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Heather Huckins

Distinguished PAT (Professional, Administrative, and Technical Staff) Award

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Patricia Cantor

Award for Excellence in Faculty Service

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Bonnie Bechard

Distinguished Graduate Teaching Award

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Mary Campbell

Patricia Storer PAT (Professional, Administrative, and Technical Staff) Award

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Jennifer Frank

Distinguished Operating Staff Award

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Janis Bass

Distinguished Adjunct Teaching Award

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Warren Tomkiewicz

Distinguished Teaching Award

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Naomi Kline

Award for Distinguished Scholarship

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Terri Johnson

Sara Jayne Steen Operating Staff Service Award

Crystal Finefrock

February 16th, 2010 by Bridget
"...we need to work together and help each other."

"...we need to work together and help each other."

Distinguished PAT (Professional, Administrative, and Technical Staff) Award

Senior Associate Director of Financial Aid

My dad always said, ‘Never carry a balance on your credit card and never pay interest,’” Crystal Finefrock recalls.

Today, she’s the one offering financial advice.

Finefrock’s PSU career began in 2000, when she accepted the position of assistant director of financial aid, awarding financial aid packages to students and counseling them and their families on financial aid options. Barely into her second year at PSU, Finefrock says, “My career took an interesting twist.”

That twist involved financial aid’s new software system, a system Finefrock had been trained on as a backup to the department’s information technologist. When the information technologist retired prior to the system conversion, Finefrock was asked to step into the role, and she accepted. Though the conversion process proved to be a challenge at times, Finefrock says the experience helped solidify financial aid’s teamwork philosophy. “We learned we can’t figure things out alone—we need to work together and help each other,” she says.

Now senior associate director of financial aid, Finefrock retains all of her responsibilities as information technologist and balances them with overseeing office operations, managing the operating budget, supervising staff, and more. The knowledge she gained from her previous positions, Finefrock notes, allows her to easily shift from assisting a colleague with a software system question to counseling a student on financial responsibility. “I love to mix it up,” she says.

Over the years, Finefrock has lent her expertise to other departments at PSU. She collaborated with Hartman Union Building staff to create a paperless orientation registration process. And in partnership with the PASS (Plymouth Academic Support Services) office, she has spoken to classes on topics including personal finance and loans. For her work on behalf of first-generation students, she earned the Champion of Educational Opportunity Award from the New Hampshire Educational Opportunity Association.

Building on her passion for financial education, Finefrock helped create and implement PSU’s nationally recognized $MART ($tudents’ Monetary Awareness and Responsibility Today) program. The program, for which she serves as director, provides students with ongoing individualized financial counseling and personalized portfolios that contain their financial aid information and financial literacy tools.

Realizing the increasing need for personal financial education, PSU introduced its Personal Finance and Investment course—a general education offering—in fall 2008. When Finefrock was approached to teach the course, she didn’t hesitate to accept. “Teaching is the hardest thing I do, but I love the challenge in it, and the opportunity to be creative,” she says.

Considering all that she does for PSU and its students, not to mention her public speaking engagements for national, regional, and state financial aid organizations and studying for her second master’s degree, it’s all too easy to label Finefrock a workaholic. But she just shrugs, smiles, and says, “I just love what I do.”

Robert Miller

February 16th, 2010 by Bridget
"When there are things that need to be done, I feel a responsibility to do something."

"When there are things that need to be done, I feel a responsibility to do something."

Award for Excellence in Faculty Service

Professor of Education

During his 33-year career at PSU, Robert Miller has been an educator, chair of the psychology department, associate dean for academic affairs, interim chair of the education department, a member of countless committees, and much more. But for Miller, it isn’t who or what you are, but what you do.

“I have a strong sense of duty,” he says. “When there are things that need to be done, I feel a responsibility to do something.”

While many of Miller’s service endeavors have been inspired by his sense of duty, the ones that are closest to his heart have been inspired by his belief that service, scholarship, and teaching are parts of a whole, and complement one another.

