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.

2023 Winners


Excellence in Scholarship Award

Isidore Lobnibe, 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.

ISIDORE LOBNIBE, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology, is this year’s recipient of the Mario and Alma Pastega Award for Excellence in Scholarship. more

Love of learning. Passion. Enthusiasm. World-class scholar.

These are just a few of the superlatives expressed in support of Dr. Isidore Lobnibe, Professor of Anthropology, as recipient for this year’s Mario and Alma Pastega Award for Excellence in Scholarship.

Lobnibe’s journey to becoming a respected scholar and excellent teacher began with earning a bachelor’s degree in History and French at Cape Coast University, 350 miles from his home in northwest Ghana. He went on to teach high school in northern Ghana, on the border with Burkina Faso, before migrating with his family to the United States for graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Since joining the faculty of WOU in 2007, Lobnibe has ably balanced his role as a teacher and mentor, with that of active scholar; he has served as a peer reviewer for journals worldwide, conducted international field research, presented papers, published numerous articles, and received several distinguished research fellowships. He has a particular interest in the evolution of anthropology as a discipline, engaging with it through a critical lens, from a local and lived experience growing up in rural Ghana, and as a scholar. Lobnibe co-authored the recent book Imagining Futures: Memory and Belonging in an African Family, a collaborative study that turned the lens on his own extended family, exploring how active memory-making binds globally dispersed kin.

It is these rich insights and perspectives that Lobnibe shares with students in courses such as Cultures of Africa – a survey of Africa’s different regions and cultures, and the history that has impacted both over time. In Transnational Migration, students examine the experiences and challenges of long-term or permanent migrants, and in Medical Anthropology they study healthcare from a cross-cultural perspective. African Film and Society, Religion and Ritual, and Women Hold Up Half the Sky are some of the many courses Lobnibe has taught over the years.

“I tell a lot of stories about Africa and sometimes my personal background,” he says. “I try to get my students from Western out of their comfort zone. I integrate a lot of international perspectives into my teaching.” With Lobnibe’s encouragement, WOU students have studied abroad in Ghana, Korea and Costa Rica, with several returning to publish their senior thesis in Western’s PURE Insight Journal.

“Initially you meet them in the classes and they are very timid,” he says. “But by the junior or senior year, you see them very transformed, and that is the thing that really gets you excited.”

Lobnibe is grateful for the support of WOU travel grants and faculty development that enable him to combine research with his teaching responsibilities.

“One fascinating thing I discovered once I got here was the flexibility that Western offers in terms of scholarship,” he says. “Our teaching load is a bit heavy but there’s also a lot of support for faculty research so one is able to marry the two.”

To that end, next year Lobnibe will spend his sabbatical at the University of Ghana, Legon, where he’s received a University of Freiburg fellowship with the Maria Sibylla Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa( MIASA). He plans to complete a book about how mortuary practices and funeral rites in northwest Ghana have been affected by the region’s changing political economy.


Excellence in Service Award

Leigh Graziano, 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.

Leigh Graziano, Ph.D., Professor of English, is this year’s recipient of the Mario and Alma Pastega Award for Excellence in Service. more

When Leigh Graziano, Ph.D, Associate Professor, English, and Director, First-Year Writing, received the offer to join the faculty at Western in 2017, she jumped at the opportunity.

“It was exactly the kind of school I have known I have always wanted to work at,” she says.  “I knew I would be able to really focus on my students, where things would be very student-centered and where I’d have opportunities to serve my community.”

Graziano has sought opportunities to serve the WOU community at every turn, from Chair of the General Education Committee to President of the Faculty Senate. She has been a member of several search committees, including the current Provost search, and serves as Faculty Advisor to the student-led WOU Freedom Center Advisory Board. She also represents WOU as a member of the statewide Oregon Writing and English Advisory Council.

Not only is Graziano generous with her time, she brings empathy, compassion and humility to the ongoing work of improving the campus community and the larger landscape of education in the state. 

“In the broadest sense, service work is part of the landscape of how we get work done at the university,” she says. “But the way I think about service is how we can be agents of change on campus. Service work is how we can advocate for each other and for our students, and collaborate across sectors to solve problems and get work done.”

Graziano’s curricular expertise was central to a recent service appointment as co-chair and WOU’s representative for the state common course numbering subcommittee. The group worked to ensure that the most transferable general education courses share titles, credits, learning outcomes, and course descriptions to eliminate transfer barriers as students move between institutions.

“It was an opportunity you don’t often get, which is to collaborate with colleagues across the state to work on curriculum. It was challenging, but in spite of the challenges, students were at the center of this labor.” she says. “We really built something that everyone felt like they could get behind and that would do what it was meant to do, which is to help our students.”

