Eight members of the California State University, Chico faculty have been recently recognized with the 2020–21 Outstanding Faculty Awards, selected by the University’s Faculty Recognition and Support Committee.
These awards—among the highest at CSU, Chico—celebrate faculty excellence in the categories of Outstanding Professor, Teacher, Academic Advisor, Research Mentor, Faculty Service, Lecturer, Lecturer in Bringing the Profession to the Classroom, and Early Career Faculty. Every one of these recipients learned they were being recognized during surprise Zoom visits this spring from University President Gayle Hutchinson, her Cabinet, and colleagues within their respective colleges.
“These outstanding award recipients exemplify our University commitments to transformative experiences, academic distinction, and prominent scholarship and innovation,” Hutchinson said. “Their work has influenced the lives of thousands of students through teaching, scholarly and creative activities, and service. I congratulate the awardees and thank them for their role in helping to establish Chico State as a preeminent university.”
Outstanding Lecturer in Bringing the Profession to the Classroom
Heather Altfeld uses her own professional experiences as a writer and editor to create a meaningful and enriching space for her students. With countless publications and awards, she sets her students up for success in the professional world by providing tools and guidance to discover their own creative talents.
Since 2005, Altfeld has lectured in the English and the Comparative Religion and Humanities Departments, as well as served as an academic advisor for the Honors in General Education Program. As one of the original creators of the current Honors curriculum developed in 2013, Altfeld made intensive writing an integral part of pursuing professionalism within Chico State and beyond campus.
Students often look to Altfeld for her creative writing and publishing expertise. Her courses focus on critical thinking, creative development in writing, and the ins and outs of writing and editing for publication, and though her classes can be challenging, students drastically develop as writers. One of Altfeld’s most successful examples of this is, “Honors 201/203: Seminars in Justice and Beauty.” In this course, Altfeld leads an investigation on the concept of beauty from multiple disciplinary lenses, including art, philosophy, biology, and anthropology, to name a few. The semester ends with the Beauty Gallery Walk, an event where students contribute an original work that displays their semester-long investigation of beauty. She has a reputation for being an inspiring and caring advisor who goes above and beyond to support students’ academic, professional, and personal achievements.
“For me, teaching is an act of love. And with this love comes a sense of responsibility toward my students to do what I can to engage their will, through curiosity, humor, trust, and a sense of camaraderie and community in the classroom, ingredients I believe are elemental to education. I want students to feel that their academic pursuits engage not just their minds, but their souls—not in a religious sense, but that they feel ultimately that our work in the classroom has meaning to them both now and in the future iterations of their lives. This love also centers around imagination. As a teacher, I try to imagine the infinitude of potential for each student and to hold a vision of that potential with them, even when the work and the circumstances of their lives are challenging.”
Altfeld holds bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and writing from Chico State, and a master’s degree in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry from Columbia University. Aside from her extensive number of published works—including poetry, book chapters, essays, short stories, and books—Altfeld has also received numerous awards for her writing, including recognition for Best American Essays in 2019 for her essay, “Obituary for Dead Languages.”
From her warmth and approachability to her investments in cultivating excellence in her classrooms, Sarah Anderson’s impact is felt across campus.
The Chico State alumna’s talents are incredibly versatile but flourish most notably in the Department of International Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. Anderson keeps upwards of a dozen Spanish and Latin American studies courses in her regular rotation and teaches a variety of upper- and lower-division subjects including reading and composition, Spanish teaching, social and historical Latin American studies, and Spanish language.
She is known for her infectious teaching style. Her classroom presence is interactive and inviting, and she cultivates genuine engagement and enthusiasm. Even under the challenges COVID-19 has created with virtual learning, she has mastered translating her teaching style into an online format, creating a lively and enriching environment over Zoom. When teaching about great authors, major world events, or intensive language pedagogy, Anderson’s instruction leads to students’ lasting success.
“I love being in the classroom, engaging with students, and creating curriculum. For me, to teach is to inspire. Although my passion is to teach language, literature, and culture, my goal is to inspire my students to find their own passion in life,” she said. “I am a lifelong learner and I model this in my teaching, as I learn with my students and share in the joy of discovering and learning new things each semester. I am constantly creating and thinking about new and innovative ways to introduce materials and how to engage the students in a fun and interactive way.”