Miller was still a new faculty member in the Department of Psychology when he was recruited to help create an academic advising center. That early effort laid the foundation for advising at PSU and sparked a deep and enduring interest in Miller, who, for many years afterwards, was a member of the University’s advising committee. He has also presented workshops on academic advising to his colleagues. These experiences, says Miller, have enhanced his ability to guide students through their educational careers.

Another service endeavor especially meaningful to Miller is his long-time involvement with Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC). Long before the movement was embraced by American schools in the early 1980s, Miller used writing in the classroom to stimulate learning, not just to measure it. When Mary-Lou Hinman, a former English professor and founding coordinator of Plymouth State’s WAC program, stepped down as coordinator in 1994, Miller stepped into the role—a move that, he says, “changed my life.”

Not only did his involvement in WAC inspire him to shift his scholarship focus to writing-based topics, it also led him to learn something about himself. “When I became coordinator of the WAC program, I wanted to learn how we at PSU teach writing to students,” Miller explains. To do this, he volunteered at the English department’s Reading and Writing Center, and took a first-year composition course with Meg Petersen, which awakened in him an interest in writing fiction, specifically plays. It also led to Miller’s teaching courses in English, including Writing and the Creative Process and Composition, which he will teach in fall 2009.

Perhaps the greatest impact Miller’s service has had at PSU is in the development and implementation of PSU’s current general education program. As a member of the General Education Task Force, he played a critical role in revising the proposal for the new program, and assisted departments across campus in implementing it.

Miller’s service to the University and students will continue with his newest endeavor, as assistant chair of the Department of Education. It’s a role that will get him back to his roots in advising. Miller also plans to get back to his roots in another area—volunteering for the University’s Writing Center.

While Miller is planning to retire when his tenure as assistant chair ends, he appreciates the long and rewarding career he has enjoyed at Plymouth State. He says, “The University has given me the flexibility to try new things and to redefine myself.”

Gail Mears

February 16th, 2010 by Bridget
"Doing work that I love, with people I admire, in a community that really supports me—it’s hard to imagine anything better than this."

"Doing work that I love, with people I admire, in a community that really supports me—it’s hard to imagine anything better than this."

Distinguished Graduate Teaching Award

Chair of Counselor Education and School Psychology
Professor of Counselor Education

Gail Mears ’76 hadn’t originally planned on a career as a counselor and an educator, but after earning her BA in psychology from Plymouth State, she wanted to continue her education and chose to pursue her master’s degree in counseling. It didn’t take long for Mears to see that counseling was her calling. “I realized what a privilege it was to be allowed into another person’s emotional space, to witness another person’s growth process,” she recalls. “I learned that counseling was something I really loved.”

After earning her master’s degree, Mears joined the Twin Rivers Counseling Center as coordinator of its community support program, working with people with severe or persistent mental illness. “This was in the heyday of deinstitutionalization, when community mental health centers were on the rise,” Mears says. “It was a tremendous learning opportunity.”

After 18 years in clinical mental health counseling, Mears felt the time was right to pursue her doctorate in clinical psychology. Her search for work that would accommodate her rigorous study schedule led her back to PSU, where she worked part-time in the Counseling Center, a job she continues to hold today. At the same time, Mears began teaching in the graduate Counselor Education Program and realized that she loved teaching. As she completed her doctoral work, a faculty position became available at PSU. Eleven years later, Mears still marvels at the fortuitous timing. “I left my going away party at my doctoral internship site to attend my faculty orientation meeting,” she says.

Today, Mears greatly enjoys her career teaching and mentoring future counselors. “The students have such passion and energy,” she says. “It’s amazing to be part of guiding their understanding of what the field is and their development as counselors.”

But Mears’s contributions to PSU go beyond counseling and teaching. She assisted her colleague Gary Goodnough, a professor of counselor education, in the process that led to the national accreditation of the Master of Education in the Counselor Education, School Counseling, and Mental Health Counseling concentrations, making it the only program in the state accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). With Goodnough and Professor of Education Patricia Lindberg, Mears co-founded TIGER (Theatre Integrating Guidance Education and Responsibility), a professional theatre company designed to help children, schools, parents, and communities deal proactively and positively with social issues.

