I like meeting people across campus. I like conversations about the big picture, you know, and so service allows me to do that.”

When pressed, Landon-Hays can list many of the committees she serves on and important roles she plays on campus. She’s on the executive council of the (faculty) union and a faculty senate executive, posts that blossom into obligations on multiple other committees. She’s also the chair of the Graduate Studies Committee and coordinates the Master of Arts in Teaching program.

She is happy to share the wealth, though, and wants other faculty members to know that WOU is not a place where they have to get tenure before they are allowed to speak up about important issues.

“I think I’ve done a good job of trying to reach out to new faculty and helping them to know that you don’t have to wait until you’ve been here for decades before you can serve,” she explained. “You can be new and ask questions, and no one’s going to make you feel like you don’t know anything or that you shouldn’t speak up.”

Her colleagues are deeply appreciative of the work she has done during the past several years, as shown in the letters of support submitted in along with her nomination for the Pastega award. They tout not only the hard work and action-oriented approach Landon-Hays exhibits, but also the supportive and caring human being she is.

“The kindness extended by Dr. Landon-Hays reminds me that we are more than just cogs in a wheel trying to keep an institution running but can be a community of caring individuals,” wrote Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Misty Weitzel. “It is not hyperbole to say that Dr. Landon-Hays will leave an indelible mark in all of the areas in which she has served.”

In the end, Landon-Hays believes she learns important lessons about herself through her extensive service roles, especially her capacity for leadership, which she appreciates greatly. She’s also learned a lot about the university and its mission.

“A big part of what I’ve learned is just how much everybody at Western really does have students’ best interests in mind,” she said. “And the talents of the people that work here are vast. It’s a safe and a good community.”

Still, she would love it if others were empowered to serve in order to make WOU and its students as successful as they can be. Part of that goal is casting service to the campus community as gratifying, a topic she discusses with—you guessed it—another committee, this one called “the committee on committees.”

“One of the things I’m interested in is looking at how we promote more equity in service. I would love it if the conversation about service was framed in that it’s rewarding and that you get something from it,” she said. “I would love to continue to be in those conversations about how we make it a safer and more equitable endeavor for everybody. Service is one of the best ways to get to know WOU as a whole and to feel like you are part of a community.”

Debbie

Staff Excellence Award

Debbie Braun

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.

Debbie Braun, administrative assistant to the dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, says that growing up in Beechy, a village in Saskatchewan, Canada, is probably what makes her feel so at home at Western. 

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“You would wave and say ‘hi’ to everybody. It was kind of like that Cheers thing where everybody knows your name,” she says. “That’s what I like about WOU: You can get to know people.”

Braun started at WOU in 2000, first working in the Math Department and then spending a few years in the Humanities Division. In 2013, she decided to make the jump to the dean’s office.

“It was a bit of an unknown at the time because there was a new dean, Sue Monahan, coming in,” she recalls. “You have to meld together well to have a good working relationship. We learned the job together, and it was Sue who instilled in me the confidence to become the assistant that I am today.”

Braun now works with the current dean, Kathy Cassity, acting as an intermediary and lightening her load whenever possible. She has a wide variety of responsibilities, from completing the initial payroll paperwork for 125 Liberal Arts and Sciences employees, to monitoring budgets and liaising with division chairs and administrative program assistants. 

“When people need help, that’s what I do,” says Braun, who radiates genuine kindness and operates with three guiding principles in mind.  

 “If what you do is worth doing, do it well,” she says. “Someone gave me that motto when I was just a youngster. I also try to think of who I’m talking to and how that person will feel by what I say to them. I like to keep their feelings in mind and what they may be going through. I’ve also learned that absolutely everyone has value. In the workplace you’re not best friends with everybody, but everyone has value. Everyone has something they can bring to the table, so they are valuable to WOU.”

And while she enjoys the variety of her job and working with such a diverse array of people, she says her favorite part is definitely the finances. 

“The type of math I do is black and white. Things have to balance,” she says with a laugh.

Braun and her family have lived in Dallas, Ore., since 1992. They moved there after her husband, Ken, who is a former pastor, finished his master’s degree in Fresno, Calif.  Since 2005, Ken has served as executive director of the Victim/Offender Reconciliation Program and Community Mediation Services of Polk County. Their two children are grown and flown, but when they were younger, the Braun household revolved around sports schedules.  

Things are a bit quieter these days, which gives Braun plenty of time to indulge her passion for books. “I’m an avid reader. I just love reading,” she says.  

During this challenging year, Braun has been working from home. Though she admits to getting more done without the interruptions of a busy office, she’s looking forward to the prospect of returning to in-person work this summer.

 “There are some awesome people on campus who give awesome hugs, and I really miss that!”

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

Scholarship

Teaching

Staff

Service

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