A Closer Look, Part Two: Saint Mary’s Faculty Members Win Acclaim

Earlier this spring, we looked at four faculty members who were recognized at the annual Scholars Reception for their exemplary teaching, meaningful service, and commitment to research, scholarship and creative output.

by Mike Janes, Office of Marketing & Communications | May 17, 2023
In Part Two of this “Closer Look” series, we examine the exceptional work of four more Saint Mary’s faculty members whose intellectual prowess, innovative teaching methods, and lasting contributions to their field of study helped earn them a 2023 Faculty Award.

“We often talk about the College as a place that inspires minds, touches hearts, and transforms lives,” said Corey Cook, Saint Mary’s Executive Vice President and Provost. “Celebrating the many ways in which we’re achieving our mission and realizing our vision is important, and recognizing our extraordinary colleagues and their contributions is one way we can do that.”

This second installment looks at the work of Dr. Taj (Toni) Johns, Dr. Scott Schönfeldt-Aultman, Dr. Manisha Anantharaman, and Dr. Ellen M. Rigsby.

Dr. John Dennis Teaching Excellence Award – Dr. Taj (Toni) Johns, Kalmanovitz School of Education
Taj Johns headshot

Dr. Taj (Toni) Johns has served as an Adjunct Professor at Saint Mary’s since 2006, but it was at the Kalmanovitz School of Education where she says she “found her bliss.” There, she has taught in multiple Master’s and Doctoral programs and led several Leadership Center workshops. 

Wrote one of her nominators: “Over these years, Taj has been a tireless advocate for our learners, particularly learners of color… Taj is creative and joyful in her approach to teaching and often encourages faculty to think outside the box.” Wrote another nominator: “ She is beloved by students and faculty because she authentically gives of herself selflessly!”

Dr. Johns is known for being deeply dedicated to ensuring each learner feels seen, heard, and included. She cultivates transformative educational opportunities that enhance lifelong learning and bolster community, bringing warmth and a deep subject area knowledge to the classroom. Further, she builds ongoing relationships with learners to support their future growth and development beyond the College.

Dr. Johns is known for being deeply dedicated to making sure each learner feels seen, heard, and included.

Dr. Johns' career fully embodies service rooted in justice, and, in fact, she worked with the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action (CILSA) and a colleague to develop the Leadership and Social Justice curriculum. She co-created a course in the Master’s of Leadership Program entitled Building Cross Cultural Capacity, and for several years she has been teaching the EdD Ethics course. Also in line with Lasallian tradition, Dr. Johns has been, for years, teaching in the Hall-Tonna Values Accreditation Program, part of Saint Mary’s Leadership Center.

“My passion is ignited when I open myself to new ways of learning and embrace multiple ways of knowing,” says Dr. Johns. “As a professor, I have the honor of awakening Learners (students) to their inner knowledge so they can harvest their wisdom. Education can make this a better world—and I’m proud to do my part.”

Teaching Excellence Award – Dr. Scott M. Schönfeldt-Aultman, Communication Department

Professor Schönfeldt-Aultman has taught various interdisciplinary courses in recent years, ranging from Qualitative Methods, Intercultural Communication, and the Senior Capstone class. He’s also renowned for teaching courses that align with Saint Mary’s mission of providing quality education, inclusion, and solidarity with our community’s marginalized and historically underrepresented. Those classes include Communication & Social Justice: Drag; Masculinities; and Talking to White Folks about Race & White Folks Talking about Race: Barriers to and Strategies for Race Talk. 

Dr Scott S

Those spaces of learning, his nominators said, enable students to engage the academic literature and frame the dominant notions of gender, race, and heteronormativity. “These classes are an absolute gift to the Saint Mary’s community as a whole,” wrote a nominator, “as they provide educational spaces for students to theorize their lived conditions so that they can name and work toward its transformation.”

Gael students have expressed their gratitude for Professor Schönfeldt-Aultman’s skillful sharing of academic knowledge and how he fosters an active love of learning.

He is reflective and an essential model on campus of what it looks like to grow as an educator, they say, and students have also noted how he’s often seen pouring over new articles, books, websites, and documentaries to improve his pedagogy.

Gael students have expressed their gratitude for Professor Schönfeldt-Aultman’s skillful sharing of academic knowledge and the manner in which he fosters an active love of learning.

He shares such learning with his colleagues, such as the new grading methods he utilizes in his classrooms, strategies for student peer reviews, and interactive ways to promote discussion in his classrooms.