Anderson additionally serves as Chico State’s Global Development Studies pathway coordinator, regularly meeting with students from across campus to assist and guide them in choosing classes for the minor and study abroad programs. She is also chair of the scholarship committee for the Hispanic Association for the Community and Education, and is the National Charity League philanthropy liaison for the Torres Shelter.
Anderson received her bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Chico State, then went on to Michigan State University where she earned a master’s degree in Spanish and a PhD in Hispanic cultural studies. She began lecturing at Chico State in 2009 then was recruited as an assistant professor of Spanish and Latin American studies in 2015. She has intermittently taught through the University Studies Abroad Consortium in Alicante, Spain, and at Michigan State University as a visiting faculty member.
Outstanding Research Mentor
Often recruiting students to assist in her research in endangered fish populations, Amanda Banet is the current that carries her students to their professional success and achievements.
When Banet first arrived at Chico State in 2015, she quickly began the process of developing a severely needed biological research facility. Now, Chico State students have access to a state-of-the-art salmon holding facility maintained and operated by carefully trained students. In the field, Banet and many of her students in the Department of Biological Sciences conduct aquatic research and habitat restoration on the Sacramento River, which among various skills, requires students to be formally trained in operating a boat.
Whether students are creating posters for presentations, conducting field work, or doing graduate thesis research, Banet is there with enthusiasm and a guiding hand, dedicated to teaching the skills and pedagogy to be successful researchers. She also teaches them how to facilitate and fund their own research. Seven of Banet’s students have received extensive funding, and three were recipients of the COAST Research Fellowship and one received the NCWA Research Fellowship of $12,000. Of the five peer-reviewed publications Banet has developed since 2015, four have included student authors and researchers.
Because of Banet’s dedication to mentoring, the quality of research and scholarship within the Biology Department has risen exponentially. Banet recruits numerous undergraduate and graduate research assistants throughout the year, and has even supported up to five master’s students in her lab in a semester.
“My students primarily focus on conservation of endangered and threatened fish populations, and often this research is the first time they are able to apply their classroom knowledge to work that contributes to society and the environment,” she said. “It’s rewarding for me, and I think for my students, to be part of a team working for a greater cause. Of course, it also helps that my students at Chico State are some of the most engaged and hard-working people that I’ve had the pleasure to work with!”
Banet holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Indiana University and a PhD in biology from the University of California, Riverside. She currently serves as the Lantis Endowed Research Chair and is the principal investigator for the David and Helen Lantis Research Award. She has been an assistant professor of aquatic ecology since 2015, and primarily teaches upper division and graduate courses.
Outstanding Early Career Faculty Award
Hired in 2017 as an assistant professor in the International Languages, Literatures, and Cultures Department, Friederike Fichtner has invested a notable amount of time, effort, and vision into the future of graduate education. In a short four years, she has contributed to increased enrollment and major recruitment, stability within the graduate program, and reformation of struggling curriculum.
From the beginning, Fichtner has directed her ambitions toward revamping several facets of the department, primarily focusing on graduate studies, and transformed shrinking programs and outdated credentials and degree pathways. As the director of the Teaching International Languages (TIL) master’s program and the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate, Fichtner took on the challenge of reconfiguring the curriculum to better adhere to modern language education standards to ensure Chico State students are well equipped to teach second languages. She developed these programs with the perspectives of faculty, staff, and other graduate program coordinators across campus in mind.
Fichtner also serves in the ILLC Curriculum Committee, as chair of the Master’s in TIL Advisory Committee, as chair on three thesis committees and five comprehensive exam committees, and as faculty advisor for the Teaching International Languages Student Association. She also developed and implemented a language teaching internship program with Pädagogische Hochschule Thurgau, a teacher education university in Switzerland. And she excels in teaching a number of graduate and upper division courses on rotation, three of which she created herself.
“Assisting our graduate students in their development as language teachers is a truly rewarding experience, and learning about my students’ cultural affiliations and perspectives remains among the most exciting parts of my work as a teacher,” she said. “I try to help students gain a deeper understanding of what learning a language means: to see language as a part of human life and inextricably tied to the ways people interact in different sociocultural communities.”