Graziano says that one of her most difficult appointments was as Faculty Senate President during pandemic-necessitated budget cuts that saw the closure of several programs, and the loss of faculty and staff. 

“In spite of how obviously challenging that was, I tried to look for ways to use the position to do things that my colleagues needed,” she says. “I advocated for more conversation, for more collaboration, and for more input from faculty before decisions were made. It was an emotionally fraught period and so I tried to remain a source of balance, calm and empathy as we went through this terrible time together.”

Graziano is currently serving as secretary of the Faculty Union and is looking forward to continuing her service next year. 

“I’m excited. I think it’s an opportunity to build a really new relationship between faculty and administration, and to look at how we can collaborate to support each other and solve problems.”


Excellence in Teaching Award

Misty Weitzel, 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.

MISTY WEITZEL, Ph.D., Professor of Criminal Justice and this year’s recipient of the Mario and Alma Pastega Award for Excellence in Teaching. more

Though she knew that most anthropologists ended up teaching, Misty A. Weitzel, Ph.D., didn’t think she’d be one of them.

Hailing from Sandy, Oregon, she was eager to travel and learn about the wider world. While earning a Ph.D. in archeology and physical anthropology at the University of Alberta, Edmonton Weitzel had the opportunity to do both. She traveled to Siberia to excavate and analyze Bronze Age skeletons and to Cyprus to study remains at burial sites.

Now as a professor of Criminal Justice, Forensic Anthropology and the Graduate Program Coordinator in the Criminal Justice Sciences Division at WOU, Weitzel applies these skills and methods to forensic anthropology.

“I was in denial about teaching,” she says with a laugh. “But I needed to go through that journey to figure out that teaching is actually something I really love to do.”

That gradual journey started at Oregon State University, where she was an early adopter of online learning, and received accolades for her innovative approaches to education. Since joining Western’s faculty in 2012, Weitzel has continued to seek innovative ways to engage students.

She developed the forensic anthropology minor and concentration, and teaches courses ranging from Introduction to Forensic Anthropology to the capstone course for graduate students in Criminal Justice. This is Weitzel’s fifth year as Graduate Coordinator.

Forensic anthropology is a discipline theoretically grounded in human evolution, so it’s fitting that personal evolution is central to Weitzel’s teaching philosophy.

“To be effective teachers, we need to evolve,” she says. “There are so many selective pressures at work: COVID, social media, political, social and environmental issues. If we fight against them, we aren’t going to get very far. I try to find ways – whether it’s technology or just being a very caring person in the classroom – to meet the changing needs of academia and our students.”

During COVID quarantine, Weitzel and her colleague Jerielle Cartales launched a podcast, Cabin Femur: Forensic Anthropology in The Age of Quarantine, to connect with students and feature their work. She also advocated successfully for the addition of a Race & Justice course to the Criminal Justice core curriculum.

“I really love creating assignments or just capitalizing on what students enjoy most about the material, in a way that I never did when I was teaching 18 years ago,” she says. “They get inspired and I get inspired. Giving them different ways to do that is really beneficial for all of us.”

An example is what she calls an “unessay” assignment that led a student to make a set of acrylic nails on missing indigenous women, and another to write a song about material covered in class.

Weitzel has been equally creative when helping forensic anthropology students to gain real-world experience. She has led students on search and rescue missions for buried raccoons and to a big pig dig to learn search, excavation and analysis techniques typically applied to human remains.  

“Encouraging students to get involved in their own learning in ways that interest them is my raison d’être when it comes to teaching,” she says.


Staff Excellence Award

Rosario Peralta-Cortez

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.

ROSARIO PERALTA-CORTEZ is the 2023 recipient of the Mario and Alma Pastega Award for Staff Excellence. more

With a major in Spanish and minor in Writing, Rosario Peralta-Cortez ’13 had always assumed she would teach Spanish. It didn’t work out that way and she couldn’t be happier.

It was a serendipitous stint as an undergraduate intern at the WOU Writing Center that sparked a passion for helping Spanish-speakers find their voice in written English. 

“I thought the Writing Center was a magical place,” she recalls. “Working with students, working with writing, and working with Spanish-speaking students in particular – it was a dream that I didn’t realize that I had.”

After graduation, Peralta-Cortez took the summer to work as a freelance interpreter before stepping into the position of English Writing Specialist for Spanish Speakers, a post she’s held for nearly 10 years.

Her days are spent helping students with everything from research papers, scripts and powerpoint presentations to scholarship and job applications. She also leads in-class presentations and workshops on everything from proper citations to professionalism in writing, all while spreading the word about the free resources available at the Writing Center.   

