CHHS faculty and staff recognized at State of the College

At the Dec. 2 State of the College event, Dean Earlie Washington recognized high-performing faculty and staff with the annual faculty and staff recognition awards.

Below, you can read the personal introductions written for the awardees. We thank the presenters for their thoughtful words and warm introductions.


Erica Ongstad, Social Work

Presented by Jennifer Harrison

It is my privilege to be able to introduce Erica Ongstad as the 2016 recipient of the College of Health and Human Services Outstanding Customer Service award. Erica is the office coordinator for the School of Social Work. 

There are two short examples I want to talk about of why Erica is eminently deserving of this highest honor for college staff members. I have pestered Erica at times for her response rate with e-mails, phone calls, web queries, and in person visits, but if she doesn’t quit responding so well, completely and professionally, she is going to make the rest of us look bad. It’s my version of an old fashioned work slow-down attempt, but Erica never seems to fall for it.

At one time last year I talked about wanting a calendar that had annual timeframes for field education activities across campuses for the School of Social Work, kind of in a musing way. About two hours later, Erica came into my area saying, “something like this, but linkable in our website?” I was blown away, as it was way more than I would have even envisioned. 

The other story is that, like in many of your departments, often people come to the School of Social Work when they really need someplace, someone or something else. I can hear in my head, and often try to emulate, Erica saying, “let me help you find what you are looking for,” and have such respect for what I would claim as a social work skill of getting people to the right resource so that their needs are met, they feel honored, and they sometimes feel like it was their idea the whole time. That is a gift and a skill that not all social workers even have, and Erica has it in abundance.

We are all lucky to have Erica as a colleague, and it is my pleasure to be able to be present as she is recognized today.


Steve Tasko - Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences

Presented by Ann Tyler

This award was established by former dean, Dr. Janet Pisaneschi, in 1997 to recognize excellence in teaching, a hallmark of the College of Health and Human Services. This year's recipient is Steve Tasko. Here are some comments from his nominators that exemplify his dedication to teaching:

Steve is an incredible teacher who is dedicated to student learning at the undergraduate and graduate level. He is thoughtful in how he constructs his courses to maximize student learning and connect difficult content with clinical practice. He teaches some of our most challenging courses, yet students consistently rave about how much they love his classes.

The passion with which he conveyed curricular information was always evident. He engage his students in conceptual and physical demonstrations and cognitive reasoning exercises in order to make complex concepts accessible to students of a wide range of abilities. 

This teacher was profoundly focused on cultivating our class into better learners and better critical thinkers (all of which are entirely related to speech pathology but none of us really knew just how much so at the time).

For Steve Tasko, teaching is not merely a routine. He makes an investment in his students. I am very grateful for the investment he put in me and my career. 

The information I learned from Steve’s teaching was instrumental in my academic career at WMU and shaped my desire to continue my academic career and earn a PhD.

If this award is to reflect the impact, inspiration, and exception teaching of an individual I can do nothing but whole-heartedly agree, and nominate Dr. Tasko for this recognition. 


Karen Horneffer-Ginter

Presented by Paula Andrasi

I am honored to introduce Dr. Karen Hornifer-Ginter to you today as she receives the Professional Instructor Teaching Excellence Award. For many of you, Karen needs no introduction. She was one of my predecessors, serving as the director of the holistic health care program. She served with distinction and expanded the program from a graduate certificate and gen ed offering to a program that also offered an undergraduate minor.

You may not know that after she graduated in 1996 from the University of Illinois Champagne-Urbana, she was director of behavioral sciences for West Suburban Hospital at Loyola University, where she developed and implemented a curriculum to teach medical residents how to communicate effectively with patients and how to approach care from a more holistic point of view. You may also not know that she has published in 10 peer-reviewed journal articles, five book chapters and is the author of "Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit: Nourishing the Soul When Life's Just Too Much." This is just a sample of her many accomplishments in the holistic health arena. And, of course, she is also an outstanding yoga instructor.

When Karen sought tenure, I had the pleasure of writing a letter of recommendation for her. Although I had never taken a holistic class from her at WMU, I had taken a yoga class from her and shared these insights. "Karen has a way of encouraging you to do more than you think you are capable of, and she does it without judgement or criticism. She also seems to know just how far she can stretch you to perform in a certain area and then gently move you to the next stage."

