UMass faculty receive Manning Prize for teaching excellence

BOSTON — Five University of Massachusetts faculty have been awarded the 2019 Manning Prize for Excellence in Teaching for their exemplary dedication to students and the university. The faculty members — one from each UMass campus — will receive $10,000 awards in recognition of their commitment to academic excellence.

UMass Lowell alumni Rob and Donna Manning established the Manning Prize in 2016 to honor UMass professors who excel in teaching and service.

“These incredible faculty members work tirelessly to ensure that UMass students receive a world-class education,” said Rob Manning, a 1984 graduate of UMass Lowell. “Donna and I know from our own experience the power that faculty have to transform their students’ lives, and we’re proud to be able to honor that aspect of their work with this prize.”

“This group of faculty epitomizes the teaching excellence and student-centered approach that inspired and encouraged us as UMass students,” said Donna Manning, who earned her nursing degree and master of business administration from UMass Lowell. “They are recognized for their incredible research and scholarship, but it’s their ability to bring that knowledge into the classroom that makes a difference to students.”

Rob Manning, who is executive chairman of MFS Investment Management and chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees, credits a math professor at UMass Lowell with helping him land the job that launched his career. Donna Manning was an oncology nurse at Boston Medical Center for nearly 30 years. They are among the largest contributors to UMass in its history.

“Rob and Donna understand that faculty are the backbone of our extraordinary university and the reason that our students graduate equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “We are deeply grateful to them for their unmatched generosity to UMass and for giving back to faculty members.”

All full-time, tenured and non-tenured faculty members are eligible to receive the Manning Prize. Each campus is responsible for determining its own nomination and selection process, but that process must include student and peer input to ensure that the selected faculty members meet the criteria of being superb teachers and exemplary members of the campus community.

This year's Manning Prize winners, who were honored at a luncheon at the UMass Club on Tuesday, are as follows:

  • Wilmore Webley is an associate professor in the department of microbiology and the director of pre-med/pre-health advising at UMass Amherst, which serves more than 3,000 students each year. Under Professor Webley’s leadership, student admissions to medical and dental programs have skyrocketed, exceeding the national average. Professor Webley has also advanced the success of students who are underrepresented in the health sciences through his active participation and leadership in the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program, the STEM Ambassadors Program and the William Lee Science Impact Program. In his career at the university, he has taught more than 5,200 students, both graduate and undergraduate, and his students have consistently given high ratings to his teaching. The excellence of his instruction has been recognized on campus, and he has been awarded the University Distinguished Teaching Award, the Black Student Union Outstanding Faculty Award and the Residential First-Year Student Choice Award. He is also a Commonwealth Honors College Faculty Lecture Series award-winner and presenter.
  • Professor Tahirah Abdullah joined the psychology department at UMass Boston in 2013 after earning a master’s and PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Kentucky. She is deeply committed to empowering students from marginalized racial backgrounds, inspiring them to be engaged scholars and making a difference in their lives. Outside the classroom, she mentors numerous doctoral, master’s and undergraduate honors students and seeks out those who have not had the privilege of extensive research training. Dr. Abdullah’s research addresses the promotion of mental health in the context of racism, the mental health treatment experiences of Black Americans, and mental health treatment stigma. Her scholarship is praised for the crucial gap it fills in the psychological literature and for its relevance to the mental health and well-being of Black Americans. This expertise adds greatly to the strength of her department’s Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program, especially with regard to the program’s social justice mission and scientist-practitioner-activist training model.
  • Shannon Jenkins is a professor of political science at UMass Dartmouth. She served as chair of the political science department from 2012 to 2018 and is currently the academic director of online learning. Her primary research focuses on decision-making in state legislatures, with a specific focus on the role of political organizations and gender in shaping outputs in these institutions. Professor Jenkins has also researched the effect of engaged learning pedagogies on college students’ political interest and engagement. Professor Jenkins is the author/co-author of three books and has received two Fulbright Awards, one in China in 2012 and one in Japan in 2019. Professor Jenkins’ unique pedagogy is born out of an attempt to combat the disengagement of students with the political process. While rooted in the field of political science, Professor Jenkins understands her work as inseparable from the larger mission of higher education. To promote these values to students, Dr. Jenkins’ teaching blends civic engagement and political engagement in innovative ways. The success of this approach is confirmed by an active assessment program, extensive record of publication and the host of transformative relationships that have been established between community, students and faculty as a result of these efforts. Professor Jenkins received her PhD in political science from Loyola University Chicago in 2003. 
  • James Nehring joined the faculty of the UMass Lowell Graduate School of Education in 2006. His teaching, research, and advocacy endeavor to bring thoughtful educational practice into the public mainstream.  Professor Nehring’s first book, “Why Do We Gotta Do This Stuff, Mr. Nehring? Notes from a Teacher’s Day in School” was published in 1989 to critical acclaim. He has authored six books, numerous research studies and many commentaries. As an advocate for public education, Professor Nehring has led the start-up of three progressive public secondary schools and worked for better policies at the state and federal levels through protests, presentations, and public testimony. He is an associate professor of education at UMass Lowell and is the recipient of a Fulbright Award for research in Northern Ireland and a Brown University Alumni Award for “contributions to teachers and teacher education.” Professor Nehring began his teaching career in 1982 in a high poverty, rural middle school. After several years, he moved to a suburban district where he founded the Bethlehem Lab School, an alternative high school committed to thoughtful learning focused on inquiry, reflection and authentic demonstration of mastery. In 1996, Professor Nehring assumed the principalship of the Francis Parker Charter Essential School and later served as founding trustee for the North Central Charter Essential School.
  • Janet Hale is professor and associate dean of interprofessional and community partnerships at UMass Medical School’s Graduate School of Nursing. Dr. Hale received her B.S. in nursing from Russell Sage College, her master’s in management and supervision from Central Michigan University and her master’s of science in community nursing from the University of Alaska, prior to completing her PhD from the University of Maryland in 1987. Dr. Hale served in the United States Army Nursing Corps from 1975-2004 and had a highly decorated military career, being awarded the 2005 Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal for exceptionally meritorious service during Operation Desert Storm, an Army Achievement Medal, and five Army Commendation Medals for meritorious service. Dr. Hale has been in academic nursing education for most of her career, serving for many years on the faculties of the University of Alaska and George Mason University, prior to coming to the UMMS Graduate School of Nursing in 2001. Since that time, she has been a highly recognized, talented, and creative teacher of graduate nursing students, medical students, and interprofessional teams of students. Dr. Hale has pioneered a number of interprofessional curriculum innovations, most prominently the UMMS Community Health Clerkship, a two-week immersion experience that pairs small teams of second year MD students with nurse practitioner students in a variety of community-based experiences.