Whether she’s addressing a class or working with an individual student, Peralta-Cortez says the most rewarding part of her job is connecting with others.

“With writing, you get to connect in such a special way,” she says. “Sometimes it’s connecting over the content, sometimes it’s admitting I do the same thing when I’m procrastinating, but most of the time we get to just really connect as people.”

It’s no surprise then that one of her favorite things to do is help students craft winning scholarship essays and effective personal statements. “I really get to know a student. I can sit down for 30 minutes to an hour and walk away knowing that I really helped them,” she says.

As students find their voice and the confidence to express it, Peralta-Cortez imparts skills that translate into other areas of their lives as they reach for their dreams.

“I think a lot of times, how we do one thing is how we do a lot of things,” she says. “I might help a student figure out how to manage time in a class, which sometimes means that they’re able to manage their time outside of that class. Or teaching them how to help themselves with their writing shows them that they can ask for help. The skill I like to give students is how to seek out the things you need, advocate for yourself and prepare yourself for whatever you need in life.”

Peralta-Cortez is quick to acknowledge Writing Center Director Katherine Schmidt, Ph.D,  along with her fellow tutors and student interns, who create a welcoming and supportive environment focused on student success.

“We try to foster a really positive and uplifting work environment. That’s my number one priority – to create a really safe and welcoming space on our campus,” she says.

In her free time Peralta-Cortez enjoys hiking, exploring new restaurants and spending time with her nephews. When they aren’t busy scrambling around the local playground or up a dusty trail, it’s no surprise that she’s encouraging them to dream and write stories, proving it’s never too early – or late – to find your voice.

Mario and Alma Pastega
Faculty Excellence Awards Committee

Keats Chaves (ex-officio), Dr. Erin Baumgartner, Dr. Breeann Flesch, Dr. Gareth Hopkins, Dr. Jaime Cloud and Dr. Melanie Landon-Hays

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 Breeann Flesch Allen Risen Erin Baumgartner
2021 Cornelia Paraskevas Melanie Landon-Hays Debbie Braun Jaime Cloud
2020 Kenneth Carano Cindy Ryan Susan Griffin Kristin Latham-Scott
2019 Rachel Harrington Anna Hernandez-Hunter Scott Beaver
2018 Marie LeJeune Jeanie Stüntzner Peter Callero
2017 Eliot Dickinson Bruce Tuma Vivian Djokotoe
2016 Darryl Thomas Sharyne Ryals Cheryl Beaver
2015 Kevin Walczyk Kellen Hendrickson Maureen Dolan
2014 David Doellinger Sue Thompson Katherine Schmidt
2013 Tom Bergeron Linda Kunze
Jake Whisenhunt
Julia Smith
2012 Henry Hughes Kathy Hill Maria Dantas-Whitney
2011 Kim Jensen Nathan Sauer Chloe Hughes
2010 Mark Girod Ann Barton-Brown Karie Mize
2009 Henry Bersani Jon Tucker Jessica Henderson
2008 Marita Cardinal Teresa Hutchinson Kit Andrews
2007 Gavin Keulks Alice Sprague Dean Braa
2006 Eduardo Gonzalez-Viana Lori Pagel Sharon Oberst
2005 Rob Winningham John Henslee Diane Baxter
2004 Lonnie Guralnick Twila Domine Martha Sargent
2003 Sarah Boomer Patrick Moser Lowell Spring
2002 Richard Davis Jeanne Deane Kimberly Jensen
2001 Victor Savicki Gary Jensen Jerry Braza
2000 H. Del Schalock
Ed Dover
Rudolfo Rodriguez Curtis Yehnert
1999 Marion Schrock Tina Fuchs Kevin Walzyk
1998 Dennis Eddings Rick DeMars Denis Moran
1997 Kim Hoffman Don Boderman Ray Brodersen
1996 Peter Callero Martha Smith George Cabrera
1995 Thomas Ferte Darin Silbernagel Sandra Gish
1994 Richard Meyer Randy McCauley Joe Soldati
1993 Diane Baxter Ligoy Gamaney Gary Huxford
1992 Narasingha Sil Barbara Lass Ajmer Singh
Ray Broderson
1991 Robert R. Ayres
Eric J. Cooley
Larry Spani Cornelia Paraskevas
1990 Ross R. Cotroneco Mona K-Hinds Erhard Dormund
1989 Kenneth Holmes Jill Summers
Margaret Manoogian-O’Dell
Lewis Pennock
1988 David McCorkle Dori Beeks Roshani Shay
1987 Donald H. White Betty Hoyt Bonnie Staebler
1986 Dale W Cannon Neal Werner Pat Gallagher
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