Dr. Liz Ackley, the Brian H. Thornhill Associate Professor of Health & Human Performance at Roanoke College, has been recognized as one of 12 recipients of the 2022 Outstanding Faculty Awards by The State Council of Higher Education (SCHEV) and Dominion Energy. The award will be presented at an in-person ceremony on March 1, 2022. Ackley is one of only two professors at private Virginia colleges honored with the 2022 award.
“If we were to mint a professor who was designed to engage students in community-altering research, to inspire students through her instructional talent, to provide leadership to college and community in ample doses, the professor would be Dr. Ackley,” Michael C. Maxey, president of Roanoke College, said in the nomination of Ackley for the award.
Ackley, who joined the Roanoke College faculty in 2010, holds a B.S. in exercise science from the State University of New York at Cortland College, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in health and human performance from Middle Tennessee State University.
“This honor is such a recognition of the teams who have supported my work over my career,” Ackley said. “I am celebrating with everyone who has provided support and collaboration. That includes students, faculty colleagues, the administration and community partners.”
“It’s also made me reflect on how lucky am I to be at Roanoke College and our mission of Freedom with Purpose,” Ackley said. “I am fortunate to work at a place that really believes in giving faculty and students the freedom to explore the world in a lot of different ways.”
The award recognizes outstanding faculty for their work in four areas: teaching, discovery, knowledge integration and service. The following are excerpts from Ackley’s nomination:
“I am fortunate to work at a place that really believes in giving faculty and students the freedom to explore the world in a lot of different ways.”
Dr. Liz Ackley, winner of Outstanding Faculty Award
“Students and colleagues describe Ackley’s approach to teaching as engagingly dynamic and alive. She facilitates learning using unique materials, technology, and industry leaders as mediums for immersing students in critical inquiry and engaging students in learning with purpose…Ackley’s student evaluations are consistently among the highest at Roanoke College. Students applaud the balance she establishes between high expectations and support, describing an indefatigable passion for her field, for integrating field-related knowledge in other disciplinary contexts, and for supporting students from diverse backgrounds in personal and productive ways…A consummate model of living with purpose, Dr. Ackley presents herself – in teaching and in life – with an integrity-facing drive to change the world that both excites and emboldens her students.”
Ackley maintains two productive lines of discovery: the first to identify and address health disparities at the community level and the second to give students high-impact experiential learning opportunities in their own undergraduate research. Ackley’s primary research is to identify and address health disparities at the community level. “Dr. Ackley developed a novel health surveillance methodology to identify geographic inequities in the social, environmental, and economic factors contributing to health disparities in children. Her surveillance system, the Roanoke Valley Community Healthy Living Index, has since grown to become one of the largest, most successful translational research models of its kind. …She has been recognized as an emerging leader in the field and her work has been featured in Government Finance Review and the Appalachian Journal of Public Health and heralded by the National League of Cities and the American Planners Association of Virginia. …Dr. Ackley advances student access to high-impact experiential learning opportunities by promoting mentoring best practices in undergraduate research across institutional contexts, academic disciplines, and in response to diverse student needs (supporting underrepresented students, students of color, and first-generation students, in particular). In collaboration with a multi-disciplinary team of researchers, Dr. Ackley established the ‘Ten Salient Practices of Undergraduate Research Mentors ‘and has developed resources to advance faculty pedagogical and professional development through undergraduate research mentorship.”
Said Kavya Iyer ’22, “Dr. Ackley fosters a collaborative and interdisciplinary team of students from different majors, with various points of view, to tackle problems that everyone is proud to be a part of. She is an amazing mentor. She takes time to know what our future career plans and goals are and helps us target weaknesses to make ourselves more competitive applicants for future endeavors. “
Logan Newton ‘13 said: “Dr. Ackley saw me when I was invisible because I hadn’t figured out how to speak up. She helped me find something that no textbook could ever offer: the confidence I was always missing.”
“Dr. Ackley has spearheaded a number of efforts to bring together traditionally disparate academic disciplines, institutions of higher education, and community partners to develop experiential learning opportunities for students which emulate the real world – she does this by convening partners around a shared equity agenda informed by her primary line of discovery.
…Working with partners at Virginia Tech University and Hollins University, Ackley co-designed the Small Cities Institute, an interdisciplinary partnership of students and faculty collaborating to solve local and regional challenges.”
“Dr. Ackley’s service accomplishments are far-reaching and exemplify her ability to apply knowledge and expertise in broad contexts. In addition to bolstering her professional reputation through service to her academic community, she has advanced Roanoke College’s institutional goals, position within the community, and pursuit of becoming a top-100 liberal arts college…Her most visual service contribution came to fruition in 2018 when she single-handedly founded, funded, and institutionalized the Center for Community Health Innovation at Roanoke College, developing new pathways to student experiential learning opportunities through internships, service-driven research opportunities, and special projects with community partners…Dr. Ackley’s commitment to building and sustaining multi-sector partnerships to advance her primary line of discovery has positioned Roanoke College as a neutral anchor in the community and as a national model.”
Said Dr. Matthew Rearick, Health and Human Performance department chair: “What separates Liz’s work from others across the state is how she manages to merge everything she does into a seamless pursuit. It is virtually impossible to see where one of her academic areas ends and another begins. This is her gift to her students, colleagues, and community.”