Fichtner holds a master’s degree in German literature and culture from the University of Dresden, Germany, and a PhD in German and second language acquisition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fichtner specializes in teaching foreign language pedagogy, specifically the art in teaching language and linguistics.
Outstanding Faculty Service Award
Ashley Kendell’s job is not easy, nor for the faint of heart. Outside of her position as assistant professor of anthropology, she is a forensic anthropologist who has worked with numerous law enforcement agencies and medical examiners, offering her sharpened experience both in the field and in the lab to recover and identify human remains. She is a model for bravery, integrity, and sheer dedication to her community.
During her career, Kendell has assisted police departments and criminal investigations across the state. However, she is most recognized for her dedication to victim recoveries during the Camp Fire in 2018 and the 2020 Bear Fire. Of the 85 positively identified victims of the Camp Fire, 24 of those identifications are contributed to Kendell and her team. Kendell has since directed much of her attention toward disaster preparation by training search and rescue teams across the state for mass fatality events. And as a certified homicide instructor for the Peace Officer Standards in Training (POST), she plays a part in ensuring proper training and competency standards within law enforcement in preparation for these devastating events.
As a specialist in bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology, Kendell is the coordinator and advisor for the certificate in forensic science, is a forensic anthropology consultant for the University’s Human Identification Laboratory, and teaches a list of undergraduate and graduate courses in the anthropology department. Since Chico State is one of only two institutions in the state that offer training and certification in forensic science, the professional experience that Kendell passes onto her students greatly enriches the state’s future medicolegal work force.
“I have always been passionate about the field of forensic anthropology, and Chico State has provided me the opportunity to share my passion for the field not only in the work I do for the Human Identification Lab, but also in the classroom,” she said. “Unlike many forensic anthropologists that work either as academics or practitioners, I feel fortunate to be able to do both. I am also grateful to have a skillset that allows me to offer a voice for deceased victims, as well as a way to routinely give back to the local community.”
Kendell earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD in anthropology from Michigan State University. Kendell has also researched and written several peer-reviewed essays and book chapters, and has provided workshops, training sessions, and countless presentations around the country.
Outstanding Academic Advisor
Hadil Mustafa is dedicated to nurturing students into leaders, both on campus and beyond.
Since joining the Electrical and Computer Engineering department (EECE) in 2014, outreach has been her highest priority, specifically to women and unrepresented groups participating in STEM. Mustafa is a mentor to all of her students and pushes them into assuming leadership roles in their areas of study—whether through tutoring, internships, or roles in clubs and organizations. Advising roughly a third of all computer engineering majors, she has made significant impacts in countless students’ career paths.
Mustafa is also the current co-faculty advisor for Tau Beta Pi, lead faculty advisor for the Chico State student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and administrator and manager for the EECE Tutoring Center. Utilizing funds allocated by the Student Learning Fee for the past three years, Mustafa developed the tutoring center in 2017 and it has proven to be a great resource for students in difficult classes while providing leadership opportunities for upperclassmen. She also has been part of allocating over $1.86 million in total research grants to bring better facilities, research labs, programs, and events to Chico State students.
Most notably, Mustafa coordinated with SWE to launch Imagineer Day. This annual outreach event engages more than 200 K–8 students in the community in engineering labs and activities with a focus on encouraging young girls to view the field as an attainable career path and bring more women to computer engineering.
“Having a mentor in graduate school helped me establish and develop my academic and career goals. It also motivated me to stay on track and reach these goals. When I started my career in academia, I always tried to be that same mentor for my students: to help, motivate, and guide them to reach their full potential,” she said. “My role as an SWE advisor has been both a rewarding and enjoyable experience. I have been fortunate enough to work with a fantastic group of women engineers who motivate me every day to be a better example for women that choose to pursue an engineering career.”
Mustafa holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Jordan, a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from UCLA, and a PhD from the University of California, Irvine. Before working at Chico State, Mustafa worked at UCLA, the Computer Educational Institute in Los Angeles, and as a research associate at the Egyptian Petroleum Research Institute in Cairo, Egypt. She also conducts numerous independent studies in engineering, and has more than a dozen publications.
