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Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

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Four Illinois Faculty and Staff to be Recognized for Dedication to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The 2022 Larine Y. Cowan Award winners from left to right: Ky Merkley, Nick Hoyt, Kevin Jackson, and Deanna Hence.

Four University of Illinois faculty and staff members will be recognized for their exceptional dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion as the 2022 recipients of the Larine Y. Cowan Make a Difference Awards.

The Larine Y. Cowan Awards are presented annually to University of Illinois faculty and staff by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in four categories: Advocacy for LGBTQ Affairs, Excellence in Access & Accommodations, Leadership in Diversity, and Teaching and Mentoring in Diversity.

Named in honor of the past Assistant Chancellor and Director of what is now the Office for Access & Equity, these annual awards reflect the commitment to human rights advocacy and diversity that defined the leadership of Larine Y. Cowan for nearly 20 years at Illinois.

This year’s award recipients will be honored at the 37th Annual Celebration of Diversity on Friday, November 11, 2022, at the I Hotel and Conference Center.

The 2022 recipients, as described by their nominators.

Advocacy for LGBTQ Affairs: Ky Merkley, Ph.D. Candidate in Classical Philology  

Ky Merkley is recognized for their remarkable talents as a teacher who both respects and engages with diversity and helps create community in ways that go far beyond the classroom. This award honors students, staff, or faculty who have demonstrated their commitment to supporting and promoting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer affairs at Illinois.

Merkley’s dissertation sits at the intersection of transgender studies and classics and analyzes the ways in which modern conceptions of gender have erased the genderfluid and diverse gendered identities that existed in the Roman Empire and strives to uncover how gender is defined and functions within Roman society. Ky founded Trans in Classics in 2020, a working group and community for trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming classicists, that strives to create a community for trans classicists, develop resources and materials for the trans community and promote transgender readings and transgender histories of the ancient Mediterranean. In the past year, Ky has delivered invited talks, workshops, and roundtables on the importance of transgender history, the need for trans-inclusive feminism, and the importance of having a transgender caucus for classicists in such diverse places as King’s College, the University of Ghent, the University of Sheffield, Penn State University, and Wake Forest University.

What students single out in Ky’s classes is the warm sense of community they experience. Ky believes deeply in the creation of a class as “a family, a community, a team.” They strive for a pedagogy that engages students where they are and shows them how investing in course skills and content will serve them for the rest of their lives. Students express gratitude for a class atmosphere that places the process of learning over simply getting the answer right, and where everyone is willing to make the mistakes necessary to learn.

Leadership in Diversity: Kevin Jackson, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Professor of Accountancy and PwC faculty fellow

Dr. Jackson is recognized for showing a real passion for students and being driven to provide them a meaningful, personal experience at the University of Illinois and for bringing that passion for student well-being to everything he does. This award honors nominees who demonstrate exceptional dedication to and success in promoting diversity and inclusion via research, hiring practices, courses, programs, and events.

Jackson holds a Ph.D. in accounting from the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to being named Vice Provost, Jackson served as Associate Dean of Undergraduate Affairs in the Gies College of Business. As Associate Dean, he created the Access and Multicultural Engagement unit that has led the college in programming designed to foster multicultural community. In addition, Dr. Jackson introduced a course designed to equip students to engage in civil discourse around controversial topics. He has received numerous awards and honors including the PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP Faculty Fellowship, the Lester H. McKeever Jr. Outstanding Leader in Advancing Diversity Award from the Illinois CPA Society, and in 2021 was named among the Top 50 Undergraduate Business Professors in the nation by Poets&Quants.

Jackson has shown a real passion for our students and felt driven to provide them a meaningful, personal experience at the University of Illinois. He brings that passion for student well-being to everything he does. Jackson’s commitment to diversity and inclusion extends to his research. One of his papers, “Deploying ‘connectors’: A control to manage employee turnover intentions?”, examines how to tap into outgoing positive people in the workplace (connectors) to make others feel less isolated because of gender, race, ethnicity, or other distinguishing characteristics.

Teaching and Mentoring in Diversity: Deanna Hence, Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Sciences

Dr. Hence is recognized for her efforts in tackling outstanding issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion on several levels: from undergraduate to graduate students to faculty, from experiences in the classroom to experiences in the field. This award honors faculty, instructors, or lecturers who have consistently contributed to the promotion of understanding critical issues related to diversity and equity in teaching and/or the mentoring of diverse students.

Hence received her M.S. and Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science from the University of Washington, and her B.S. in Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences from the University of Michigan. She was a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center prior to joining the U of I in 2014. She is currently a AY2022-2024 Lincoln Excellence for Assistant Professors Scholar. Her research program uses observations from field experiments combined with high-resolution numerical modeling to study the interactions of high-impact convective storm systems with their environments, and how the evolution of these storms influences their impacts on human systems. Alongside these efforts, she has worked to develop intensive holistic mentorship models into year-round research experiences for underrepresented and transfer undergraduate students in Atmospheric Sciences. In her teaching, she brings perspectives around the variations in how weather and climate hazards differentially impact communities and stakeholders into all of her teaching, alongside the importance of multi-directional science communication and engagement.

The risk communication course that Hence spearheaded is an example of her unique commitment to promoting topics of diversity and equity within the atmospheric science community. Each lesson was developed to focus on the impact of weather events on underrepresented communities, such as increased flooding impacts for lower income communities and the elderly. We utilized social science concepts and theories to identify barriers to communication that may have hindered individuals to take action. For example, a lack of internet accessibility in rural communities. Furthermore, we discussed the importance of overcoming communication barriers to provide equal access to weather risk information.

Excellence in Access & Accommodations: M. Nicholas Hoyt, Software Development and Interaction Design Specialist, Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES)

M. Nicholas Hoyt is recognized for his dedicated professional activity to the development of tools that assist in the creation of accessible electronic information. This award honors individuals or campus units for their efforts to expand and improve the utilization of programs and structures by persons with disabilities

Hoyt has served in his current capacity for the past 17 years. He led the software development, user interface design and interaction design of the Functional Accessibility Evaluator (FAE) 1.0 and 1.1 and AInspector for Firefox 1.0. In addition to these projects, Nicholas was the lead designer and developer of the Accessibility Bookmarklets, the A11yFirst Plugins for CKEditor 4, the SkipTo Landmarks & Headings browser extension for Firefox and Chrome and the Page Structure extension for Firefox. Nicholas received his B.A. with Distinction in Computer Science from the University of Massachusetts Boston in 1991, after beginning his studies in computer science at Harvard Extension School in Cambridge, MA. He also studied music performance, arranging and composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and has had a lifelong interest in psychology and philosophy. Hoyt has developed several useful accessibility tools since the time that I’ve known him. Over the past few years, Hoyt was instrumental in the development of the AInspector WCAG for FireFox plugin, a valuable tool that aids in the creation of accessible websites that conform to current digital accessibility standards and guides developers to learn more about web accessibility in the process. The AInspector tool is utilized by many web developers across the Illinois system, and as a publicly downloadable add-on for the FireFox web browser, it’s reach extends far beyond the university. On the Illinois Campus, AInspector has become one of the primary tools of web accessibility for evaluators and developers.