Faculty Excellence Awards

Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity

Awards are given annually: one for a probationary faculty (tenure-track) and one for a tenured faculty (at the associate or professor level). Recipients receive money in support of their scholarship and are selected based on: (1) exceptional promise for significant research achievement; outstanding capability to publish in quality venues and secure grants/awards for probationary faculty or (2) continuous record of research activity; quality of publishing venues; grants/awards; and national and international impact and reputation for tenured faculty.

Tenured Faculty Award

Erin P. Riley, Department of Anthropology


Erin P. Riley is a professor of anthropology and currently serves as the assistant dean in the College of Graduate Studies. Drawing from primatology, conservation ecology, and environmental anthropology, her research focuses on primate behavioral flexibility in the face of human-induced environmental change and the conservation implications of the ecological and cultural interconnections between human and nonhuman primates. With notable publications in American Anthropologist, Evolutionary Anthropology, American Journal of Primatology, and Oryx, her work spearheaded the field of “ethnoprimatology.” Riley has also contributed to scholarship on the ethics of primate fieldwork and was a leading member of an international steering committee that produced the “Code of Best Practices for Field Primatology.” Published in 2020 by Routledge, her most recent book – “The Promise of Contemporary Primatology” – further advances scholarship in ethnoprimatology, fieldwork ethics, and interdisciplinary approaches to anthropological inquiry. 

Since joining SDSU in 2006, Riley has engaged over 40 students in her research, 19 of whom have joined her in field research at sites in the U.S., China, and Indonesia. Her field research on the interface between people and macaques has been funded by NSF, National Geographic Society, Wenner-Gren Foundation, American Institute for Indonesian Studies, American Society of Primatologists, ASIANetwork, and SDSU. Riley is currently the PI on two NSF-funded projects: one that provides international research experiences for SDSU students that will help advance human-primate coexistence and ecosystem health in Indonesia and the other that integrates anthropology and statistics to examine primate decision making in rapidly changing environments.

Tenure-Track Faculty Award

Naseh Nasdrollahi Shahri, Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages


Naseh Nasdrollahi Shahri is an assistant professor in the Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages. He received his Ph.D. from Penn State. His research interests range across language and literacy development in multilingual writers, language learning and technology and methodography. He is particularly interested in longitudinal research in these areas as a means of offering insight into language development.

His recent research has focused on the use of digital tools in the writing development of multilingual writers and the longitudinal trajectories of advanced writers. Further, his research into qualitative research interviews has shown the importance of attending to interviews as a social practice beyond merely a means of data collection. His ongoing research projects look into the potential of generative AI in language education and the possibility of integrating such technologies into the curriculum.


Jess Whatcott, Department of Women’s Studies


Jess Whatcott (they/them) is an assistant professor in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies and is affiliated with LGBTQ+ Studies and the Center for Comics Studies. Their research examines eugenics, the carceral state, and border imperialism by applying methodologies of critical disability studies, abolition feminism, queer and trans studies, and scholar activism.

Dr. Whatcott’s first monograph, “Menace to the Future: A Queer and Disability History of Carceral Eugenics,” is forthcoming by Duke University Press in August 2024. The book tells the story of California institutions that segregated disabled, mad, and neurodivergent people away from their communities and families in the early twentieth century. Dr. Whatcott theorizes that this was a practice of carcerality that enacted eugenics. The book connects this history of what Dr. Whatcott calls “carceral eugenics” to the continued reliance on psychiatric hospitals, prisons, and immigrant detention centers to control social reproduction. More of their writing on eugenics, prisons, and other state violence has appeared in Feminist Formations; Signs: Journal of Women and Culture in Society; Lateral; Politics, Groups & Identities; and edited book collections. 

Dr. Whatcott uses their research expertise to create new classes at SDSU, including designing a course on feminist disability studies funded by a Curriculum Development Grant in Bioethics and Health Humanities from the Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs. They are proud to participate in the Disability Employee Resource Group and to serve as the co-chair of the Critical Disability Studies Caucus of the American Studies Association.


