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Creighton Staffers Honored for Commitment

Several all-University awards will be presented to Creighton faculty and staff during the annual Convocation, Feb. 4 during Founders Week. Honorees include faculty researchers, distinguished staff, faculty and administrators, and individuals who exemplify the Ignatian spirit of the Jesuit university.

Pursuing big ideas and discovering knowledge through research are fundamental to the college experience. At Creighton, students have the opportunity to work on research side by side with renowned faculty, developing critical thinking skills and knowledge that offers direct and positive impact on their success in and out of the classroom. Two all-University Research Awards are being given to faculty who support these activities.

Henry Lynch, M.D., director of Creighton University’s Hereditary Cancer Center and holder of the Charles F. and Mary C. Heider Endowed Chair in Cancer Research is considered a pioneer in the field of hereditary cancer research and prevention. As an internal medicine resident in the 1960s, Lynch met patients who had many family members who were affected by or had died from the same type of cancer; he hypothesized the cancer could be triggered by hereditary factors. That launched a lifelong pursuit to uncover genetic links to certain types of cancer that were thought at the time to be triggered, almost solely by environmental causes. 

In the 1970s, Lynch was the first to describe a hereditary breast/ovarian cancer syndrome, findings that led to the identification of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 germline mutations that predispose women to this syndrome. Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, the most common form of hereditary colorectal cancer, is named after him as the Lynch syndrome.

He has received numerous awards, including the prestigious Joseph H. Burchenal Memorial Award for Clinical Research from the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR), the National Consortium of Breast Centers IMPACT award, and the American Cancer Society’s Medal. Over the past 40 years, he has co-authored more than 800 publications on the diagnosis, prevention, counseling and treatment of hereditary disorders, primarily cancer.

Also receiving the all-University Research Award is Gregory W. Zacharias, Ph. D., professor of English, Creighton’s College of Arts and Sciences. As director of the Center for Henry James Studies, he has brought international attention to the University as the headquarters for the widely acclaimed series, The Complete Letters of Henry James.

Zacharias is considered by his peers as a leading scholar of American literature and since his arrival in 1991 he has published nine books and 34 articles on James or American literature. He serves on the editorial or advisory board of numerous scholarly journals and received a Fulbright faculty scholarship in 2008. He is a true pioneer in the promotion of undergraduate research and his work in documentary editing allows students a rare opportunity in scholarly training.

He has also won numerous teaching awards, including the College’s Robert F. Kennedy Award, chaired the English department, serves as director of the American Studies program and English master’s program and in a variety of other leadership positions.

The Distinguished Administrator Service Award is being given to Michael G. Kavan, Ph. D., associate dean for Student Affairs for the School of Medicine and professor of family medicine and professor of psychiatry at the School. He joined Creighton’s faculty in 1988. He is a nationally recognized leader in medical student affairs and services and not only served as the National Chair, but has been recognized by the Association of American Medical Colleges with the AAMC Group on Student Affairs Exemplary Service Award. He has also received the Award for Outstanding Teacher in the Department of Family Practice. 

An investigator, author, and contributing editor, he played a vital role in the establishment of the Creighton School of Medicine-Regional Campus at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. In his current role, he is the academic administrator responsible for medical student services, career and academic advising, medical school admissions, financial aid, and other student-related programs and functions.

Receiving the Distinguished Faculty Service Award is Brent Spencer, Ph. D., professor of English in Creighton’s College of Arts and Sciences. A prolific and nationally-renowned novelist, screenwriter and memoirist, he is the founder and director of both the undergraduate and master’s in fine arts programs in creative writing and founder of the Nebraska Center for Writers, an online resource center. He began teaching at Creighton in 1992, becoming a full professor in 2005.

Spencer’s impressive list of books, screenplays, stories, creative non-fiction, poems, articles and anthology publications has brought him numerous awards and national recognition. Students in Creighton’s creative writing programs benefit from his talent, experience and his genuine love of teaching as he helps them fulfill their potential as writers.

