Three University of Tennessee at Chattanooga faculty and staff members today were announced as 2023 President’s Award recipients—the highest accolade an employee can receive from the UT System.
UT System President Randy Boyd announced that Executive Director of the Disability Resource Center Michelle Rigler, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Abeer Mustafa and Associate Dean of the College of Health, Education and Professional Studies David Rausch—who also is a professor and director of the Learning and Leadership program—are among 14 award winners from across the UT System recognized for their accomplishments and dedication to Be One UT values.
The announcement was made during the annual UT Board of Trustees meeting in Memphis.
Be One UT values are intended to shape culture across the system, build purpose, improve team cohesion and create a shared sense of commitment in the workplace.
“Our ‘Be One UT’ values are not just a philosophy, but a concrete way we define our culture and way of doing business,” Boyd said in a statement. “These award recipients exemplify who we are, as well as who we continually aspire to be in serving the people of Tennessee.”
The recipients will be honored by Boyd and his Be One UT cabinet at a special luncheon on Aug. 3 in Nashville. Winners receive commemorative plaques and a monetary award of $3,000.
Rigler won the President’s Award in the “Embrace Diversity” category, which honors an individual who respects individual and organizational uniqueness.
Rigler, the Disability Resource Center executive director since 2004, was cited in her nomination letter for recognizing the uniqueness of each student and embracing the chance to make a powerful difference in their lives. In addition to ensuring the day-to-day delivery of services supporting students with a broad range of disabilities, she is recognized by advocates and allies as a respected expert on autism.
One example of her impact is the development of Mosaic, a multifaceted and comprehensive program developed to support the needs of degree-seeking students on the autism spectrum. It was developed in response to the requests and expressed needs of students with autism and, over the last decade, has become one of the most respected and copied university-based programs in the country. The retention and graduation rate of students in Mosaic has surpassed the rates for the general student population and has made UTC a school of choice for students with autism.
Rigler’s work has been recognized nationally, as she has received nominations for awards from disability-related organizations across the U.S. and has been invited to speak and share expertise at conferences and other higher education institutions.
Rausch received the President’s Award in the “Nimble and Innovative” category, which honors an individual who inspires creative and transformational action.
Rausch was one of the architects in creating and designing the Bachelor of Applied Science: Applied Leadership program at UTC, which serves nontraditional students with previous college, military or work experience who want to complete their undergraduate degrees. All courses are online, an essential component since day-to-day jobs can throw roadblocks in the way of adult learners who cannot get to a brick-and-mortar campus.
“When thinking of terms such as nimble and innovative, the qualities of Dr. Rausch come to mind,” said College of Health, Education and Professional Studies Dean Valerie Rutledge in her nomination letter. “Dr. Rausch is a solid example of the ability to quickly adapt in fluid situations and develop inventive solutions to problems. Additionally, Dr. Rausch makes use of data to become informed on critical issues, helping to both answer questions and create unique and original opportunities.”
A Navy veteran and adult learner, Rausch also is the director of Learning and Leadership Programs at UTC. He has added an essential online component to their curriculum, helping adult learners with full-time jobs earn a Ph.D. or an Ed.D.
Mustafa was selected for the President’s Award in the “Excel in All We Do” category. The award honors an individual who commits to continuous improvement and outstanding performance.
In her role as associate vice chancellor for student affairs, Mustafa oversees Housing and Residence Life at UTC. Housing arrangements are vital for attracting and retaining students, and her nomination letter cited Mustafa’s eye for detail, vision for the future, planning expertise and commitment to student and institutional success.
An important program fostered under Mustafa’s leadership is Residential Learning Communities (RLC). Representing all four academic colleges at UTC, each in a single housing unit, the RLCs have increased retention rates by connecting freshmen and prospective students with others who share their academic programs or interests, creating welcoming, inclusive communities and a sense of belonging.
Working with others, she has been instrumental in recruiting and selecting Faculty-In-Residence participants. Not only do students have the opportunity to interact with their instructors on a personal level, but the faculty also create programs, advise and work with students to create an environment that demonstrates the value of collaboration outside the classroom as an element of success.
The President’s Awards were established in 2016 to annually consider the exceptional achievements of employees across the statewide UT System. Honorees are chosen from a system-wide pool of candidates nominated by campus and institute leaders.
Award recipients represent UTC, UT Knoxville, UT Health Science Center, UT Martin, UT Institute of Agriculture, UT Institute for Public Service and UT System Administration.