  • Tenured Faculty Award - Roy Whitaker, Department for the Study of Religion
  • Tenure-Track Faculty Award - Yuki Arita, Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages


  • Tenured Faculty Award - Matthew Lauer, Department of Anthropology and Erika Robb Larkins, Department of Anthropology
  • Tenure-Track Faculty Award - Aaron Dinkin, Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages


  • Tenured Faculty Award - David Cline, Department of History
  • Tenure-Track Faculty Award - Rebecca Bartel, Department for the Study of Religion


  • Tenured Faculty Award - Ming Tsou, Department of Geography
  • Tenure-Track Faculty Award -  Cecilia Benaglia, Department of European Studies


  • Tenured Faculty Award - Ahmet Kuru, Department of Political Science
  • Tenure-Track Faculty Award - Atsushi Nara, Department of Geography


  • Tenured Faculty Award - Li An, Geography
  • Tenure-Track Faculty Award - Hilary McMillan, Geography


  • Tenured Faculty Award - Esther Rothblum, Women’s Studies and LGBT Studies


Awards are given annually: one for a tenure or tenure-track faculty and one for a lecturer.   Recipients receive money in support of their teaching activities and are selected based on: the ability to teach a variety of class sizes; a commitment to engaging and motivating diverse student populations in learning and critical thinking; updating the curriculum through the creation of new courses; a record of garnering excellent student evaluations; and making effective use of versatile teaching modes; keeping pace with technology and new pedagogical tools, among others. 

Non-Tenure Track Faculty Award

Charlene E. Holkenbrink-Monk, Department of Sociology


Charlene E. Holkenbrink-Monk holds a Ph.D. in Education from San Diego State University and Claremont Graduate University's joint doctoral program; she completed her M.A. in Sociology from SDSU and a B.A. in History from UCLA. She’s dedicated her career to increasing access to education for all students, a commitment she upholds at SDSU.

During her SDSU graduate studies, Charlene secured a student success fee grant and initiated the annual Praxis in Education conference. This student-led event continues to flourish as a biannual conference, showcasing student work dedicated to transformative educational approaches. Her teaching has earned her high student feedback for enhancing course accessibility, specifically social statistics, and mentoring students in research methods. In fact, two of her mentees received the President’s Award for S3. They were also backed by SDSU CAL’s piloted MUSE award, further highlighting Charlene’s dedication to her students and the work they do.

Her dedication to equity within research is further exemplified in her research, where she was recently selected as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar, with her project focusing on applying participatory visual research and sociological training, an approach she is currently utilizing with current SDSU students as well. Her intention for research is not just to increase equity and access but to tear down barriers that have historically been in place by transforming systems rather than aiming for purely reform. She continues to demonstrate this by critical mentoring and engaging students interested in social change through research.

James Murren, Department of Political Science


James Murren has a master’s of environmental policy from the University of Pennsylvania. A former Peace Corps volunteer (Honduras, 1997-99), he brings 15+ years of practitioner experience to the classroom, primarily in the fields of international environmental and agricultural development, including: watershed management in Honduras; household energy procurement in Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Brazil; post-harvest storage in West Africa; agricultural assessments in Paraguay and the Republic of Georgia; climate change/agricultural education in Guinea; and capacity building/business planning with farmer’s associations in Central America.  

Housed in SDSU’s Political Science Department for 11 years, Murren teaches courses in various degree tracks for political science, sustainability, geography, and environmental sciences. He also teaches two courses with the Weber Honors College, and he offers a one-credit short course (What is International Development?) through SDSU Global Campus. Recently, he developed a new U.S. Water Policy course with the sustainability program. Beginning in the 2024-25 academic year, he will teach Our Global Future: Environment and Climate Change with the International Security and Conflict Resolution (ISCOR) program.

A recipient of the Associated Students College of Arts and Letters PRIDE Award (2022), Murren was awarded the most influential faculty member for sustainability in 2023, chosen by the sustainability program’s top outstanding graduating student. He is one of the core team members for the food studies minor and assists with the Peace Corps Prep certificate program, mentoring students interested in international service, government, and/or career tracks related to, among others: volunteerism, foreign service, aid delivery, and global food security.


  • Tenured/Tenure-Track Faculty Award - Stephen Goggin, Department of Political Science
  • Non-Tenure Track Faculty Award - Ghassan Zakaria, Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages


  • Tenured/Tenure-Track Faculty Award - Michael Domínguez, Department of Chicana-Chicano Studies
  • Non-Tenure Track Faculty Award - Kristal Bivona, Behner Stiefel Center for Brazilian Studies


  • Tenured/Tenure-Track Faculty Award - Kim Twist, Department of Political Science
  • Non-Tenure Track Faculty Award - Carl Fielden, Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies


  • Tenured/Tenure-Track Faculty Award - Paula DeVos, Department of History
  • Non-Tenure Track Faculty Award - Jason Parker, Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies


  • Tenured/Tenure-Track Faculty Award - Jennifer Sheppard, Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies 
  • Non-Tenure Track Faculty Award - Michael Caldwell, Religious Studies and Classics and Humanities


