May 15, 2024

Four Kansas State University professors receive top award for teaching excellence

Posted May 15, 2024 3:20 PM

submitted by K-State Communications and Marketing, written by Rafael Garcia

MANHATTAN — Kansas State University is recognizing four faculty members for outstanding work in their roles as educators through the Commerce Bank and W.T. Kemper Foundation Undergraduate Teaching Awards.

This year's award recipients include Grant Alford, associate professor of architecture; Julia Keen, professor of architectural engineering and construction science and Bob and Betty Tointon Engineering Chair; Ryan Rafferty, associate professor of chemistry; and Brandon Savage, advanced instructor of management.

The four educators will receive a $5,000 honorarium from Commerce Bank and the W. T. Kemper Foundation, which sponsor the awards.

"Commerce Bank and the W.T. Kemper Foundation would like to congratulate this year's recipients," said Shawn Drew, market president and CEO of Commerce Bank. "This was another special year as it was the first year the value of each award was increased, and we were once again able to surprise the awardees in their classrooms with students and faculty cheering. Excellence in teaching should be celebrated and we are honored to be a part of this partnership with Kansas State University for over 30 years."

Grant Alford, associate professor of architecture
Grant Alford, associate professor of architecture

Alford has worked at K-State since 2018, when he was hired as an assistant professor. He began his career as a National Council of Architectural Registration Boards-certified architect, working for award-winning firms in New York, New Jersey and Texas before moving into higher education. Alford previously taught at Rice University and Texas Tech University. He received a bachelor's degree from Texas Tech University and a Master of Architecture degree from Princeton University.

Alford's research focuses on the cultural contexts of digital technology and architecture, especially new media and two-dimensional representation. He's currently completing a manuscript on craft theory and contemporary architecture. Geometry, drawing, diagramming, and visions of suburbia are also frequent topics of his teaching and writing.

"In my courses, I try to model a critical curiosity about the built environment and the tools we use to create architectural ideas," Alford said. "I'm honored to be recognized for this effort and thank the students who embrace that curiosity and make teaching here a pleasure."

Julia Keen, professor of architectural engineering and construction science and Bob and Betty Tointon Engineering Chair
Julia Keen, professor of architectural engineering and construction science and Bob and Betty Tointon Engineering Chair

Keen is an accomplished mechanical/electrical project engineer, having been involved in design and construction of buildings such as hospitals, health clinics, assisted living facilities, schools, offices and more. She joined the K-State architectural engineering and construction science faculty in 2003, and she earned her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from K-State as well.

Her research and teaching work have involved both undergraduate and graduate students, with areas of interest including HVAC design and education, energy codes, high-performance design and the advancement of women in the building design and construction industry.

"Having the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with the next generation of building professionals is extremely rewarding," Keen said. "Being able to do this at my alma mater makes it even more meaningful. Awards such as this reinforce K-State's commitment to excellence in education especially at the undergraduate level."

Ryan Rafferty, associate professor of chemistry
Ryan Rafferty, associate professor of chemistry

Rafferty has been at K-State since 2014, when he was hired as an assistant professor of chemistry, later earning a promotion to associate professor. Prior to arriving at K-State, Rafferty was a visiting and postdoctoral lecturer at the University of Illinois at Urbana. He earned two bachelor's degrees and a master's from the University of Northern Colorado, as well as a doctoral degree from Colorado state University.

Through his lecture and laboratory courses, Rafferty breaks down the stigmas that surround organic chemistry and its related fields as difficult or "degree busting" courses. Beyond the classroom, Rafferty has mentored 36 undergraduate students in his research lab as well as 10 undergraduates through the department's NSF-REU program from other universities.

"I’m so honored being recognized for my teaching by this prestigious award," Rafferty said. "With all that said, this award, and most importantly each of my course’s success is due to one major common thread — the amazing students here at K-State. I love to teach and share my passion for science, I truly considered it a blessing in my life."

Brandon Savage, instructor of management
Brandon Savage, instructor of management

Savage began his teaching career in 2016 as an adjunct instructor at K-State after a career as an operations and customer experience executive in the electronic security industry. He transitioned to a full-time instructor two years later. Savage holds a bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University and an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Currently, Savage teaches classes in operations, supply chain management, project management, and logistics/warehouse management. He has also taught classes in business strategy, business ethics and business presentation skills. He said he continually looks for feedback from student and professional development opportunities to improve his teaching practices.

"I love bringing my experience in the business world into the classroom. I've used many of the techniques we applied in the customer experience realm to improve the student experience," Savage said. "I'm grateful to receive this award and hope I can continue to make a difference in the lives of students here at Kansas State University."

Each educator was surprised with the award by K-State President Richard Linton during one of their course sessions in late April, and they were further honored at the All-University Awards Ceremony in early May.

"These educators exemplify the world-class academic experience at K-State, inspiring the next generation of changemakers for Kansas and the world," Linton said.