K-State Faculty Recognized for Exceptional Teaching, Leadership with Presidential Awards

MANHATTAN — Kansas State University is honoring three faculty members for their excellence in teaching or leadership with the 2023 Presidential Awards.University leadership surprised the recipients in their classrooms to notify them of the awards. Lonnie Hobbs Jr., doctoral student and graduate teaching assistant in agricultural economics in the College of Agriculture, is receiving the Presidential Graduate Teaching Assistant Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. Nathan Howe, professor and head of the interior architecture and industrial design department in the College of Architecture, Planning & Design, is receiving the Presidential Award for Outstanding Department Head. Colby Moorberg, associate professor of agronomy in the College of Agriculture, is receiving the Presidential Faculty Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

The annual awards recognize the outstanding accomplishments of each awardee in teaching or leadership. Each recipient will receive a $5,000 honorarium sponsored by the university president’s office and Curtin Property Company, a real estate development firm with offices in Manhattan and Kansas City.“Over three decades ago, during discussions with the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the president’s office, we came to recognize the lack of a universitywide comprehensive recognition program to honor the faculty, graduate teaching assistants and department heads who form the heartbeat of inspired educations at Kansas State University,” said Chris Curtin, president and CEO of Curtin Property Company, a sponsor of the awards. “Our thought was by recognizing those men and women who distinguish themselves, we would honor all who create a special educational experience at K-State.”Hobbs demonstrates exceptional character, leadership and service toward undergraduate students as a graduate teaching assistant. The philosophy that he brings to the classroom every day is to make education and learning attainable for everyone. This has helped him to make a positive impact on his students during his five years at K-State, beginning as a teaching assistant and more recently as a teacher of diversity and disciplinary courses in the College of Agriculture.“I firmly believe that all students can succeed if the material is presented in a clear and relatable way,” Hobbs said. “I am thrilled to see that my teaching approach has helped my students to succeed not only in learning but also in applying the lessons taught in my class.”Committed to overcoming today’s diversity issues, Hobbs provides his students with exemplary knowledge on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in his diversity courses. His involvement with the College of Agriculture’s Diversity Programs Office as the undergraduate supervisor has also made a significant impact on the college in recruiting and retaining multicultural students, conducting research that analyzes and evaluates recruitment and retention efforts, leading diversity awareness programs, advising 36 minority students, developing program budgets and mentoring undergraduate students.Hobbs is also the co-advisor of the K-State Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, or MANRRS, a student group that supports ethnic minority students enrolled in agriculture, forestry, related sciences and other interdisciplinary subjects. Through MANRRS, Hobbs has worked with many underrepresented minority students and organized numerous student development and networking events. Hobbs’ leadership has inspired students to strive for excellence.“I am deeply honored to have received this award,” Hobbs said. “Winning this award is not only a recognition of my hard work but also a validation of my approach to teaching.”As a professor of architecture, Howe was originally asked to take on the role of head of the Department of Interior Architecture and Industrial Design for a three-year trial period. It has been five years since then, and he has led the department to achieve numerous accomplishments in the K-State community and beyond.These accomplishments include increasing student enrollment in the college by 150%; almost doubling faculty diversity to 43% underrepresented groups; creating a five-year industrial design graduate degree program; adding a post-baccalaureate industrial design graduate degree program; transforming the interior architecture degree curriculum; significantly increasing student participation in national and international competitions; and signing agreements with two separate national manufacturing companies resulting in two products generating royalties for the department and the faculty and staff involved.“I am privileged to collaborate with outstanding faculty, students and staff in our department and college, and together we have achieved tremendous success in our efforts to enhance our educational programs,” Howe said.Howe’s leadership and management have also led him to become an influential force as a college administrator. From spearheading a social media campaign aimed at student recruitment to aligning curricular requirements to representing the college as a member of the Next Gen Strategic Planning Advisory Committee, Howe is a calming yet poised figure dedicated to enhancing the offerings of the department and college.“It is with great honor and humility that I accept this award, particularly considering the exceptional department heads we have here at K-State,” Howe said. “This award is a testament to their hard work and dedication as much as it is to mine. Without their unwavering commitment to excellence, our accomplishments would not have been possible, regardless of my leadership abilities.”Moorberg’s passion is all things soil: teaching courses heavily involving soil, coaching the K-State Soil Judging Team and creating and advising the K-State chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society. However, another passion of Moorberg’s is making education affordable for his students.Combining both passions, Moorberg has developed an internationally recognized soil science teaching program with open educational resources, including two open textbooks, with a third expected to publish in the summer of 2023. His first textbook, the “Soils Laboratory Manual,” was introduced in 2015 and has since been adopted by more than 180 soil science educators worldwide. It has saved K-State students a collective $174,000.“The high cost of higher education serves as a hurdle to many,” Moorberg said. “As an educator, I have found that the primary way I can personally keep costs low for my students is to use and develop open education resources for my students, such as open textbooks.”In his eight years at K-State, Moorberg has published three peer-reviewed publications focused on open textbook use in soil science, in addition to authoring or co-authoring five peer-reviewed publications on soil science and agronomy teaching and learning. He is the principal investigator of a USDA Higher Education Challenge Program grant focused on planning the development of an open textbook for introductory soil science courses.“I love soil science because it applies chemistry, biology, math, geology and other natural and social sciences to study this seemingly boring material that’s actually beautiful, dynamic and at the core of human civilization and the natural world,” Moorberg said. “My favorite part of teaching soil science is the opportunity to work with students from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines and seeing their surprise when they realize how interesting soil can be and how much fun it is to get their hands dirty in class.”

Watch videos of each awardee being notified of their award recipience here.

“I, along with Nancy Curtin and our family, offer personal thanks to former Presidents Jon Wefald, Kirk Shultz and Richard Meyers and President Richard Linton for the president’s office being partners with our family in this important effort to recognize and reward the true heroes of educational excellence at Kansas State University,” Curtin said.

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