Tessa Young, senior media producer, Marketing and Communications, was honored with the Distinguished Staff Service Award. Known for her positive attitude, creative and innovative approach to each video project, Young is recognized as a gifted story teller who is exceptionally talented in this medium. Committed to seeing projects through, she often works nights and weekends to complete tasks assigned to her. 

She was the first and one of the few women in Nebraska to become Apple-certified in Final Cut. Joining the Creighton staff in 2000, she previously worked at a local television station.

Two faculty members received the Distinguished Educator in Teaching as Scholarship Awards.

Gintaras Duda, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Physics, College of Arts and Sciences, has helped Creighton students thrive through quality teaching and mentorship since arriving at Creighton 11 years ago.

His classes utilize a combination of active learning techniques and technology to maximize outcomes. He has used clicker technology to instantly assess students’ understanding in class, and incorporates project/problem-based learning methods, posing problems that mimic real-world situations.

In 2013, Dr. Duda received the most prestigious recognition awarded in higher education, the National Professor of the Year Award, from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The award recognizes educators who display extraordinary talent in the classroom and positively influence the professional lives of students.

He also received the Dean’s Award for Professional Excellence in Tenure-track Teaching and was co-director of the International Institute for Scholarship Teaching and Learning Scholars and Mentors for 2010 and 2011. He holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Villanova University and a doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Since joining the faculty in 1994, Naser Alsharif, Pharm. D., Ph. D., has been a highly productive member of the Department of Pharmacy Sciences in the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions and has played a critical role in the development of courses central to the education of healthcare students, including medicinal chemistry, clinical toxicology, clinical nutrition and cultural proficiency for healthcare professionals.

His success in the areas of instructional methodology, pedagogy, use of technology and student assessment has been shared with colleagues locally, nationally and internationally, leading to multiple awards for innovation in teaching from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. He served as the associate director of the Pharmacy Distance Pathway for five years and is the past chair of the pharmacy curriculum committee.

Alsharif has collaborated on projects that have led to publication in leading journals, including a 2001 landmark paper in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education that focused on the links between medicinal chemistry and therapeutic decisions. The “Structurally-Based Therapeutic Evaluation (SBTE) Concept” brought clinical relevance to teaching medicinal chemistry. His innovation in curriculum design and integration are internationally recognized, and he has served as a visiting professor and consultant at pharmacy schools in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Oman.

A Creighton alumnus who received a doctorate of pharmacology and toxicology in 1992, he also holds a doctor of pharmacy and master’s of science degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Eileen Wirth, Ph. D., chair of the Department of Journalism, Media, and Computing in the College of Arts and Sciences and Michael LaCroix, director of the Reinert Alumni Library will receive the 2014 St. Ignatius Award. This award is given by the University's Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality and recognizes faculty and staff who live the spirit of St. Ignatius through their participation in the mission of Creighton University and their involvement beyond University life.

Wirth, who joined Creighton in 1991, is known as a passionate, caring educator who understands students come first and puts that spirit into action. As one nominator said, "What is probably the key to her success is her unique ability to encourage others to give their best, empowering them to make a difference. And she always goes above and beyond the call of duty, because the activities she is involved in reflect on Creighton and the people who live, work and teach here." 

Wirth is a Nebraska native, author and former reporter and public relations professional. Her books include They Made All the Difference, the story of the nation’s Jesuit high schools published by Loyola Press. She does volunteer work and writes reflections for Creighton’s online ministry site. She’s the proud parent of a Creighton graduate and serves on numerous Creighton committees.

LaCroix combines passionate stewardship for the library and care and guidance for the resources found there. The library director since 1995, he fosters a welcoming atmosphere and dedication to learning to all who pass through the facility’s doors. He understands that libraries must change with technological and digital needs of students and he is committed to meeting those needs. He leads by example, as one colleague put it, “he forms his staff according to his own spirit and sense of mission.” 

He and his wife have opened their home to visiting international students and he has served on the University’s Committee on Benefits and chaired the Committee on the Faculty Handbook and University Statutes. His experience in library management is extensive, having worked at several colleges prior to joining Creighton’s staff. He is also an active member of the American Library Association and he has contributed numerous publications and talks in his field.

Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.