Outstanding Scholar Award – Dr. Manisha Anantharaman, Justice, Community and Leadership Department

Since starting her position at Saint Mary’s in 2015, Dr. Anantharaman has developed an impressive scholarly portfolio, publishing 13 peer-reviewed journal articles, two books, and several book chapters. 


Her research findings have been published in leading social science journals, including Urban Studies, the Journal of Cleaner Production, and the Journal of Consumer Culture. She co-edited the book The Circular Economy and the Global South, and a forthcoming monograph, Recycling Class (MIT Press), will explore how residents of Bengaluru, India—from political leaders to socially marginalized waste workers—collectively confront the city’s garbage crisis.

Dr. Anantharaman’s research focuses on how economic and political ideologies, cultural identities, and social inequalities can impact ecological transitions and have ramifications on households, cities, and nations. During a time of exacerbating inequality, enduring poverty, and widespread climate disruption, Dr. Anantharaman asserts that we must center social justice, equity, and liberation within sustainability teaching and scholarship. She takes a situated, relational, and intersectional approach to her research, collaborating with scholars in critical geography, sociology, environmental science, and policy studies and with community organizations, policy-makers and practitioners. 

Dr. Anantharaman also has a robust record of securing internal and external funding for her research. Most recently, she was a co-Principal Investigator of a successful funding bid to the National Science Foundation and Belmont Forum’s Collaborative Research Activity on Systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production. Her team was awarded 1.3 million Euros over three years to study the digitalization of household consumption and its environmental outcomes in five countries. Previously, she was a co-PI on a Swiss Network of International Studies grant to study how green public spaces in the cities of south and southeast Asia contribute to sustainable well-being.

Dr. Anantharaman asserts that we must center social justice, equity, and liberation within sustainability teaching and scholarship.

Alongside her work as a teacher-scholar, Dr. Anantharaman is a consultant and expert resource on sustainable lifestyles, circular economy, and decarbonization. In 2019, she was appointed Associate Fellow at the Chatham House Royal Institute of International Affairs, collaborating with the Environment and Society program to develop cutting-edge policy interventions on the circular economy, informal work, and climate mitigation. 

She is currently leading a report for the UN Environment Program linking Sustainable Consumption and Circularity. Previously, she was a Commissioner on the prestigious Cambridge Sustainability Commission report on Scaling Sustainable Behavior Change; the launch webinar was attended by over 1,000 participants and covered by news outlets such as the BBC. These honors testify to Dr. Anantharaman’s research agenda's timeliness and ability to inform and inspire a broad audience about complex issues.

Advising Excellence Award – Dr. Ellen Rigsby, Communication Department

The Advising Excellence Award is presented to a faculty member who embodies the ideal of Lasallian care for students through “conscientious and effective advising of students.” Criteria for the Advising Excellence Award also stipulate that nominees must have advised across multiple areas. Dr. Ellen Rigsby fits the bill on all counts.

Dr Rigsby

In the past five years, she has advised in Saint Mary’s first-year cohort program and has worked as a transfer advisor for many summers and Jan Terms. Her eagerness to pitch in and help students is reflected in the sheer number of students she advises: 41. She is known to be responsive and dedicated; one colleague indicated that “she has replied to our questions and requests even at a baseball game on a weekend.” 

What’s more remarkable, they say, is that she knows relevant details of each student —which athletic team they are in, what careers they want to pursue, where they transferred from, and other information. 

Dr. Rigsby is considered a critical resource for all things transfer-related, both for her department and Seminar programming. “She helps make sure every student gets into the right Seminar courses, personally delivering many of the seminar workshops to FYAC and transfer students, and on the Core Curriculum Committee advocating both for the quality and integrity of our curriculum as well as students’ ability to successfully navigate through its challenges,” wrote one nominator. 

Dr. Rigsby is considered a critical resource for all things transfer-related, both for her department and for Seminar programming.

For her careful attention to detail, collegial service, work ethic, and extraordinary service to first-year matriculate students and transfer, Dr. Ellen Rigsby is Saint Mary’s 2023 winner of the Advising Excellence Award.

Learn more about Saint Mary’s College’s Kalmonovitz School of Education, Communication Department, and Justice, Community and Leadership Department.

See Part One of our "Closer Look" series, which featured faculty members Bedford Palmer II, Counseling Department; Robin Dunn, Kinesiology; Mary Raygoza, Teacher Education; and Aaron Lee, Physics & Astronomy.

NEXT UP: Part Three in our series highlights Saint Mary’s faculty members selected to receive special research grant funding from the Office of the Provost.