Faculty Accomplishments


Saint Mary’s College was awarded a $75,000 grant to help address the shortage of STEM teachers in high-need, diverse, urban public schools. The project is led by Principal Investigator Mary Candace Raygoza, PhD, assistant professor of Teacher Education; and Co-Principal Investigator Vidya Chandrasekaran, PhD, associate professor of Biology. The National Science Foundation Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Grant funds programs to encourage STEM majors and professionals to become K-12 mathematics and science teachers, in collaboration with a local school district. “Our proposal was titled “Building Capacity for the STEM Teachers for Justice, Community, and Leadership Program at Saint Mary’s College of California,” which is a program involving the Kalmanovitz School of Education, School of Science, School of Liberal Arts, and the Mount Diablo Unified School District,” said Raygoza. “We will…create undergraduate STEM teacher education programming that is centered around equity and social justice to be prepared to teach in local urban schools, and to teach culturally and linguistically diverse learners.”

A portrait of Kenneth Brown in a chemistry lab

At first, Professor of Chemistry Kenneth Brown was surprised to learn Saint Mary’s College had named him Professor of the Year for 2019–2020. He had been phasing into retirement for over five years, and this would be his 36th and final year at the College. “I see myself as a worker bee, even in my teaching,” Brown said. Student evaluations, however, describe him as “very enthusiastic about students succeeding and understanding the material” and “the most caring professor I have ever had.” Brown first came to the College as an undergraduate student, earning a chemistry degree in 1977. After completing a PhD at UCLA, he returned to SMC, this time as a faculty member. Brown’s research focuses on mechanistic organic chemistry, specifically the stereoselectivity of chemical reactions. He has most frequently taught organic chemistry, which he loves.

A portrait of Suzy Thomas

Professor Suzy Thomas MA ’97, PhD, received the 2020 Saint John Baptist de La Salle Award at SMC. This award is presented to a member of the faculty or staff who has, over a period of years, demonstrated a personal commitment to the students of Saint Mary's College, as well as a commitment to one or more of the five Lasallian Core Principles. Thomas has taught at Saint Mary’s since 1998 and has lived the principles of Lasallian education. In addition to teaching, she has mentored and impacted hundreds of students, inspiring them to be the best versions of themselves. Thomas challenges students to consider the multidimensional aspects involved with supporting the academic, career, and personal/social development of K-12 students and to recognize issues of privilege, power, and institutionalized oppression that perpetuate and maintain inequities in education.

Associate Professor Helga Lenart-Cheng in the courtyard of the University of Bordeaux, France.

Saint Mary’s Associate Professor of World Languages and Cultures Helga Lenart-Cheng, PhD, was awarded a prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award, which allowed her to spend six months at the University of Bordeaux Emile Durkheim Center of Research. She studied the European refugee crisis and how the testimonies of refugees and migrants are currently being recorded in France, in particular at museums focusing on the experience of migration. “In recent years, personal stories have become a privileged means of immigrant rights activism on both sides of the Atlantic,” Lenart-Cheng said. “According to activists, immigrants’ personal stories promise a glimpse behind the headlines and a more humane way to connect to our new neighbors.” Her research asked: “What does it mean to exhibit stories of immigrants in a public space reserved for objects considered of shared national value? And to what extent can these stories expand the limits of hospitality and our notion of democracy?”

A portrait of Associate Dean and Associate Professor Tamara Spencer

Kalmanovitz School of Education Associate Dean and Associate Professor Tamara Spencer, EdD, was honored with a 2019 Early Literacy Educator of the Year Award from the Early Childhood Assembly of the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE). “To be nominated and receive this is an honor, particularly because NCTE is known for being both a serious research body and for making an intentional and purposeful investment in the professional practice of educators,” said Spencer. The many nominations for Spencer’s award cited her stellar scholarship, vision, empathy, and advocacy in the field of teacher education. Recommendations from peers across the country noted her important contributions to centering issues of equity in the education of young children, especially children of color, demonstrating strong and public commitments to educating all children in culturally and linguistically equitable ways, and having a significant impact on how faculty collectively approach social justice issues in teacher preparation.

A portrait of Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman, the Olivia C. Filipi Professor of Poetry, achieved a first at Saint Mary’s College. She won the prestigious Morton Dauwen Zabel Award, a highly coveted award bestowed by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. As a 2020 award winner, Hillman received not only the distinction of receiving the highest literary award in the nation but also receives $10,000, which she joyfully said will go toward her grandson’s college fund. Hillman, whose 35-year tenure at Saint Mary’s is a milestone achievement in itself, spoke of her excitement upon discovering that she had won the award. “The American Academy of Arts and Letters is a very old and prestigious academy that is very established and well-known, and has some amazing artists as academy members,” said Hillman. “The award I received is given every three years in poetry, so it makes this an even greater honor.”

A portrait of Mary Kay Moskal

Teacher Education’s Mary Kay Moskal, Ph­­D,­­ earned a 2020 Faculty Service award. She served a five-year period of transitional leadership in the KSOE’s Dean’s Office as both the associate dean and ultimately the interim dean. Upon returning to the faculty position and reflecting back on her leadership role, she recalled: “It was clear to me that it was my time to serve the College in this way.” The depth of her campus-wide involvement supports student outreach and retention, the shared fiscal and administrative governance of our College, and the academic governance and effectiveness of our work. Her signature contribution is her seven-year service as the program director for the Reading Leadership program. Her service translated into conscientious and effective advising of students; ongoing attendance and representation at meetings, and the embodiment of commitment and service to students in a way that deeply aligns with our mission.