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Mario and Alma Pastega Awards

Western Professors, Dr. Maria Dantas-Whitney for teaching and Dr. Henry Hughes for scholarship

By JoEllen DeLeon | Freelancer
On May 3, 2012

This year's Mario and Alma Pastega Awards are presented to Dr. Henry Hughes for Excellence in Scholarship and Dr. Maria Dantas-Whitney for Excellence in Teaching.

The Excellence in Scholarship award recognizes a faculty member who demonstrates creative or scholarly accomplishments, and as a professor of English, Hughes fits the description through his writing.

Meanwhile, the Excellence in Teaching award acknowledges exceptional teaching and work that engages and inspires students, and Dantas-Whitney displays her teaching capabilities, specifically in the English as a Second Language (ESL) and bilingual teacher program as an associate professor of teacher education.

The Awards' endowments come from Mario and Alma Pastega, and although Mario Pastega passed away this past January, the legacy of these two awards still remains.

Both awards require a nomination process where a faculty member, student or administrator nominates for the teaching award; only faculty members may nominate for the scholarship award.

Once the nominees have been selected for the teaching award, they are required to submit materials such as their resumes, teaching evaluations and course materials, while the scholarship nominees submit materials based in the realm of their scholarly achievements.

Finally, a selection committee made up of the two recipients from the prior year, one faculty member from the College of Education, one faculty member from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a representative from the provost office and two students, reviews the work of the various nominees.

Dr. Karie Mize, who served as the faculty member from the College of Education on the selection committee, noted the qualities about both professors that stood out to her the most.

"It became very clear from [Dantas-Whitney's] file that her philosophy about teaching really extends to everything that she does," Mize said. "Her philosophy in the ESL and bilingual teacher program is that people matter; culture matters. She really listens to students, has good conversations with students and then connects students' personal [cultures] with the material that she is teaching. She walks her own talk."

According to the Western website, Dantas-Whitney was a Senior Fulbright Scholar in Mexico, and she is the director for Project Sustainable Practices for English Language Learners (SPELL), which is a federally-sponsored partnership between Western and two Oregon public school districts.

Dantas-Whitney provided her thoughts on being nominated: "My students tell me that they really feel my passion for teaching and my passion for the work that I do. I feel privileged that I have some very good relationships with my students, and I get energy from them too. I think it is kind of a give and take."

As for Hughes's accomplishment, Mize was impressed by the fact that he uses his scholarship in writing and poetry to help his teaching.
Mize said, "Once [faculty members] get nominated, students can write letters of support. A student wrote something about how he really encouraged students. He really kind of demystified the way to become a professional poet. He is preparing them [by] not just exposing them to the field, but also encouraging them how to continue if they find that as one of their passions."

Hughes has composed several writings, including poems, essays and books, two of which earned him recognition for an Oregon Book Award.
Nominated by Curt Yehnert, the division chair of English, writing and linguistics, and by Dr. Hank Bersani, who was a professor of special education, Hughes said, "I am deeply grateful to both of these cherished colleagues. Hank Bersani learned that I received the award, but I never got to thank him in person."

According to Dantas-Whitney, this is an exciting and humbling experience. "I am not really used to getting all this attention, but I am very proud as well to have been recognized both by my students and by my peers and to get this recognition at an institution like Western that I care so much about."

Now that they have these awards, both professors intend to continue their same routines. While Dantas-Whitney intends to "continue to teach with the same passion and continue with all the projects" that she is involved in, such as Project SPELL and another grant project, Hughes plans to keep writing.

In order to recognize both Dantas-Whitney and Hughes, an award ceremony will take place on May 3 at 3:30 p.m. in the Columbia Room of the Werner University Center. Anyone is invited as long as they RSVP to Julie Harding at

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