An active member of her professional community, Mears has held numerous leadership positions on the state, regional, and national level. She has served as the president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) and the New Hampshire Mental Health Counselors Association, and she serves as the mental health representative on the New Hampshire Board of Mental Health Practice. She has also received numerous awards for her work, among them the AMHCA Mental Health Counselor Educator of the Year in 2003.

Mears may not have set out to be a counselor or an educator, but she couldn’t be more pleased with the evolution of her career. She says, “Doing work that I love, with people I admire, in a community that really supports me—it’s hard to imagine anything better than this.”

Frank Cocchiarella

February 16th, 2010 by Bridget
"We believe in trying to be good neighbors, giving something back to our community..."

"We believe in trying to be good neighbors, giving something back to our community..."

Patricia Storer PAT (Professional, Administrative, and Technical Staff) Award

Director of Residential Life and Dining Services

Boredom is not in Frank Cocchiarella’s vocabulary. “I just can’t comprehend boredom,” he says. “There’s always something to do.”

That’s certainly the case when you are PSU’s director of Residential Life and Dining Services, as Cocchiarella has been since 2000. As director, he is responsible for PSU’s residential campus, which comprises eight traditional residence halls, a 136-unit student apartment complex, and a 30-unit non-traditional student apartment complex. He also has oversight of the 2500-student dining hall and four smaller dining facilities across campus. While Cocchiarella enjoys the many facets of his job, including managing the operating budgets, developing and helping to achieve departmental goals, and, above all, ensuring that students have a safe home away from home, he says that the best aspect of his job is the people with whom—and for whom—he works. “They are competent and compassionate,” he says. “They make working here a joy.”

Cocchiarella’s work keeps him busy, but it doesn’t prevent him from immersing himself in other areas of the University. Shortly after joining PSU in 1987, Cocchiarella was elected to the PAT senate, which represents the University’s professional, administrative, and technical staff, and he has twice served as speaker. He has also served on scores of committees, been an advisor for various student groups and intramural sports teams, and for years was actively involved in PSC (Pride and Service to the Community) Day, an annual event in which Plymouth State faculty, staff, and students would dedicate a day to a volunteer project of their own choosing. “There are so many ways to be involved at PSU, and that’s definitely one of the reasons I’ve been here for 22 years,” he says.

Equally important to Cocchiarella is serving the community in which he lives and works. His first foray into community service work was coaching for the Plymouth Area Little League. For Cocchiarella, an avid exerciser and sportsman, it was the perfect blend of personal interest and service to the community. A few years into coaching, he was asked to be commissioner, and was later honored as Plymouth Area Little League Volunteer of the Year. He also volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, which led to a position on the local chapter’s executive board. And in recent years, the Campton resident has been active in the Waterville Valley Region Chamber of Commerce and is currently on the executive board. “For just about every organization I get involved with, I tend to take on more and more responsibilities,” Cocchiarella notes. “I like to learn and then do.”

It may seem that, between work and his myriad service endeavors, Cocchiarella would have little time for anything else, but for him, family—which includes his wife, Tamara (who also works for PSU), and two children, Jillian and Nevan—comes first. And just as Cocchiarella was raised to serve his community, he says, “we are teaching our kids about service and getting involved.” As a family, the Cocchiarellas have organized neighborhood get-togethers, campaigned for a 2008 presidential candidate, and helped out at the kids’ school. “We believe in trying to be good neighbors, giving something back to our community, and being good representatives of the University,” he says, adding, “It’s part of our everyday lives.”

Diane Tiffany

February 16th, 2010 by Bridget
"When the need comes up, I’m happy to jump in and help out."

"When the need comes up, I’m happy to jump in and help out."

Distinguished OS (Operating Staff) Award

Gift Processor, Office of University Advancement

It is virtually impossible to walk across the PSU campus, or sit in the Hartman Union Building, and carry on an uninterrupted conversation with Diane Tiffany.

