College of Health and Human Development announces 2017 faculty, staff awards

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The College of Health and Human Development announced recipients of its 2017 Faculty and Staff Awards. A reception honoring the awardees was held Nov. 15 in the Bennett Pierce Living Center in Henderson Building at Penn State University Park.

The awards and their recipients are:

Carol Clark Ford Staff Achievement Award

Deanna Gray
Financial coordinator, Department of Human Development and Family Studies

Gray’s responsibilities include preparing the department’s annual budgets, monitoring the budgets of auxiliary units, providing oversight on all departmental financial transactions, and working with faculty and graduate students with travel and other financial requests.

In her time as financial coordinator, Gray has taken the initiative to improve her effectiveness and service to HDFS. She participated in the ACOR Certification Education Series, a training program developed by Penn State’s Administrative Committee on Research to train administrators to assist faculty in developing and managing their research programs. She also completed Penn State’s Survival Skills for Supervisors certificate program to better train her in the role of a supervisor.

Rhonda Freeman Spychalski
Records manager, Office of Undergraduate Studies and Outreach

Spychalski is responsible for the college’s academic records, overseeing college and University policies regarding academic requirements, and analyzing and interpreting data for the college’s institutional research. 

She supports eight departments and their professional and faculty advisers, all of whom rely on the student information system, which was transitioned last year to LionPATH. Serving as the college’s “go-to” person for LionPATH, Spychalski was instrumental in educating, supporting, communicating and leading advisers toward working collaboratively with the LionPATH team.

This award recognizes outstanding achievement by a staff, clerical or technical service employee of the college who “makes it easier for others to accomplish their objectives effectively and efficiently.” The award was endowed by Donald H. Ford, dean emeritus of the former College of Human Development, in honor of his wife, Carol Clark Ford.

Evelyn R. Saubel Faculty Award

Lesley A. Ross
Associate professor, human development and family studies

Ross is an associate professor of human development and family studies, joining the department in 2014 and most recently becoming the director of the HDFS Honors Program in 2016. She is acting director of the Center for Healthy Aging through summer 2018. Since joining HDFS, Ross has mentored 12 undergraduate students through her research lab, overseen five undergraduate student posters, mentored five graduate students, and served on four dissertation and five comprehensive exam committees. 

Ross established a monthly community outreach program that pairs older adults with undergraduate and graduate students. The connection allows students to work with rural, low-income older adults, assisting them with future career and educational goals. 

Maria L. Dawson
Instructor, health policy and administration

Dawson, instructor in health policy and administration, has been with the department since 2012. She joined Penn State with 27 years of health care management experience in a variety of health care settings, including long-term care assisted living facilities, home care and hospice settings, federal correctional settings, and outpatient hospital clinics. 

Since becoming a full-time instructor with the Department of Health Policy and Administration, Dawson has served as adviser to roughly 16 students per year. Dawson is also involved in the college’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, the Undergraduate Advisory Board, and the HPA online bachelor of science program, and has served on a number of committees. 

This award recognizes faculty members for service to students. Among its criteria are a commitment to human service; accessibility as an adviser; and a caring, professional style. The award was established in honor of 1935 alumna Evelyn Saubel, a longtime assistant to the dean in the former colleges of Home Economics and Human Development.

Leadership in Outreach Scholarship Award

Christopher Bopp
Instructor and director of the Center for Fitness and Wellness, Department of Kinesiology

As an instructor and director of the Center for Fitness and Wellness, Bopp specializes in clinical exercise physiology, fitness testing, and exercise prescription, and is committed to giving kinesiology students opportunities to engage with diverse populations in different settings, providing them with skills that go beyond the classroom.

Bopp has created partnerships with the Department of Kinesiology’s Exercise is Medicine initiative, the Library of Congress, local and regional high schools, and two State College retirement communities. Each of these opportunities allows students to participate in health and wellness screenings and exercise counseling for a diverse population, not only providing them with hands-on experience, but also the chance to practice cultural competency and bedside manners as future health care providers.

This award honors an individual who has made significant leadership contributions to the outreach mission of the college.

Diversity Achievement Award

Sommar Chilton
Instructor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

As an instructor of communication sciences and disorders, Chilton focuses her research on deaf culture to help bridge the gap between the world of hearing and those with hearing loss who communicate through sign language.

