Since 1919

The Prairie News

Since 1919

The Prairie News

Since 1919

The Prairie News

Top WT Faculty, Staff Members Honored at Ceremony Marking Beginning of School Year

West Texas A&M University Registrar Diane Brice, left, was named the winner of the Clarence E. Thompson Staff Excellence Award and Dr. David Craig, associate professor of physics, was named 2023-24 Magister Optimus during Aug. 14 convocation exercises in Legacy Hall in the Jack B. Kelley Student Center on the WT campus.

CANYON, Texas — A professor with a magic touch for explaining complicated scientific theories and a staff member whose work provides vital support for the entire University were honored Aug. 14 as the academic year began at West Texas A&M University.

During Aug. 14 convocation ceremonies on the WT campus in Canyon, Dr. David Craig, associate professor of physics, was named 2023-24 Magister Optimus, the highest honor for a WT faculty member, and Diane Brice, the University registrar, was given the Clarence E. Thompson Staff Excellence Award, the University’s highest staff honor.

“Convocation is the event across higher education that marks the official beginning of another academic year,” said Dr. Todd Rasberry, vice president for philanthropy and external relations. “Today, we will recognize exemplary teaching and service, be inspired as we envision the future, and prepare for fulfilling the educational mission of West Texas A&M University.”

Classes begin Aug. 21. Move-In Day is Aug. 17, and Buff Branding, the traditional welcome weekend for new and returning students, is Aug. 17 to 19.

President Walter V. Wendler addressed the gathered faculty and staff, emphasizing the pivotal ways in which WT serves rural regions.

“Rural folks produce the food, fuel and fiber that powers our state and nation,” Wendler said in prepared remarks. “Values such as hard work, personal responsibility, regard for others, and family prosperity sustain industries that sustain metropolitan America. We not only serve the Texas Panhandle, but we are here and similar to other rural counties across the nation and the world.”

Craig and Brice are prime examples of WT’s commitment to its students and mission, speakers said, as are the winners of two staff excellence awards: Richard Smith, assistant vice president for risk management and director of Academic and Research Environmental Health and Safety, and Candice Copeland, assistant director of advising services.

Craig joined WT in 2004 and serves in the Department of Chemistry and Physics in the Paul Engler College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences .

The Magister Optimus winner is voted on by the Faculty Senate and must have taught at WT for at least six consecutive years. To be considered for the award, faculty must display expertise in their subject area; innovation, flexibility and use of evidence-based teaching methods; and an ability to instill a hunger to learn in their students, among other attributes.

“We had more nominations — highly qualified nominations, to be sure — than in any year in recent memory,” said Dr. Jason Yarbrough, WT’s Ross W. Wilson Chair of Chemistry.

Craig is “very passionate about science literacy and sharing science with everyone, especially those outside the scientific disciplines,” Yarbrough said, “and is known for bridging points of contact between disciplines as a common guest lecturer and participant in non-science courses.”

For example, Yarbrough said, Craig recently developed a new course on the physics of waves and acoustics that has attracted several music students and others in the arts and humanities.

“It is not uncommon to see (Craig) out on the quad after hours with a small army of students, looking through telescopes of one type or another, learning hands-on about some celestial object of interest,” Yarbrough said.

Craig also has mentored students through participation in the Arecibo Legacy Fast ALFA Project, affording WT students a chance to gain hands-on experience in radio astronomy at the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico and Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia.

“This has proven to be an amazing opportunity for our students to see their science in action and to be able to network with new peers and colleagues in a community of practice,” Yarbrough said.

Craig said the honor was indescribable.

“I know some of the people who’ve won the award, and they’re fantastic teachers,” Craig said. “I’ve worked with them some interdisciplinary lectures or parts of courses. And it’s a great honor, and it’s also very humbling. You know, I feel like I still have a little work to do.”

The Thompson Award is named for a former mayor of Canyon who worked at WT for decades, ultimately serving as vice president for business and finance.

Brice was hired as WT registrar in February 2020, following a lengthy tenure at Amarillo College. She is known for her collaborative nature and willingness to adopt fresh ideas, particularly those that benefit students.

“She is always available to everyone who needs her at WT,” wrote Renee Ingersoll, assistant registrar. “She works diligently to improve processes that better serve the students, staff, faculty and departments. The hours she has spent outside a 40-hour work week to get things updated, online and easier for everyone is unmeasurable.”

Brice was emotional upon winning the award.

“Oh my goodness, I have a wonderful staff, and I appreciate them so much,” Brice said. “And I appreciate the hard work of the Provost’s office in helping me and our office, as well as making sure our students have a very rich experience at WT.”


Photo: Candice Copelin, from left, Diane Brice, Dr. David Craig and Richard Smith were top award winners at West Texas A&M University’s convocation exercises Aug. 14.



Smith was cited by Staff Council President Steven Knadle, assistant registrar, for his “incredible professionalism and dedication.”

“During COVID, he stepped up and helped lead an impossible situation with perseverance, resilience, and understanding—all while navigating the unknown with everyone else,” Knadle said. “Many urgent items come across his desk at the last minute, but he still makes them a priority to avoid any disruptions to students, faculty, staff and the community.”

Copelin was lauded for being an advocate for both students and her employees.

“She consistently serves as someone who perseveres through the tough times with us while maintaining a positive attitude and encouraging the team with her upbeat attitude,” Knadle said. “Her ability to problem solve and create quick-fix solutions to alleviate stress in the workplace is unmatched.”

A commitment to excellence among faculty and staff is a key component of the University’s long-range plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World .

That plan is fueled by the historic, $125 million One West comprehensive fundraising campaign. To date, the five-year campaign — which publicly launched Sept. 23 — has raised about $110 million.

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