It’s not Tiffany’s fault. She just knows so many people—students, professors, administrators, employees—that there is always someone to say hello to. In more than 12 years working at PSU, she has served on numerous committees, volunteered in charity and scholarship fundraisers, and been highly involved in student activities.

“When the need comes up, I’m happy to jump in and help out,” she says. “It gives me a chance to meet people. Being part of the PSU community is wonderful because it provides us so many opportunities for education, opportunities for social and cultural events, opportunities to think. And the community is very welcoming. It’s like a family.”

As a gift processor in the Office of University Advancement, Tiffany is in constant contact with another important segment of the University community: donors. She makes sure that each acknowledgement of a donation has a personal touch. “I like to help the donors feel good about their gifts by letting them know about the impact they have on students,” she says.

Her Plymouth State connections are not only widespread; they’re also deep-rooted. On her mother’s side of the family, she’s a fourth-generation alumna; on her father’s side, third. And long before she began attending Plymouth State to study elementary education, she formed a strong attachment to the town of Plymouth.

“We would drive north to Grandma’s on Christmas Eve,” she recalls. “This was before I-93, so it was a huge trip to go from Concord to Dalton on Route 3. We would always stop in Plymouth because it was the halfway point. We’d go to Blake’s Restaurant on Main Street and have pie. And I always thought Plymouth was such a pretty little town, such a nice place to be.”

Four years ago, Tiffany realized a longtime dream when she and her husband Rick, a PSU building service worker, purchased a home in Plymouth where they live with their son Brian. Tiffany credits Affordable Housing, Education and Development (AHEAD) Inc., a community-based housing development organization based in Littleton, NH, with helping her family through the process of becoming homeowners. She and Rick remain involved with AHEAD, speaking at seminars and sharing their experience with others. “They’re a wonderful organization, and I continue to advocate for them,” she says.

Tiffany is involved in other community activities, including the Keeping You, Me, and Memories Alive Walk to Fight Cancer and March of Dimes March for Babies. She also enjoys music, occasionally traveling to bluegrass festivals and recently seeing The Dead—members of the former Grateful Dead—“for the first time in many years.”

Most of all, Tiffany says, she simply loves living in New Hampshire and taking advantage of her natural surroundings: camping, hiking, and learning how to fish. “I enjoy relaxing in nature,” she says. “I’m a New Hampshire girl through and through.” And Plymouth State to the core.

Joseph Mealey

February 16th, 2010 by Bridget
“I love to see (my students) get better at things, acquire skills, and realize they can do it.”

“I love to see (my students) get better at things, acquire skills, and realize they can do it.”

Distinguished Adjunct Teaching Award

Adjunct Faculty, Department of English

A tough job market inspired Joe Mealey ’94 [MA Case Western Reserve] to return to PSU in 1996 to earn his certification to teach high school English. But on his way to register for classes, he saw the light: it was emanating from Professor Emeritus of English Henry Vittum’s office. “I went in just to say ‘Hi’,” Mealey recalls. When Vittum responded to his greeting by asking Mealey if he was ready to teach, Mealey thought he was joking.

It was no joke. Thanks to a phone call from Vittum to Barbara Blaha, then-chair of the English department, Mealey was teaching English composition courses at PSU a week later. That was nearly 14 years ago. “I got lucky,” Mealey says. “There are a lot of good people here.”

Henry Vittum wasn’t the only English department faculty member who saw great promise in Mealey as a college instructor. Mealey was just three semesters into earning his BA in English at Plymouth State when one of his professors, Mary-Lou Hinman, encouraged him to consider a career teaching English at the university level. “Although she knew I was planning on going to law school, she saw how much I loved reading, writing, and discussing literature, and she asked me if I had ever considered becoming a professor,” Mealey says. “Years later, when she evaluated one of my classes, she wrote: ‘I first raised the idea about teaching to Joe and I’m glad that I did!’ on the course evaluation.”

