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Two to receive Distinguished Service honors

Oct. 17, 2008

KALAMAZOO--A longtime faculty member and the advisor to one of Western Michigan University's major outreach efforts have been named recipients of the University's 2008-09 Distinguished Service Award.

The award will go to Dr. Sisay Asefa, professor of economics and director of the Center for African Development Policy in the Haenicke Institute for Global Education, and Abraham Poot, advisor to WMU's Sunseeker solar racecar teams and engineering laboratory supervisor for the departments of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering and Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering.

The pair will be honored Thursday, Oct. 30, at the annual Academic Convocation in the Dalton Center Recital Hall. The event will feature WMU President John M. Dunn's State of the University address as well as the presentation of a several other campuswide awards honoring this year's Distinguished Faculty Scholar, Emerging Scholar and Distinguished Teaching award recipients.

As winners of the Distinguished Service Award, Asefa and Poot will join a list of 44 faculty and staff members who have received the accolade since it was established in 1980. Each of the recipients will receive a plaque and a $2,000 honorarium. The two were chosen from among award candidates from across the campus who were nominated for their service through innovative and effective programs or in areas that extend the impact and presence of the University into the larger community.

Asefa, a WMU faculty member for 28 years, was lauded by those nominating him for his teaching, research and service that has promoted globalization and economic development, particularly in African and other developing nations. He was praised for bringing together faculty and scholars from across the disciplines and around the world, and for building the same skills among a strong body of graduate students. His work in organizing international conferences both in the United States and Africa was noted by many of his supporters, as was his ability to attract international graduate students to WMU's programs.

According to a colleague at another research university, "WMU is fortunate to have someone of Professor Asefa's talent, hard work, commitment and dedication not only to his own field of expertise--economics--but also to the general debate on development and good governance in less developed countries…"

A campus colleague said "…his remarkable scholarly work...has contributed to the reputation of his intellectual home department (economics) as well as enhanced the reputation of Western at both the national and international level."

"He is a humble, unselfish, hard working and dedicated person who encourages and supports the professional development and success of many students and colleagues," noted another colleague. Yet another called him the MVP in the Department of Economics Ph.D. program.

A three-time recipient of the Fulbright Scholar Grant, Asefa also has served as a member of the national review board for the Fulbright Senior Specialist Program. His ability to network among the world's scholars, his remarkable work ethic and his altruism were noted by several nominators.

Asefa attended Haile Selassie University in Ethiopia, then earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Central College in Pella, Iowa. He earned both his master's and doctoral degrees from Iowa State University. He taught at ISU before joining the WMU faculty in 1980.

Poot was praised for having "a profound impact" on all of the varied people he comes into contact with, serving as a mentor to hundreds of students and for being the University's public face and spokesperson on the topic of alternative energy for audiences across the nation. A 13-year WMU employee, he has served since 2001 as the advisor to the Sunseeker Solar Car project, an effort that puts a team of WMU engineering students in competition with college students across North America for a biennial cross-country race in cars powered solely by the sun.

Poot's commitment to students was among the primary qualities those nominating him singled out. A retired senior administrator called Poot an example for faculty and staff campuswide.

"If we want to retain students; if we want to give our students a memorable experience as undergraduates; if we want to create solid bonds between our students and ourselves, we must look at people like Abe Poot, who fulfills all these tasks in an exemplary way," he wrote in support of the nomination.

A student who worked with Poot this year agreed, saying "Abe is not just a leader, but a true team member. He doesn't leave when the clock says his work day is over, he leaves when the work is done."

A private-sector engineer working with the Sunseeker team added his assessment of Poot's impact on the students who work with him and the value his influence ultimately has when his students move into their post-graduation roles.

"Abe's unique gift for empowering students gives WMU students a distinct advantage over their counterparts, as they gain priceless hands-on and think-for-themselves experience that employers are looking for," he wrote.

Poot attended Calvin College for 18 months before transferring to DeVry Institute of Technology to earn a bachelor's degree in electronics engineering technology. Prior to joining the WMU staff, he worked as a design engineer for Parker/Abex/NWL Aerospace in Kalamazoo and for Vickers Electromechanical Division in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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