I am not surprised that Karen was nominated by one of her students. Just as I had experienced, her nominator made a point of stressing Karen's encouraging spirit. She was deemed as "inspiring, praiseworthy and enjoyable," and I couldn't agree more. In the almost 20 years I have known Karen - in many different venues - she has remained kind, caring, helpful, understanding, creative and incredibly competent.


Dae Kim - Blindness and Low Vision Studies

Presented by Jim Leja

This year, I was pleased to nominate Dr. Dae Kim for the CHHS Research Excellence award. Over the past three years, Dr. Kim has demonstrated exceptional research and publication activity that has had an impact in the field of blindness and low vision.

He authored or coauthored 11 refereed publications in journals such as the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, the Journal of Transportation Engineering-American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Institute of Transportation Engineers Journal. In addition, he has more than 11 refereed national and international presentations. And finally, Dr. Kim has been PI or co-PI on federal grants totaling more than $1.1 million.

And though it’s not in the criteria for the award, it’s something that I believe is very important, he is able to engage students in his various research activities and brings his expertise into the research class he teaches. Dr. Kim instills his passion into the students he mentors.

I am very happy that he is receiving this honor and recognition of his exceptional efforts and dedication to the university, college, department, and the field. Congratulations, Dr. Dae Kim.


Yvonne Unrau - Social Work

Presented by Dean Washington

The award for Scholarship Excellence goes to Dr. Yvonne Unrau, professor in the School of Social Work. Dr. Unrau’s scholarship is extensive, and has made a significant impact on the profession, our college and in the communities in which she has worked. She has co-authored 17 books, 45 book chapters, 35 refereed articles and much more. Her concentration on research methods, evidence-based practice and new approaches to interventions have all undoubtedly contributed to the School of Social Work’s continued ranking as a top national program.

Aside from being a professor and mentor for undergraduate and graduate students, much of Dr. Unrau’s work at CHHS has focused on leading the university’s Center for Fostering Success. This was born out of her research on youth and adults aging out of the foster care system and the recognized need that foster youth were not represented on WMU’s campus.

In 2007, Dr. Unrau conducted a needs assessment and learned that only 12 students with foster care histories were enrolled at WMU. She worked with other leaders on campus to establish the Foster Youth and Higher Education Initiative. From this effort, the Seita Scholars program was launched in 2008. She was the program’s founding director and, in collaboration with her team of staff and students, designed the campus coach support model during her directorship.  Today the program serves 150 students from foster care annually at WMU. The program has a scholarship budget of $1.6 million per year and a secure operational budget of nearly $500,000 per year. And, this is only one program under the Center for Fostering Success.

In 2012, the Foster Youth in Higher Education Initiative was renamed the Center for Fostering Success and, in the same year, the center was approved by WMU’s Board of Trustees. Its mission is to increase college graduation and career achievement rates among youth and adults aging out of the foster care system.

Also in 2012, Fostering Success Michigan was established as the center’s second program. Fostering Success Michigan is a statewide outreach initiative that seeks to build capacity for other institutions of higher education to offer support to students from foster care on their campus. In 2013, the Fostering Success Coach Training program was officially launched. This program provides advanced training to professionals across the country who support students from foster care in higher education.

Dr. Unrau feels a great deal of gratitude to lead the center and its programs of excellence. She especially feels honored to use her talent, energy and skill to build supports that directly benefit youth in foster care, and recognizes the exceptional talent of her team of staff in all achievements to date.

Under Dr. Unrau’s leadership, the activities of the Center for Fostering Success align closely with WMU’s mission to be learner-centered and discovery driven. Through this work, as well as her scholarship, Dr. Unrau has advanced policy, created new impactful initiatives in the community and forged strong new state and local partnerships.

One of Dr. Unrau’s strongest contributions to our college and University has been her record of grants and awards to help those in the most need in schools and communities. Since 2008, she has been awarded nine grants totaling more than $2.5 million. Her work has notably been recognized and funded by several organizations including The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and the Department of Health and Human Services, among many others.

Some of her most recent scholarly contributions have concentrated on social work with a view toward mindfulness and mind-body interventions in response to individuals living with trauma. She continues to offer many workshops to educate communities about a variety of topics, including foster care, child welfare, traumatic stress, mindfulness and body-based interventions. She has also offered ways for both students and staff at CHHS and WMU to release stress through guided yoga and meditation sessions and classes. She has contributed vastly to the development of young scholars and made a tremendous impact on CHHS and WMU.