Two Eberly faculty members honored with Distinguished Service Award

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Eberly College of Science has recognized two faculty members with the 2022 Distinguished Service Award, which was established in 1979 to recognize faculty and staff who have made significant and outstanding leadership and service contributions to the college over a sustained period of time. This year’s awardees are Heather Giebink, associate teaching professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, and John Asbury, professor of chemistry.

Heather Giebink

Giebink was nominated for the award in recognition of her work as director of graduate affairs for the Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology (BMMB) Graduate Program. She works with graduate students to maximize their educational experience in the department while emphasizing student wellness. To facilitate this, she designed a new course to train incoming graduate students in teaching and learning and established a mentoring program, which connects these students with those already in the BMMB Graduate Program.

“She has made the graduate community within BMMB a family and a place for all of us to strive and succeed,” said one student.

Giebink helped found and run the Career Exposure and Professional Development Program, a series co-sponsored by four different units across the University. This program aims to expose students to a wide variety of possible career paths in the sciences by bringing in speakers and recruiters, as well as offering skill-development workshops.

“We are truly lucky to have someone like Heather, who is not afraid to advocate and speak out on behalf of graduate students so that we may have the greatest chances of success in the program and in all of our professional endeavors,” added another student . “This is the excellence in leadership and advocacy that all graduate students need.”

In her role as director, Geibink is also dedicated to increasing the diversity in the department, has helped to update the education plan, and worked to promote the inclusion of students in the broader departmental community.

“Dr. Giebink exemplifies the highest standards of academic conduct and serves as a model for all faculty to aspire to,” said one nominator. “She cares about her students, she is trusted, she is an honorable and dedicated educator and mentor. We are indeed lucky to have her as a member of our community.”

John Asbury

Asbury was nominated for the award in recognition of his work to empower students to improve lab safety and awareness in the chemistry department. For almost a decade, he has led the Student Safety Leadership Team in Chemistry, which provides input from students in order to foster safety awareness in the department and to help research groups navigate changes to safety regulations. These efforts have generated a number of student-led safety initiatives, such as the Stall Street Journal, where safety reminders were displayed in bathroom stalls, and Safe Operation Cards, which provide information on chemical and safety responsibilities. They also led to the Learning Experience, which requires that students and faculty document safety issues and near-misses in the lab while also suggesting solutions to avoid such incidents in the future — a practice now implemented in five departments at Penn State. Additionally, Asbury has served as the co-organizer of the Materials Safety Olympics in which faculty, students and staff from across the University compete based on their knowledge of safe laboratory practices and connect with industrial sponsors of the event.

“To me, the most important outcome of these efforts was the change in attitude toward safety from the student point of view,” said one nominator. “This led to a safety culture, where student safety is appropriately treated as a precious commodity that must be protected. Indeed, John drove the attitude that safety is owned by the students, all the time guided by his gentle hand.”

Another nominator added that the improved safety culture in research laboratories extends beyond the department. “What our undergraduate, graduate student and postdoctoral trainees learn in our laboratories and our department stays with them and spreads to their future workplaces,” the nominator said.

Since 2020, Asbury has taken on the role of associate head for graduate education in the department. In this role, he has faced additional challenges and responsibilities since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, including organizing late-arrival students, remote learning, and remote research group activities for incoming graduate students. After a change to the qualifying exam to accommodate late arrivals due to the pandemic, he successfully led nearly all of the first-year chemistry graduate students through their exams and onto their second years.

“In this role, he represents the department as a calming, caring presence that supports the students and wants them to succeed. We all benefit from his efforts probably more than we are aware,” said one nominator.

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