The public affairs mission challenges members of the Missouri State University community to do big things: To improve the community, recognize needs, provide leadership, increase globalization and further understanding.
Faculty and staff live this out in their personal and professional lives, and they model it for students every day.
Missouri State recognized three staff members and three faculty members for their distinctive work and campus accomplishments with the 2021-22 Board of Governors’ Award for Excellence in Public Affairs.
Each winner receives a $1,500 internal grant for travel and/or projects related to their public affairs endeavors.
Dr. Tara Benson, associate director of the Plaster Student Union, director of student engagement
As an avid volunteer and community leader, Dr. Tara Benson uses her involvement to connect students to meaningful engagement through internships, networking and leadership positions.
Skilled at bridging inclusion and innovation, she recently developed an implicit bias training and a 15–day Racial Equity Challenge for the leadership of student organizations. She also manages the diversity programming fund, which has enabled underrepresented student groups to develop activities and provide desired training opportunities.
In student partnership, Benson helped create the podcast, Beyond the Bearrier, which addresses issues on student leadership and engagement.
David Hall, director of university safety
David Hall works tirelessly to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the entire campus community. His leadership and close ties within Springfield have led to improved emergency response plans, the AED program and faster and more effective responses to campus incidents.
This past year, Hall has diligently navigated the campus’ response to the pandemic by establishing the campus incident management system, robust testing systems, policies and procedures, and assisting with alterative housing solutions.
With a dedication to student learning, Hall consistently seeks and develops opportunities to integrate students in leadership, governance and practical learning experiences.
Travis Schilla, coordinator of leadership development and programming in residence life, housing and dining services
As advisor to the student-led Residence Hall Association, Travis Schilla’s impact on students’ leadership can be seen through programs, such as the Acts of Random Kindness Week, #AllBearsCan and Tunnel of Oppression.
Recently, Schilla mentored a student to bring an idea to reality. This resulted in the innovative 4 Big IDEA Boxes program, which teaches on issues of microaggressions, allyship, white privilege and institutional racism.
Schilla also coordinated the keynote for LBGTQ+ Pride Month and recently completed a three-year term as regional advisor for the Midwest Affiliate of College and University Residence Halls.
Dr. Judith Martinez, assistant professor of modern and classical languages
Dr. Judith Martinez is an advocate for multiculturalism, diversity, equity, inclusion and antiracism. Currently the provost fellow for faculty development, she has held several roles that have advanced diversity issues and initiatives on campus and in surrounding communities.
Some of her most notable programs are the Hispanic Initiative Program, the Student Transition Education Program, the Latino Leadership Institute and Bear Bridge, which provides support for underrepresented new faculty.
Most recently, Martinez established the BEAR ON program where her students provided online tutoring to the migrant population during the pandemic.
Dr. Gary Meints, associate professor of chemistry
Respectfully known as the local Bill Nye, Dr. Gary Meints’ innovative teaching and active demonstrations have inspired a new generation of scientists and created an appreciation of science throughout the community.
Meints mentors his students and research groups to be inclusive, ethical leaders and advocates representation and scientific literacy.
He is recognized for his accomplishments as a proactive advisor to the Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success Committee, the First-Generation Student Advisory Committee and as a member of the Public Affairs Conference Advisory Committee.
In 2020, Meints received NACADA’s Global Award for Advising.
Caryn Saxon, senior instructor of criminology
Caryn Saxon’s leadership in teaching, mentorship and program development is evidenced by the significant impacts being made in the classroom and throughout the community.
Her notable work includes developing and conducting a weekly class for incarcerated women at the Greene County Jail and serving on Missouri’s restorative probation board.
She has also developed new criminology courses that highlights today’s most pressing issues, contributed antiracism recommendations for her college’s Diversity and Inclusion Council and currently conducts social action research for the betterment of Springfield’s LGBTQ+ community.
To continually improve student success, Saxon has guided her department as its first proactive advisor for first-generation and Pell-eligible students.