  • Tenured Faculty Award – Hisham Foad, Economics
  • Non-Tenure Track Faculty Award - Steve Merriam, Rhetoric and Writing Studies


  • Tenured Faculty Award – Eve Kornfeld, History
  • Non-Tenure Track Faculty Award - Amy Wong, Sociology


  • Tenured Faculty Award – Doreen Mattingly, Women's Studies
  • Tenure-Track Faculty Award – Emily Schuckman-Matthews, European Studies
  • Non-Tenure Track Faculty Award – Angela Feres, Religious Studies


  • Tenured Faculty Award – Irene Lara, Women's Studies
  • Tenure-Track Faculty Award – Paul Minifee, Rhetoric and Writing Studies
  • Non-Tenure Track Faculty Award – Holly Ransom, European Studies


  • Tenured Faculty Award - William Nericcio, English and Comparative Literature and Director, Master of Arts in Liberal Arts & Sciences
  • Tenure-Track Faculty Award - Todd Braje, Anthropology
  • Non-Tenure Track Faculty Award - Patricia Morgan, Rhetoric and Writing Studies


  • Tenured Faculty Award – Jung Choi, Sociology
  • Non-Tenure Track Faculty Award - Jeff Hay, History


Awards are given annually: one for a tenure or tenure-track faculty and one for a lecturer.   Recipients receive money in support of their professional activities and are selected based on: contributions of the faculty member to the department, the college, university, profession and/or community. CAL is particularly interested in recognizing those faculty members performing extraordinary service or service that is otherwise uncompensated by other measures.  

Olivia Chilcote, Department of American Indian Studies


Olivia Chilcote is a citizen of the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians and an assistant professor in the Department of American Indian Studies. In 2021, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education nationally recognized Professor Chilcote as an "Emerging Scholar" for her community-based research and promise to make impactful changes to the professoriate. Chilcote is the author of “Unrecognized in California: Federal Acknowledgment and the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians” (University of Washington Press, 2024). 

Since beginning her position at SDSU, Chilcote’s service contributions have made the university more inclusive and responsive to American Indian students, tribes, and community members. Chilcote co-founded the Native American and Indigenous Faculty and Staff Association and has served as a faculty adviser to the Native American Student Alliance since 2018. She is committed to holding SDSU accountable for its compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and its California counterpart, CalNAGPRA, and her advocacy has led to institutional changes and greater transparency. She also volunteered to serve as a voting member of the SDSU NAGPRA/CalNAGPRA Oversight Committee. Beyond SDSU, she serves on the University of California President’s Native American Advisory Council where she advocates to strengthen institutional commitments to tribal sovereignty. She is involved in the creation of the statewide Native American Studies Model Curriculum and serves as a member of the California Indian Scholars and Educators Advisory Committee. Chilcote co-founded the California Indian Studies and Scholars Association and will be assuming a position on the Leadership Council. She was also selected to provide her expertise as a member of the California Department of Education’s Native American Graduation Adornments Taskforce.

Latha Varadarajan, Department of Political Science


Latha Varadarajan is the director of the International Security and Conflict Resolution program (ISCOR) and a professor in the Department of Political Science. Over the course of the nearly two decades she has been at SDSU, Varadarajan has taught a range of classes in the fields of international relations and national security at both undergraduate and graduate level. As ISCOR director, she has worked with faculty and staff from across the departments in CAL as well beyond to put together public events that have brought to campus nationally recognized figures to discuss critically important questions of national security and democracy, more broadly. In the past year, she has worked with ISCOR students to start a new podcast, "The Spotlight," that features experts in SDSU and beyond in conversation about the pressing international issues of the day.

Her research is located at the intersection of international relations theory, international political economy, and international security. More specifically, her published work has focused on the politics of transnationalism (specifically state-diaspora relations); the connections between neoliberal economic restructuring and national security policies; the meaning and relevance of postcolonial struggles; and the debates surrounding the contemporary manifestations of imperialism. She is currently working on a book project that brings together her background in international law and international relations to discuss the contemporary development of a legal-humanitarian world order.


  • Clare Colquitt, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • Lashon Daley, Department of English and Comparative Literature


  • Audrey Beck, Department of Sociology
  • Michael Domínguez, Department of Chicana-Chicano Studies
  • Isaac Ullah, Department of Anthropology


  • Eve Kornfeld, Department of History
  • Esther Rothblum, Department of Women's Studies
  • Jamie Madden, Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies


  • Roberto Hernández, Department of Chicana-Chicano Studies  
  • Edith Benkov, Department of European Studies
  • Deborah Poole, Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages