Four of UWA’s most outstanding faculty and staff were recognized by peer-voted awards for their service and excellence. Pictured left to right are UWA Provost Dr. Tina N. Jones; Rhonda Faulkner-Wooley, McIlwain Bell Trustee Professor Award recipient; Chris Theriot, McIlwain Bell Professional Staff Excellence Award recipient; Shelly Fast, McIlwain Bell Support Staff Excellence Award recipient; Dr. Valerie Burnes, Nellie Rose McCrory Service Excellence Award recipient; and UWA President Dr. Ken Tucker.

McIlwain Bell Awards and McCrory Service Award presented in recognition of excellence

Story & Photo: Betsy Compton

The University of West Alabama presented four prestigious awards to members of its faculty and staff during the Dec. 11 Board of Trustees quarterly meeting at Bell Conference Center. The Loraine McIlwain Bell Trustee Awards and the Nellie Rose McCrory Service Excellence Award were presented to distinguished employees.

Candidates for the awards are nominated by the University community, and the winner in each category is selected by a committee of peers.

The McIlwain Bell Trustee Awards are presented annually in three categories: support staff, professional staff, and faculty.  Each comes with a plaque and a check for $1,000.

Loraine McIlwain Bell Support Staff Excellence Award

Shelly Fast, housing services coordinator, received the 2024 Support Staff Excellence Award. Fast is a member of the UWA Housing staff in the Office of Student Affairs and serves UWA’s resident students to help ensure that campus feels like home to them.

UWA Provost Tina Jones explained that Fast’s letter of nomination highlighted her compassion for students’ success, safety, and sense of belonging.

“She is the heart of the UWA Housing Office, where she goes far beyond the call of duty when it comes to making sure our students, our staff, and their families feel ‘there’s something about this place,’” her colleague’s nomination letter reads. “To Shelly, this is more than a tagline—she makes it her mission, day in and day out, to help each person she meets feel like UWA, and specifically on-campus housing, and Livingston, is their home away from home, making each feel welcomed and loved.”

Loraine McIlwain Bell Professional Staff Excellence Award

Chris Theriot received the 2024 McIlwain Bell Professional Staff Excellence Award. He serves as director of grants and resource development liaison for the Office of Sponsored Programs, Research, and Outreach within Institutional Advancement. He formerly served as director of development and was recording secretary for the UWA Foundation.

Jones noted some of Theriot’s accomplishments at UWA since joining the staff in 2017, including work toward securing gifts for scholarships and programs across the University, including a $1.7 million philanthropic grant for the College of Education, along with assisting with creating the curriculum for a minor in nonprofit leadership and philanthropy for UWA Online.

“Chris is a genuinely dependable colleague and always greets me with a smile,” his nomination letter reads. “He is results-oriented and is a consummate professional. He always listens to ‘pie in the sky’ ideas, no matter how fantastical they may be, and tells me, ‘I think we may be able to do that. Let me think.’”

Loraine McIlwain Bell Trustee Professor Award

Rhonda Faulkner-Wooley, assistant professor of theatre, received the 2024 McIlwain Bell Trustee Professor Award. Faulkner-Wooley is a member of the College of Liberal Arts faculty in the Department of Communications and Creative Arts.

“Rhonda is passionate, well-liked, and respected as a practicing theatre expert,” her nominating colleague wrote. “Her creative and scholarly activities involve directing, script writing, editing, collaborating, and adapting works for the state, directly supporting her work.” The nomination also highlighted Faulkner-Wooley’s contributions and service to the Alabama Conference of Theatre and the Southeastern Theatre Conference, as well as a recent effort to secure scholarship funding for her students.

“She secured scholarships to mirror choir and band recruiting and retention incentives, and these scholarships will make UWA more competitive in attracting theatre minors and creative arts enterprise students. Rhonda is a visionary and deserves recognition for her contributions to students and the University.”

Nellie Rose McCrory Service Excellence Award

Dr. Valerie Burnes, professor of history in the College of Liberal Arts, received the 2024 Nellie Rose McCrory Service Excellence Award. The McCrory Service Award recognizes commitment to the University community through scholarship and service.

Jones noted that Burnes’s nomination highlighted the professor’s service to not just the University community, but also to her profession and to the state of Alabama.

“Dr. Burnes is the type of colleague that warrants special recognition due to her unflagging dedication to the Department of English and History at UWA and the community as a whole,” her colleague wrote. “She maintains acute knowledge of the ever-changing disciplines under her charge, often spending long hours in her office so she can be available to students seeking assistance with study methods, writing, and academic advising.”

“Dr. Burnes was head of the Sumter County Historical Society and was treasurer of the Alabama Historical Association, also having served as vice president and president in the past. She serves as secretary of the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame,” Jones read from the nomination letter, noting that Burnes also played an instrumental role in relocating the Hall to UWA after the closure of Judson College.

About the Awards

The Loraine McIlwain Bell Trustee Awards were established in 1996 through an endowment by the late Mrs. Bell’s daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. L.G. Cunningham

The Nellie Rose McCrory Service Excellence Award is endowed by the late Miss McCrory, who earned the B.S. in English and M.Ed. in Secondary Education from UWA and the doctorate from the University of Alabama.