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And the Madelyn Levitt awards go to...

June 6, 2011

Drake University presents the 2011 Madelyn Levitt awards to environmental science, chemistry faculty

Drake faculty members Keith Summerville (L) and Gholam Mirafzal (R) pose for a photo with Drake President David Maxwell.

Drake University faculty members Keith Summerville and Gholam Mirafzal received Drake's highest honors for teachers and mentors – the annual Madelyn Levitt Awards – at the University's undergraduate commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 14.

The late Madelyn Levitt, longtime Drake trustee and honorary alumna, established the awards in 1994 to recognize faculty and staff for their commitment to academic excellence and student success. The honorees embody Madelyn Levitt's commitment to Drake and her ongoing interest in faculty achievement.

A list of previous Levitt Award recipients is available online.

Summerville: The Levitt Teacher of the Year  

Associate Professor Summerville receives the 2011 Madelyn Levitt Teacher of the Year award.

Summerville, associate professor of environmental science and policy and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, received the 2011 Madelyn Levitt Teacher of the Year award. The award recognizes the Drake faculty member who best demonstrates excellence in teaching, inspirational leadership and intellectual rigor.

"I am both honored and humbled to receive this recognition from my peers," Summerville says. "A number of my mentors and role models on campus have previously won this award, so it thrills me to be considered on par with Drake's exceptional teachers."

In letters of nomination for the award, his current and former students praise him for his capabilities as an outstanding professor and mentor.

"Dr. Summerville teaches with an ease of delivery that reflects his extensive experience," says Laura Ippen, a 2010 Drake graduate. "His classes are challenging, but he explains complex concepts in plain English and always checks in to make sure students understand. Dr. Summerville strikes the balance between approachability and professionalism, and he is a mentor to countless students."

Cara Pratt, a senior environmental policy and international relations major from Kenosha, Wis., agrees with Ippen's assessment.

"Dr. Summerville is extremely busy, yet every time I send him an e-mail I can expect a response within mere minutes," Pratt says. "Whenever I meet with him, I can expect his complete attention and dedication to our conversation. Many of the opportunities I've had at Drake can be directly attributed to the role Dr. Summerville has played in my education."

Summerville, who has worked at Drake since 2001, says he became a university professor because of his personal commitment to connect undergraduates with the natural world.

"My teaching philosophy firmly asserts that encounters with mosquitoes, wetland seeps, startled bull snakes and sunny springtime afternoons are as critical to student understanding of ecology and environmental science as textbook readings and laboratory experiments," he says.

Summerville received his bachelor's degree from Westminster College, his master's degree from Miami University and his doctorate from the Miami University Department of Zoology.

He has received numerous research grants, including endowments from the National Science Foundation, Iowa Great Outdoors Foundation, National Geographic Society, Polk County Conservation Board and United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Summerville, who serves on the board of directors for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Iowa Audubon Society, is a member of the Ecological Society of America, Society of Conservation Biologists and Entomological Society of America.

His research has appeared in myriad publications, including The Wilson Journal of Anthology, Journal of American Ecology and Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Mirafzal: The Levitt Mentor of the Year  

Professor Mirafzal was honored with the 2011 Madelyn Levitt Mentor of the Year Award.

Mirafzal, professor of chemistry, is the recipient of the 2011 Madelyn Levitt Mentor Award, which recognizes faculty and staff who exhibit outstanding commitment to student success in and out of the classroom, as well as integrity in personal relationships.

"I'm extremely grateful and honored to receive this award," Mirafzal says. "I consider myself very lucky to be among a fine group of faculty members at Drake who are very passionate about their work, which is to provide the best quality of instruction to our students, to inspire them, to bring out the best in them and to help them achieve their goals and dreams."

In a letter of nomination for the award, Drake student Mohamed Hassan commends Mirafzal for his commitment to mentorship.

"Dr. Mirafzal's willingness to answer questions in and out of the classroom is one of his trademarks," says Hassan, a junior biochemistry, cell and molecular biology major from West Des Moines. "His sense of humor and calm, down-to-earth demeanor -- combined with his great expertise in organic chemistry -- truly make him the embodiment of a quality mentor."

Albena Ivanisevic, a 1996 Drake graduate and associate professor at Purdue University, cites Mirafzal's capable and engaging laboratory instruction in her letter of recommendation.

"Professor Mirafzal had the greatest impact on my career through his mentorship in the lab," Ivanisevic says. "He personally taught me every technique, celebrated every success I had and encouraged me to continue even when things were not working as planned. He is a fantastic mentor."

"It makes me feel good that many of my students still keep in touch with me long after graduation from Drake, and I am especially glad that I have been able to assist them in their journeys to success," Mirafzal says. "My office door has always been open for my past and current students, and it will stay open for future Drake students."

Mirafzal, a member of Drake's faculty since 1993, received his bachelor's degree from Jacksonville State University and his doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

He is the recipient of the Cromwell Award for Outstanding Achievement in Teaching and Research in Organic Chemistry, the Drake College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Teacher of the Year Award and the Drake Chemistry Club 2003 Chemistry Professor of the Year Award.

Mirafzal has received research grants from the Drake Undergraduate Science Collaborative Institute, Grow Iowa and NASA. His work has been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the Journal of Chemistry Education, the Journal of Porphyrins and Phtalocyanines and the Organometallics journal.