DUNMORE, Pa. – Penn State Scranton Associate Professor of Information Sciences and Technology Debra Smarkusky recently received high honor from her colleagues within the University’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST).
Earlier this month, Smarkusky was presented with the University's Statewide Faculty Member of the Year Award at the Fall IST Statewide Faculty Meeting.
The University-wide award recognizes outstanding College of IST faculty members from across the commonwealth who exemplify the mission of the college in improving the lives of people in Pennsylvania, the nation and the world through integrated, high-quality teaching, research and outreach. Awardees have demonstrated their excellence in accomplishing the school’s mission and boast an outstanding record of developing leaders for today’s digital, global economy.
In nominating Smarkusky for the award, Fred Aebli, lecturer in IST, stated that he knew of “no faculty member more dedicated to the students and our University.”
“For almost two decades, I have witnessed Deb’s clear thinking, dedication to our students and love of teaching as she has been instrumental in building our IST program at Penn State Scranton and across the state,” wrote Aebli, who serves as IST program co-coordinator with Smarkusky.
The award, which includes a $500 check and an engraved stone Nittany Lion statue, came as a very pleasant surprise to Smarkusky, who received the campus’ Gertrude Hawk Chocolates Service Award in 2010 and Advisory Board Teaching Award in 2012.
“It is truly an honor to be recognized by colleagues within my discipline. Teaching is my passion and having been named the recipient of this award is just amazing,” said Smarkusky, whose name will be engraved on the wall plaque inside University Park’s Westgate Building, home of the College of IST.
For Smarkusky, the award represents many years of hard work and dedication on behalf of her students, the campus IST program and the College of IST.
A campus alumna, Smarkusky has been an IST faculty member at Scranton for the past 20 years. Over that period, she, Aebli and IST Professor Alan Peslak have built a highly successful program that continues to evolve with the ever-changing IST field.
“We have very talented and experienced full- and part-time faculty in our campus IST department,” Smarkusky said. “We all teach courses in our areas of expertise, which allows us to share real-world experiences and knowledge with our students. We work together as a campus and a college to continually evaluate and update the curriculum and course content for the degree programs that we offer.”
Through her years in the classroom, Smarkusky said she has learned that each course provides a unique mix of students who all possess different learning styles. Because of that, she said, it’s important for her to integrate active learning experiences into the classroom wherever possible and give students the opportunity to utilize what they have learned. She added that she's a big believer in student feedback as a vehicle for enhancing course content and learning outcomes.
Like many other campus faculty members, Smarkusky has completely migrated her course delivery to the virtual realm since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Although most wish that in-person learning was possible, I am very proud of how both the faculty and IST students have adapted to online learning during COVID,” she said. “Most of our IST course content was previously online in Canvas, but we needed to transition to Zoom for the delivery of course lectures. Zoom breakout rooms provide an online platform for students to complete team projects as a group, or active-learning exercises on an individual basis. We have the ability to visit each Zoom breakout room, maintain academic integrity, view the student’s project content and continue to answer student questions.”
A proponent of multidisciplinary research, Smarkusky currently collaborates with campus Music Director and Associate Teaching Professor of Music Sharon Ann Toman on an innovative robot choreography project that allows IST majors to work with students enrolled in Toman’s general education music courses.
“Music students create the digital musical scores and the IST students develop software for the robot movements. The design and implementation of the choreography is the bridge between discipline areas,” Smarkusky said. “The final product is a robot dance where the movements of robot couples are synchronized to the rhythm of the music.”
As IST program co-coordinator, Smarkusky is involved in various recruiting and retention events on campus. She also serves as an advisor for New Student Orientation (NSO), and as a faculty member of both the Penn State Scranton Jazz Band and Chorale.
Meanwhile, she has been a member of the College of IST Course Development and Review Committees and the campus Promotion and Tenure Committee, served as a discipline representative for other University College campus promotion and tenure committees, and coordinated the campus IST Scholars Program.
It all adds up to a highly satisfying career that Smarkusky has never taken for granted.
“I am proud to be a faculty member of the IST program at Penn State Scranton,” she said. “It is a dream come true to follow my passion for teaching and be given an opportunity to share my knowledge and experiences with future generations.”