Since 2001, she has been an instructor in the Department of Communication Sciences (CSD) and Disorders and has advised the Penn State Sign Language Club, which is largely successful and draws upon those students enrolled in her courses, CSD 269 Deaf Culture and CSD 218 American Sign Language I. Chilton has earned the college’s Teaching Excellence Award from 2012-2016 and the Alumni Society’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 2015. Chilton also has developed and taught the department’s first Penn State World Campus course.

Chilton has contributed to many areas across Penn State in an effort to promote and enhance equal opportunity and diversity, including multiple DiversAbility presentations on deaf culture, sign language and hearing loss; presenting “Working with Deaf People and American Sign Language” to employees at the Applied Research Laboratory; and serving on the department and college’s diversity committees. She also established and currently advises the after-school sign language club at Young Scholars Charter School and in 2013 worked with three kindergarten classes to develop three songs in sign language. 

This award recognizes a person who demonstrates commitment to the value of diversity and has been instrumental in creating or facilitating a climate of inclusiveness in the college.

College of Health and Human Development Alumni Society Excellence in Teaching Award

Marc A. Dingman
Instructor in biobehavioral health and director of the online bachelor of science degree program

Dingman has been a faculty member in the Department of Biobehavioral Health since 2013 and the director of the online bachelor of science degree program since 2016. He has made an impact in his tenure with biobehaviorial health, in part by becoming one of the highest-regarded instructors in the department, continually receiving excellent marks from his students on end-of-semester evaluations.

As director of the online bachelor of science degree program, Dingman has provided leadership through the development and launch of the program. He developed two courses for this program and is in the process of developing one more that will be offered this academic year.

Dingman has received the Teaching Excellence Award multiple times. He also was awarded the Biobehavioral Health Outstanding Teaching Award in 2015 because of the positive influence he had on graduating seniors. 

This award honors a faculty member for excellence in teaching and contributions to the art of teaching. It is supported by an endowment from the HHD Alumni Society.

Evan G. and Helen G. Pattishall Outstanding Research Achievement Award

Lacy M. Alexander
Associate professor, Department of Kinesiology

Cardiovascular disease starts with changes in smaller blood vessels, a process called atherosclerosis. Alexander's research has shed new light on the physiological changes that underlie atherosclerosis and intervention strategies to prevent or minimize the disease process.  

By studying micro-vessels in the skin, Alexander has been able to directly examine the changes in blood vessel function that occur with hypertension, elevated cholesterol, psoriasis and other diseases. She has pioneered techniques, such as intradermal microdialysis, which are now used by researchers around the world to directly study cardiovascular disease in humans, studies that previously had to be done in animal models.  

To date, Alexander has mentored and/or been the primary dissertation adviser for seven doctoral students and two postdoctoral fellows. Under her mentorship, her postdoctoral fellows have extended the scope of her work to include other clinical conditions that predispose people to vascular disease, including preeclampsia and depression. 

She has published more than 80 papers in top-quality journals in her field and is a highly sought-after speaker and symposium chair, often being invited as the keynote.

This award recognizes research contributions occurring or culminating within the past several years. The award was endowed by Evan Pattishall, dean emeritus of the former College of Human Development, and his wife, Helen Pattishall, a 1985 Penn State graduate with a degree in informatics and security. The recipient will present a special lecture in spring 2018.

Pauline Schmitt Russell Distinguished Research Career Award

Linda M. Collins
Distinguished professor, human development and family studies and statistics; director, Methodology Center

Collins is a world-renowned, groundbreaking scientist who has dedicated her career to research in the social, behavioral and health sciences. What sets her apart from other prevention scientists is her particular expertise in designing new methods to assist with understanding the origins of social and behavioral health problems and innovative methods to conduct trials of preventive interventions. Her current work focuses on experimental and nonexperimental design, particularly for building, optimizing and evaluating behavioral interventions.

Recently, she was named distinguished professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and elected as a Fellow of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. 

Collins has sought to lift the level of discourse about prevention as a science and has played a major role in improving the methods of the science. She has been the director of the Methodology Center at Penn State for more than 20 years. Some of her most fascinating recent methodological research includes her work on the Multiphase Optimization Strategy and the Sequential Multiple Assignment Randomized Trial.

This award honors a senior faculty member who has made outstanding research contributions to the field across a major portion of his or her career. The award was endowed by 1941 alumnus Leo P. Russell in honor of his late wife, 1948 alumna Pauline Schmitt Russell. The recipient will present a special lecture in fall 2018.

For more information about the College of Health and Human Development, visit

Last Updated November 16, 2017