As a teacher, Mealey draws heavily from his own student experience at Plymouth State. “I always keep in mind how it felt to be a student,” he says. “Henry Vittum and Mary-Lou Hinman created a supportive and respectful environment in which I could learn, and I try to create a similar environment for my students.”

To that end, Mealey encourages the free exchange of ideas—whether they are shared during class, during office hours, within smaller work groups, or in class blogs. “I believe that education should be informative, explorative, and fun,” Mealey says. “I work to foster an atmosphere where students can feel free to explore, take risks, and succeed.”

Mealey’s involvement in student activities outside of the classroom enhances the connections he aims to establish in the classroom. He has been an advisor to the staff of PSU’s student newspaper, The Clock, and for the past five years he has served as an advisor to MESA (Mentoring Enhances Student Achievement), an English department student organization. MESA is composed of sophomore, junior, and senior-level English majors who serve as mentors to first-year and new English majors. In addition to offering writing workshops, schedule-advising nights, and online support via instant messaging, MESA hosts social events and does community outreach, Mealey notes.

Whether it’s through teaching, advising, or mentoring his students, Mealey finds his students’ progress and success to be the most rewarding aspect of his work. “I love to see them get better at things, acquire skills, and realize they can do it,” he says, noting that the fact that he’s teaching at Plymouth State is especially gratifying. “As a student and as a faculty member, I have always felt nurtured and respected here. I can’t picture being anywhere else.”

Cynthia Vascak

February 16th, 2010 by Bridget
“Whenever I’m teaching something, I put myself wholeheartedly into the subject.”

“Whenever I’m teaching something, I put myself wholeheartedly into the subject.”

Distinguished Teaching Award

Chair of the Department of Art
Professor of Art Education

Cynthia Vascak tilts her head, pausing to ponder a philosophical question: is she an artist who is also a teacher, or a teacher who is also an artist?

“Both are part of a whole,” she concludes with a smile. “Each complements the other, and each enriches the other. I try not to separate—I try to bring them together. I think of teaching as a form of artistry, and artistry as a form of teaching.”

Vascak teaches a wide range of undergraduate and graduate courses in PSU’s Department of Art, from figure drawing to Instructional Planning and Pedagogy for Art Education. While the latter may sound like a rather dry topic, Vascak, whose doctoral degree is in curriculum and instruction, finds it inspiring. “Pedagogy and curriculum are great passions of mine,” she says. “Most people think of curriculum as this tome on a shelf, but when you think about being able to create a curriculum, now that’s exciting. How do I make it come alive? What do I want my students to know and understand? What do I want them to be able to do? What do I want them to think about, question, imagine, hypothesize, create, come aflame with? How do I pull these together?

“It’s like creating a painting. If you don’t put all these pieces together in just the right way, it falls flat … it doesn’t breathe, it doesn’t have that vibrancy that demands engagement. So for me, designing a curriculum is fascinating because it has so much potential. I try to inspire my students, and the teachers I work with, to shift their perceptions about curricula. If you look at it in a creative way, it’s like another art form.”

In describing her work as a professor, Vascak often refers to passion—her own as well as her students’. “Whatever course I happen to be teaching at that time is my favorite course,” she says. “Whenever I’m teaching something, I put myself wholeheartedly into the subject.”

She stresses that point to her art education students, saying, “Your students will know the difference if you’re not passionate about what you’re teaching. Our challenge is to be passionate about whatever we are teaching, to constantly connect to the joy and fascination of learning with our students.”

Just as her roles as teacher and artist complement each other, Vascak’s passion is balanced by peace—a calm that is evident in her thoughtfulness and her artwork.

“There is so much beauty in the world, and there is so much angst,” she says. “I’ve chosen to provide a moment of beauty through my artwork. I hope that when someone is looking at my artwork in a contemplative manner, they feel a sense of calm, harmony, and grace that inspires internal reflection.”

