Campus News

2023 Great Teacher Award winners honored

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 8 2023) — The University of Kentucky Alumni Association celebrated the six recipients of its annual Great Teacher Award  Tuesday, Feb. 7, at the Central Bank Center in Lexington. The recipients are:

  • Dibakar Bhattacharyya, College of Engineering
  • Jennifer Bird-Pollan, J. David Rosenberg College of Law
  • Candice Hargons, College of Education
  • Derek Lane, College of Communication and Information
  • Kenton Sena, Lewis Honors College
  • Martina Vasil, College of Fine Arts

The Great Teacher Award, launched in 1961, is the longest-running UK award that recognizes teaching. Students prepare and submit nominations and the UK Alumni Association Awards Committee, in cooperation with the student organization Omicron Delta Kappa, make the final selections.

This year's recipients were notified of the award during surprise visits to their classrooms in December. They earned a $4,000 stipend, were recognized at a dinner and were cheered on the floor of Rupp Arena before the Kentucky men’s basketball game against Arkansas.

Read more about this year’s Great Teacher Award recipients:

Dibakar Bhattacharyya

UK Alumni Chair Professor of Chemical and Materials Engineering Dibakar Bhattacharyya is also the director of the UK Center of Membrane Sciences. In addition, he is a co-principal investigator of the UK National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Superfund Research Program and is renowned for his research on membranes for filtering and producing clean water.

Bhattacharyya, universally known as "DB," has been an educator for more than 50 years at UK. With its enormous amount of environmental research activity with students and recent extension to virus aerosol decontamination area, UK has received extensive international recognition, and Bhattacharyya’s students have as well. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the North American Membrane Society. He previously won the Great Teacher Award in 1984, 1996 and 2008, and he is the 2021 recipient of the SEC Outstanding Faculty Achievement Award.

Jennifer Bird-Pollan

Jennifer Bird-Pollan is the associate dean of academic affairs and the Judge William T. Lafferty Professor of Law. She teaches courses across the tax law curriculum and her research lies at the intersection of tax law and philosophy, specifically regarding the taxation of wealth transfers and issues of sovereignty in international taxation. Bird-Pollan earned her bachelor’s degree from Penn State University, her Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University and her J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Prior to coming to UK, she practiced law in the tax department of Ropes & Gray in Boston. She won the College of Law Duncan Teaching Award in 2017 and was recognized by the Women’s Law Caucus as the Outstanding Faculty Member in 2014 and 2022. From 2014-15, she served as the Fulbright Visiting Professor at the Vienna University of Business and Economics in Vienna, Austria. Bird-Pollan serves as the faculty advisor to the Tax Law Society and the Women’s Law Caucus. From 2018-2020, she served as Chair of the University Senate Council at UK.

Candice Hargons

Candice Hargons is an associate professor in UK's counseling psychology program where she studies sexual wellness and healing racial trauma — all with a love ethic. She is the interim department chair in the Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology in the College of Education. She is a core faculty member of the Center for Health Equity and Transformation and a faculty affiliate of African American and Africana Studies and the Commonwealth Institute for Black Studies at UK.

Hargons serves on the American Psychological Association Board of Directors, is a Fellow in APA Division 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology) and an APA Minority Fellow alumna. She has degrees from Spelman College, Georgia State University, Howard University and she earned her Ph.D. at the University of Georgia. She is the PI (person in charge) of the Neighborhood Healers Project and she leads the Big Sex Study, a community-based research project investigating Black sexual wellness.

Derek R. Lane

Derek R. Lane is a professor in the Department of Communication. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma and undergraduate degrees from Eastern Wyoming College, Chadron State College, the University of Nebraska-Kearney. He has been a faculty member at UK since 1996. 

In addition to teaching more than 30 different graduate and undergraduate courses, he has held administrative positions as associate dean for graduate programs in communication in the college from 2005 to 2009, senior associate dean from 2013 to 2020 and interim dean from 2018-19. He also served as an endowed professor in the UK College of Engineering from 2004 to 2015. His instructional and organizational risk and crisis communication research explains how humans understand, organize and use the information contained in face-to-face and mediated messages to improve behavior change in applied contexts. He has worked on several collaborative research teams that have secured more than $8.5 million in funding. He first received the UK Alumni Association Great Teacher Award as an assistant professor in 2000. 

Kenton Sena

Kenton Sena is a lecturer in the Lewis Honors College. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in literature from Asbury University, and his master’s degree and Ph.D. from UK.

His thesis research focused on forest restoration on reclaimed surface mines in Appalachia. He received his Ph.D. in integrated plant and soil science (forest science emphasis), focusing on improving methods for detection and characterizing the distribution of a nonnative pathogen (Phytophthora cinnamomi) that causes disease in the American chestnut. He has published papers in journals such as Forests, Ecological Restoration, Science of the Total Environment, and Forest Ecology and Management. His teaching and research interests include forest restoration ecology, environmental science and literature of the environment. His service program engages students in environmentally relevant projects in Lexington and across the Commonwealth.

Martina Vasil

Martina Vasil is an associate professor of music education and interim director of undergraduate studies in the UK School of Music. She teaches undergraduate courses in general music methods and graduate courses in music education research and popular music education.

Vasil is passionate about making music education more accessible and meaningful for all. This shows through her work in popular music education, Orff Schulwerk (an active approach to teaching music), and her service as president of the Association for Popular Music Education. Vasil is invested in graduate student success, conducting research on this topic and advising most students in the master’s and Ph.D. music education programs. Prior to her appointment at UK, she taught kindergarten through eighth grade general music and instrumental music (band and strings) in Pennsylvania. Since 2018, she has taught children at Lexington Montessori School. Vasil has degrees from West Virginia University and Eastman School of Music.

The 2023 Great Teacher Award winners were honored during an on-court recognition during the UK-Arkansas game Tuesday, Feb. 7, at Rupp Arena. Mark Cornelison | UK Photo

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