ABAC Recognizes Top Faculty and Staff at Honors Day

Staff Report From Tifton CEO

Thursday, April 4th, 2019

Beth Thornton, an assistant professor of biology, received the top award presented to a faculty member at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College on Wednesday when she received the W. Bruce and Rosalyn Ray Donaldson Award for Teaching Excellence at the annual Honors Day ceremony.

Other top award recipients at the Gressette Gym ceremony included Beverly Wesley, a Financial Aid Analyst II, who received the Roy R. Jackson, Sr. Award for Staff Excellence, and Dr. Jerry Baker, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, who received the E. Lanier Carson Leadership Award for College Administrators.

Dr. Ray Smith, a professor of agronomy and department head, received the W. Bruce and Rosalyn Ray Donaldson Excellence in Advising Award, and Dr. Mary Ellen Hicks, a professor of animal science, received the W. Bruce and Rosalyn Ray Donaldson Award for Excellence in Student Engagement.  

Thornton began her ABAC teaching career in 1995.  She received her associate degree in biology from ABAC, her bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Georgia (UGA), and her master’s degree from UGA in secondary science education.

One of her recommendations stated, “Whether in a lab setting or in a study abroad experience in Belize, the hands-on active learning approach is a hallmark of how she engages our students and challenges them to think and make connections.”  Another recommendation said, “She is one of the most dedicated professors on our campus. She is constantly re-evaluating and adjusting course material to continuously improve her teaching.”

An ABAC employee for 19 years, Wesley is a key member of the financial aid staff at ABAC.  One letter of recommendation said, “She is a very hard worker and is very conscientious about completing her duties.  She does an excellent job of managing our HOPE programs and awarding processes.”

Wesley was commended for “being consistent throughout her department’s changes due to reorganization, changes in leadership, consolidation and annual updates in state and federal guidelines.”  Another recommendation said, “She is always willing to help and support others in our office and that really strengthens the team which in turn strengthens ABAC.”

Baker was selected in 2014 as the Dean of the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources at ABAC.  In 2017, he was appointed as ABAC’s first Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.  In the position, he provided leadership for the consolidation of academic and student affairs programs when the former Bainbridge State College merged with ABAC.

In his role as the chief academic officer at ABAC, Baker was instrumental in helping the college launch a new chapter of Phi Kappa Phi, which recognizes the achievements of the top baccalaureate degree-seeking students. Baker earned his Ph.D. and master’s degree from Texas A&M in animal breeding and genetics and his bachelor’s degree in biology from Morningside College.

Smith, who averages 98 advisees each semester, earned his Ph.D. and master’s degree in agronomy from UGA and his bachelor’s degree in agronomy from Penn State. He manages 17 faculty members, six staff members and oversees the J.G. Woodroof Farm and three educational buildings.

“As an advisor, you may need to take on the role of friend, coach, drill sergeant, mentor, and career counselor, depending on the needs of individual students,” Smith said.  “I strive to guide these students down a path that will keep their options open until such time as their future becomes clear to them.”

An ABAC faculty member for 30 years, Hicks received the Donaldson Advising Award in 2011, and the Donaldson Teaching Award in 2013.  She received her associate degree from ABAC, and a bachelor’s degree and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from UGA.

One recommendation for Hicks said, “She has devoted much of her time, energy, and finances to engage and enhance real world skills that are very applicable for her students.  She travels with her students on educational trips, introduces us to industry leaders and mentors, and visits operations around the country, all with a smile on her face."