CWU Board of Trustees announces 2024 Distinguished Faculty

  • May 22, 2024
  • Rune Torgersen

Each year, the Central Washington University Board of Trustees recognizes four faculty members as Distinguished Faculty for their excellence in teaching, research, service, and non-tenure-track teaching.

This year’s nominees were unanimously approved at last week’s BOT meeting.


Dr. Lori Sheeran, a professor in the Department of Anthropology, is the 2023-24 recipient of the CWU Distinguished Faculty Award for Teaching.

Photo of Lori Sheeran

In her 21 years with CWU, Sheeran has taught 17 different courses in anthropology, primate behavior, and primate ecology to students from a range of backgrounds and skill levels. Each of these classes, and Sheeran’s teaching style as a whole, has garnered near universal praise from her students, thanks to her passion for the subject and her willingness to help learners engage more effectively with the course material.

Beyond the classroom, Sheeran has chaired or co-chaired 43 master’s committees and served on 58 more. Her students leave her classroom with a passion for research and the drive to take their education even further, with at least 12 of her former advisees enrolling in PhD programs and five having already received their doctorates.

Sheeran says seeing her students succeed is her main motivation: “I have had chances to work with students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who continue onward after leaving Central to earn doctoral degrees. Seeing that process occur is my greatest professional joy. Through opportunities to mentor students, I have learned patience and humility, because I have seen students overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.”

Scholarship/Artistic Accomplishment

Maya Jewell Zeller, an associate professor in the Department of English, is the 2023-24 recipient of the CWU Distinguished Faculty of Scholarship/Artistic Accomplishment Award.

Photo of Maya Zeller

Zeller’s academic career has been highly productive, having authored a textbook, an anthology, a collaborative poetry-art collection, receiving a contract for a mushroom-art collaborative guidebook, and authoring the New American Poetry Prize-winning poetry collection Out Take/Glove Box in her eight years with CWU alone. She has over 20 publications in anthologies, three more works on the way, and 20 years of published poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in reviews and journals.

Reviewers praise her work, noting that “whether through the magic of words or the evocative nature of the watercolors, (her work) is a kind of transmutation,” and conclude that “delightfully weird, her words carry a certain distinctness: sharp, wild, and unashamed, often taking on the vulnerability of the body, particularly that of the woman or the child.”

Zeller says her work within her field helps her guide students in a more profound way: "I teach poetry as a practitioner of the craft,” she said. “I’m really big on destabilizing elitism, and I’m not interested in poetry being this gated, inaccessible garden. That doesn’t mean all poetry needs to be understandable, but it does need to have an interest in starting a dialogue with people.”

She added that it is "an immense honor" to have her work recognized by CWU.

"I just do the work and hope it speaks to readers, and I feel a little shy to suddenly have it noticed in this way!" she said. "I am grateful to everyone who wrote letters of support; those endorsements from so many students and colleagues in my field mean everything. I'm a bit of an unconventional scholar and writer, having not come from a family of academics, and I hope students who see themselves as nontraditional especially feel empowered by this.”


Dr. Tanjian Liang, associate professor of Sports and Movement Management, is the 2023-24 recipient of the Distinguished Faculty for Service award.

Photo of Tanjian Liang

Arriving at CWU in 2017 after finishing his PhD, Liang has set about giving back to his students as his own professors once gave back to him.

“Shortly after receiving my PhD, I discovered that my English teacher had edited my dissertation 44 times without compensation,” he said. “When I inquired on how to pay her back, she replied, ‘Tanjian, you pay it forward to your own students.’ While I appreciated the sentiment, it wasn't until later that I fully understood what she had meant. She had modeled the concept of service for me, which subsequently became my springboard into service.”

In this spirit, Liang has served as coordinator for two education delegations to China, chaired the CWU edTPA Executive Committee, served on the CWU-West-B Test Policy Committee, and served on a variety of other committees within the School of Education. His service to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives has also been remarkably strong, sitting on the Equity Scorecard Steering Committee, the Antiracism Faculty and Staff Development Leadership Group, and the Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, and Antiracism Committee.

This work has extended into the Ellensburg community as well, through service to the Ellensburg School District Capital/Bond Projects Committee and activity coordination on BIPOC and equity and belonging issues.

In addition to his services to CWU and our students, Liang is also incredibly active in his field, serving on the Washington Professional Education Standards Board’s Standards, Approval and Review Committee, and as a reviewer for both the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and the Professional Preparation Council of the Society of Health and Physical Educators. He also serves as a journal and conference reviewer.

“I am grateful to have colleagues who trust in me as a professional and seek out opportunities to include me in serving our campus and community,” Liang said. “These service opportunities help enhance my teaching and inform my perspective, which directly impacts my students in meaningful and positive ways.”

Non-Tenure Track Teaching

Dr. Susan B. Rivera, a senior lecturer in the IT Management department, is the 2023-24 recipient of the Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award for Non-Tenure Track Faculty.

Photo of Susan Rivera

Since 2014, Rivera has taught 13 classes at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, and she has helped develop both new and existing course to better serve her students. She has offered mentorship to more than 80 students during this time, while her quarterly student evaluations reflect their appreciation for the time and care she puts into her instruction.

“My teaching philosophy is firmly rooted in creating a dynamic and inclusive learning environment that empowers students to engage critically, think creatively, and become lifelong learners,” Rivera said. “Because our student population is diverse, adaptation to multiple, responsive delivery modes is key to executing this philosophy.”

In recent years, Rivera’s work has centered around sustainability in information technology, developing courses like Applied Sustainable IT, which was first offered in winter 2022. She has worked closely with the student team developing Ecophone, a sustainably produced smartphone, and helped them secure funding to continue their endeavor after they graduate. Rivera also participates in outreach to local high schools to raise awareness for sustainable IT and demonstrate the kind of project-based learning that has made her classes so popular with students at CWU.

“Higher education institutions play a crucial role in shaping future leaders and fostering sustainable practices,” Rivera said. “The transdisciplinary skills needed to implement sustainable development projects are the transferable skills employers want.  Faculty members can contribute by integrating discipline-appropriate waste and energy reduction strategies into every class they teach.”

In addition to the work she has done for students in and around the CWU community, Rivera has authored 24 publications and two patents, and participated in 26 presentations.


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Rune Torgersen

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