Outstanding Lecturer Award
When Joseph Pechkis arrived at Chico State as a lecturer in 2016, he brought an unbreakable momentum that inevitably pulled the Department of Physics with him—transforming its curriculum and student enrollment while enriching University courses and the community.
Shortly after he was hired, Pechkis recognized the need for a hands-on student physics research lab. Branching off from his own research in molecular physics, Pechkis and Heywon Pechkis joined forces to develop the Ultra-Cold Atom Laboratory. This cutting-edge lab is open for undergraduate and graduate students to design and conduct experiments with a laser cooling system that cools atoms to near absolute zero, making it possible to study their behavior in an almost motionless state.
Beyond this incredible innovation, Joe Pechkis has mentored and conducted research with about 20 undergraduates during semesters and summers—not only assisting students in their research, but also recruiting to assist with his high-profile research. Students have assisted Pechkis with three publications, as well as researching and presenting five poster presentations. Pechkis has also successfully enriched several classes, including designing and implementing the two high-enrollment classes, “Methods of Theoretical Physics” and “Physics of Music.” The latter is the first of its kind to enter the department’s curriculum and has become extremely popular, even across majors, as the class includes unique experiments such as using flames to demonstrate musical harmonics.
Pechkis’ dedication to student success goes beyond University students and extends to young aspiring scientists within the community. He dedicates a portion of his time to presenting at local elementary schools, as well as contributing to STEM-focused events both on campus and in the community.
“As once a first-generation student myself, I really enjoy helping my students learn and achieve more beyond their expectations. The concepts in physics are nonintuitive and intellectually challenging. It is exciting to watch students gain confidence in themselves as they learn and master the material,” he said. “My goal is to help students develop their abilities so that they can be successful in their careers. It has been truly rewarding to see so many of our CSU, Chico students go on to graduate school and successful careers in the industry.”
Pechkis earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD in physics from the University of Connecticut. Before lecturing at Chico State, Pechkis has researched and lectured at Bryn Mawr College, Seoul National University in Seoul, South Korea, and University of Maryland.
Outstanding Professor Award
David Stachura’s presence on campus exceeds the roles that are set for him—he is an educator of the field, researcher of the unknown, and mentor to students discovering their own paths.
Continuously seeking excellence in his students and his research, Stachura is known to inspire students to be curious and to think outside of the boundaries they set for themselves. Since beginning his career at Chico State in 2014 in the Biological Sciences Department, he sets an example of what pushing the limits of knowledge means and is an encouraging mentor to students finding their footing as young scientists. Stachura is equally dedicated to ensuring students have every access to success during their growth as researchers.
He conducts his research on zebrafish, which have immune systems comparable to humans and uses his findings to reconsider how we treat diseases such as anemia, thrombocytopenia, and leukemia. Stachura’s research in cellular biology is extensive, as he is either an author or contributor to more than 30 published journal articles, many of which included undergraduate or graduate student researchers. Stachura is also an iconic representative of Chico State as a presenter at numerous conferences around the country, often accompanied by student researchers.
Stachura currently serves as advisor for the Pre-Medical Club and the Cellular and Molecular Biology Club, and during the summers he dedicates his time to leading students in research seminars to build experience and present their findings. However, most notably since starting at Chico State, Stachura has received a total grant support of $1.7 million toward supporting numerous facets of zebrafish research, including cancer and disease research, and cellular agriculture.
“The reason I am a professor, teacher, and scholar is that I’ve always been interested in how things work, especially cells. My passion is stem cell biology, trying to understand how so many different cells and tissues can arise from just one cell. I love teaching students, not only in the classroom, but in the laboratory, where science is really done,” he said. “Getting to involve students in hands-on, impactful research is the best. When we discover something in the laboratory, it’s so rewarding. We get to understand something that was completely unknown before. Being able to do that with the talented students that we have here at Chico State keeps me coming to work every day, eager to discover something new.”
Stachura earned his bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from Lehigh University, and his PhD in cell and molecular biology from the University of Pennsylvania.