Once again, her goals as an artist and as a teacher coincide. “I’ve always wanted to change the world and make it a more peaceful and harmonious place,” she says. “Through education and artistry, whether it’s a difference in the life of one person or many, we do change the world.”

Joseph Monninger

February 16th, 2010 by Bridget
"You often have a lot of projects going at once, so you have to be flexible."

"You often have a lot of projects going at once, so you have to be flexible."

Award for Distinguished Scholarship

Professor of English

Joe Monninger didn’t set out to be a writer. In fact, as he approached graduation from Temple University in 1975, his top job prospect was as a clothes buyer for Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia.

More than 30 years later, he’s a critically acclaimed, award-winning author—and his road to writing began with the decision not to take that job.

“I didn’t even know what a clothes buyer was,” he says. Instead, he applied to the Peace Corps and was stationed in West Africa’s Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) for two years. “I ended up by myself in a hut way out in the desert, and that’s when I started writing,” he says. “I don’t know why, exactly. I needed to fill time … I started writing long letters, and that turned into writing stories.”

From there, his jump to becoming a novelist was a matter of practicality. “I wish it were a more esoteric tale,” he says. “But when I returned from Africa, I was working as a grocery clerk. I knew I needed to do something else. I wanted to write.”

Monninger had been working on a novel based on his first short story, which won third place in the Redbook Short Story Contest in 1978. “But then I read The Amityville Horror,” he says. “And I thought, ‘I can write one of these.’ So I sat down and wrote one in six weeks, and it sold right away.”

From there, he set off on a wide-ranging tour of writing genres that has lasted more than 30 years—so far. From fiction to nonfiction, short stories to novels, Sports Illustrated to American Heritage, Monninger has published countless articles, numerous short stories, and nearly 20 books.

Writing isn’t an easy line of work, but over the years, he has attracted significant praise: Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Richard Eder, reviewing Monninger’s 1991 novel The Viper Tree, compared him to renowned author Graham Greene; in 2007, NPR’s Bill Littlefield said Monninger’s historical boxing book, Two Ton, deserves a spot among that sport’s classic literature. He has received two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and national honors for his young adult novels Baby, which was selected as one of 2009’s best young adult books by the Young Adult Library Services Association, and Hippie Chick, which was selected as one of 2008’s Most Distinguished Books by The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

And now, Monninger feels he’s hit his stride in his career. “It took a long time to get to this point,” he says. “Now I’m able to focus on projects that I really want to do, that I know I will enjoy.”

He also enjoys his role as a professor and mentor to his students at PSU, where he’s been teaching since 1990. “I tell students, instead of thinking of a writing room, think of a wood shop,” he says. “There are shavings on the floor, projects started, vises holding glued pieces together … here’s a magazine article, here’s a book. You often have a lot of projects going at once, so you have to be flexible.”

Monninger wants his students to know that writing doesn’t happen magically. “I hope that by the end of a course, they’ve glimpsed a certain disciplined approach to writing—that there is no muse sitting on my shoulder that’s not on theirs,” he says. “There’s a Trollope quote: ‘It’s dogged as does it.’ And it’s true.”

In Plymouth Magazine

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Nora Galvin ’14, Stellar Student-Athlete

As an NCAA Division III school, Plymouth State is home to the true student-athlete: the student who exhibits the same drive, dedication, and commitment to excellence both in and out of the classroom; who studies hard for a rewarding future; and plays for the love of the game. PSU social work major Nora Galvin ’14, [...]

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Another Way to Serve

“It was like moving to a foreign country with a completely different culture,” says PSU student Patrick O’Sullivan. The 26-year-old veteran isn’t referring to his time in Iraq as a motor transport operator in the Army Reserve. He’s talking about coming home. O’Sullivan joined the Army Reserve right out of high school, at an age [...]

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Faculty Forum: Irene Cucina

Professor Irene Cucina has been teaching in the Department of Health and Human Performance since 1998. Prior to coming to Plymouth State, she had a rewarding career as a high school health and physical education teacher and coach in Newton, MA. Her commitment to students and learning has been recognized by her peers through a [...]