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Davis College announces 2020-21 outstanding faculty awards

The Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design at West Virginia University recently named recipients for its 2020-2021 outstanding faculty awards. 

“This academic year brought unexpected challenges inside and outside the classroom; however, our faculty persevered and continued to provide high-quality education, conduct groundbreaking research and serve our community and state,” said Dean Darrell Donahue. “And from that impressive group, four stood out as outstanding in their achievements in an unpredictable time in history.” 

Design Innovations Award: Shan Jiang 

Shan Jiang works at her desk

A new category, the Design Innovations Award recognizes outstanding effort in design production and innovation. This year, the award was presented to Shan Jiang, associate professor of landscape architecture. 

It was her outstanding work in therapeutic landscapes and other landscapes typologies for health that earned Jiang the award.  

She’s currently compiling that work into a new book, “Nature Through a Hospital Window: The Therapeutic Benefits of Landscape in Architectural Design.” 

She serves as a co-chair for landscape architecture for health on the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture and works with local communities to design outdoor spaces. 

She collaborated with the Big Otter Clinic in Clay County to re-do their campus grounds and design a walking trail and therapeutic gardens for patients and local community. Jiang used evidence-based design, which focuses on user feedback before starting the design process.  

“This method is something I’m advocating in healthcare-related projects. Healthcare design is just very special because we’re designing for a special group of users, either patients or staff in a hospital. I think my motivation is to design something truly liked by the user and will be actually used.” 

Outstanding Teaching Award: Charlene Kelly 

Charlene Kelly

This year’s Outstanding Teaching Award recipient is Charlene Kelly, teaching assistant professor of forest resources management.  

Kelly taught courses in both the Division of Forestry and Natural Resources and the Division of Plant and Soil Sciences. Her featured course is a 90-student class, Principles of Soil Science with a lab included. In 2020, she switched to online classes and immediately started uploading lecture videos and created virtual office hours.  

“Working with my wonderful teaching assistants, both undergraduate and graduate, we were able to create lab demonstration videos. We went into the labs by ourselves and walked through the exact step-by-step lab procedures that the students would have done. We created some really great visuals and asked them to collect the data alongside us,” Kelly said. 

Although her primary assignment is teaching, Kelly also conducts research and is involved in service activities.  

One of her current research projects, funded by the U.S. Forest Service, focuses on the decline of black cherry tree species in the Allegheny National Forest.  

She also works with the Women in Natural Resources organization and is committee chair for Diversity of Equity and Inclusion in the Division of Forestry and Natural Resources. She advised 23 undergraduate students and served on four M.S. committees and two Ph.D. committees. 

Outstanding Research Award: Jingxin Wang 

Jingxin Wang

This year’s Outstanding Research Award recipient is Jingxin Wang, professor of wood science and technology.  

He is the principal investigator of a $10 million grant funded by United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.  

“We’re going back to abandoned or disturbed mines and seeing how we can reclaim the land. We’re including regional partners to form a consortium, which include education, research, and extension. I’m dealing with quite a few collaborators, so there is a lot of management stuff I have to do, too,” Wang said.  

He was also the principal investigator of other three ongoing projects funded by USDA, USDOE and the United States Endowment for Forestry and Communities. 

His research has been well received regionally, nationally and internationally. He also authored or coauthored 11 refereed publications (10 refereed journal papers and one book chapter) while maintaining service and teaching assignments.  

“Why I do these things year after year is I love my job and research. Why I’m moving forward, too, is to make the program stronger and stronger,” he said. 

Outstanding Service Award: Gloria Oporto 

Gloria Oporto poses with the 2019 Forest Product Society Student Chapter.

This year’s Outstanding Service Award recipient is Gloria Oporto, associate professor of wood science and technology.  

Collaboration with industry representatives and incorporating them into the classroom has been a priority for Oporto to improve communication and contact with students’ future employers. For her, reviewing manuscripts and participating in conferences are also important to contribute to science and showcase what the wood science and technology program is doing.

“Working with the students is great. That is something I’ve missed a lot from 2020. Having the possibility to interact with them and know them better – not only in your classroom, but outside the classroom doing hands-on projects – I really enjoy that a lot,” she said.  

She served as the faculty advisor for the Forest Products Society Student Chapter and as the faculty advisor for wood science technology students involved in the Solar Decathlon Student Competition.  

As part of an initiative through the Provost’s Office, Oporto worked as a Rania House Design Task Force member, a collaboration to design a sustainable house on the Evansdale Campus that increases occupant connectivity to the natural environment. 

Her service doesn't stop there. She continued her service as the past-chair for the education and accreditation committee of the Society of Wood Science and Technology. She was also elected for the Forest Products Society to serve on the organizing committee for International Conferences Planning for 2022 and 2023. 

In addition to her service commitments, Oporto also maintained research and reaching assignments as well. She teaches wood anatomy, wood mechanics, wood-based composites, forest resources in US history and careers in natural resources. Her research focuses on creating biomaterials from wood, agriculture and forestry wastes as well as nanomaterials and their application in advanced and high-value composites.