Ten earn Holling Family awards for teaching excellence

The Holling Family awards honor outstanding teaching in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR) at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

March 7, 2018

Lincoln, Neb. — The Holling Family Awards for Teaching Excellence were presented to 10 faculty members and teaching assistants on March 2 at the Nebraska East Union. The annual awards honor outstanding teaching in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR) at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Awards were given to senior faculty, junior faculty and teaching assistants. All three award categories emphasize imaginative and creative teaching efforts in carrying out IANR educational programs. Levels of teaching can include college campus, external campus or community.

The Senior Faculty Teaching Excellence Award recognizes individuals who have been employed in faculty positions with IANR or the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) for more than six years. Award recipients:

  • John Hay, extension educator, biological systems engineering; Hay has created educational programs for Nebraska’s youth and lifelong learners. Since joining the faculty in 2004 he has provided innovative educational experiences addressing renewable energy issues and sustainability in cropping systems, responding to critical issues with Nebraska’s wind industry, developing curriculum for youth and engaging IANR students in experiential classroom opportunities.


  • Fabio Mattos, assistant professor, agricultural economics; Mattos was instrumental in establishing the Ag Econ Commodity Trading Room and developing new commodity marketing curriculum that utilizes the room. He developed and is teaching five courses in agricultural economics. Since coming to Nebraska he has taught approximately 1,332 students.


  • Lisa Pennisi, associate professor of practice, School of Natural Resources; Pennisi has developed a series of courses in the area of natural resources communication. In the newly developed NRES 301 course, students address deficiencies in communication skills that will be used in their careers. After taking this course, students perform higher in writing exercises and are able to present on policies that affect the use of agricultural and natural resources. Pennisi teaches approximately 200 students per year.


The Junior Faculty Teaching Excellence Award recognizes individuals who have been employed in faculty positions with IANR or NCTA for six years or less. Award recipients:

  • Nicole Iverson, assistant professor, biological systems engineering; Iverson is the instructor for BSEN 317. Since joining the faculty in 2015, Iverson has fostered an atmosphere promoting the welfare of her students. She introduces them to a wide range of biomedical engineering opportunities through hands-on learning. Two senior level biological systems engineering students who expressed interest in gaining experience with teaching academia were engaged with her in the development of the in-class laboratory activities.


  • Jamie Loizzo, assistant professor, agricultural leadership, education and communication; Loizzo has been the driving force behind the development of Streaming Science, which was created in collaboration with Nebraska Extension. Streaming Science is an undergraduate, student-driven, project-based science literacy program that benefits students in her agricultural and environmental sciences communication courses, as well as PK-12 students in greater Nebraska via a real-time, on-site interactive web stream.  Approximately 60 students have participated across courses, independent studies and student worker positions via a Food for Health grant since the fall semester of 2016 when Streaming Science began.


  • Jeffrey Peterson, assistant professor of practice, agricultural economics; Peterson brings with him 22 years of experience in the grain industry. He was instrumental in establishing the Ag Econ Commodity Trading room and developing new commodity marketing curriculum. He teaches two courses in grain merchandizing and advanced commodity marketing. His real-world daily experience gives him instant credibility with his students


  • Santosh Pitla, assistant professor, biological systems engineering; Pitla started his teaching career in the fall of 2014. He has developed 15 different prototypes to conduct hands-on learning in five courses. He provides teaching automation-related principles to students ranging from freshmen to graduate level students. He teaches approximately 100 students per year with topics covering software programming languages, hydraulics, data acquisition, and hardware tools.


The Teaching Assistant Teaching Excellence Award recognizes students who are currently in graduate degree programs under the supervision of IANR faculty members involved with agricultural sciences and natural resources. Award recipients:


  • Tiffany Luethke, agricultural, leadership, education and communication; Luethke began teaching ALEC 102 in the fall of 2014. She breathed new life into it by introducing new activities, creating comprehensive and innovative teaching materials, and sharing her knowledge and skills by assisting in creating a comprehensive training for all ALEC 102 instructors. Luethke also took on the challenge of teaching ALEC 302 online during the summer with a shortened timeline.


  • Kate McCain, agricultural leadership, education and communication; McCain has taught multiple sections of ALEC 102 and has begun teaching ALEC 302. She teaches one section of each in the fall and in the spring. Kate uses a dramaturgical style of teaching in ALEC 302 where she “role plays” as the type of leader according to the style being taught in that section. As an educator, McCain is a lifelong learner through the opportunity to learn from her students. She uses a variety of learning methods to appeal to the diversity of students in her classroom.



  • Aaron Shropshire, agronomy and horticulture; Shropshire has served as the teaching assistant for AGRO 445/845 and ASCI 451/851 during the fall semester of 2017. He has guided students in the development of ranch plans that include five sections and a description of the case-study ranch. Shropshire stepped in at the beginning of the semester to become one of the instructors in out-of-the-classroom instruction and advising of the students. He is an outstanding teaching assistant in terms of being fully engaged in advising students and critically evaluating all sections of the ranch plan throughout the semester.


The Holling Family award program for teaching excellence was made possible by a gift from the Holling family to honor their pioneer parents. John Holling was a 1912 electrical engineering graduate of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and his brother, Gustave Holling, attended the College of Agriculture before farming the family’s land in the Wood River Area.