Faculty awarded for service, scholarship and teaching

April 20th, 2016 | SMWC

Scholarship, or the pursuit of inquiry, serves as the foundation for excellent teaching. Through the integration of scholarship, teaching and service, faculty are able to provide a rich educational experience for Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) students. On Faculty Appreciation Day, Tuesday, April 19, 2016, the campus community recognized the work of the faculty and celebrated their many accomplishments.  Three SMWC faculty members were recognized with the Sister Mary Joseph Pomeroy Faculty Excellence Awards for their high ideals of teaching, scholarship and service.

SMWC Vice President for Academic Affairs Janet Clark, Ph.D., offered her appreciation to the entire faculty. “Thanks to all of you who have chosen to Aspire Higher each day either in the classroom with your teaching, in your research and scholarly work within your professional discipline, or serving others and our community.”

Recipients of this year’s Pomeroy Faculty Excellence Awards are Susan Decker, assistant professor and director of the Master of Leadership Development – for Service; Jill McNutt, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of the Master of Art Therapy – for Scholarship; and Sharon Boyle, associate professor of music therapy – for Teaching.


SMWC Vice President for Academic Affairs Janet Clark (right) presents Susan Decker with the Pomeroy Faculty Excellence Award for Service.

Pomeroy Faculty Excellence Award for Service

A member of the SMWC faculty since 2010, Susan Decker, assistant professor and director of the Master of Leadership Development, has demonstrated exemplary service to the College, to her profession and to the Wabash Valley community. She says that giving back to the community and profession was demonstrated to her by her parents daily. Her parents often repeated Gandhi’s adage that “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others.” 

Decker is currently the chair of the Graduate Council and the faculty advisor to Student Senate. Her natural tendency towards process and structure has improved both groups immensely in efficiency, vision and information. The Student Senate has shifted their meeting structure to focus on topics that impact students both in and out of the classroom and on and off campus. In her role with students, she pushes them with questions, not answers, so that they may grow and develop both their service and leadership capabilities.

Decker also serves on the Wabash Valley Leadership Institute as an Advisory Council member and presenter on Governance as Leadership, a member of the Master of Healthcare Administration Advisory Council, a member of the Academic Council and Graduate Program Directors Committee. She has also served on the Strategic Planning Committee.

The most important role for the College is her service as director of the Master of Leadership Development (MLD) program. Her leadership for the MLD covers numerous activities from recruiting and advising students to securing details for faculty inside and outside of the College to teach, and overseeing a robust program for working professionals who are choosing to pursue their graduate degree.

Decker’s area of expertise is most specifically leadership in nonprofit governance and vital facilitation skills. As a result, she is often invited to work regionally and nationally, with many area nonprofits, whether as a board member, a facilitator for a particular situation, a workshop presenter or a consultant.  Currently she serves as the vice chair and governance committee chair for the Hamilton Center Foundation Board, and in the past year has volunteered with several agencies and organizations such as the United Way of the Wabash Valley, Wabash Valley Community Foundation, Meals on Wheels, Chamber of Commerce Young Leaders and the Sisters of Providence. 

Nationally, Decker has served as a keynote speaker on governance and nonprofits for prestigious organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Global Conference, the Annenberg Foundation and the Duke University MBA Fuqua School of Business, and her “train the trainer” skills have been utilized at organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club National, Gulf Coast Community Foundation and BoardSource.

“I am blessed to work at an institution that includes in its mission statement, ‘effect positive change in a spirit of service.’ We are empowered to put that mission into action,” said Decker. “When I worked at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, we were reminded of a quote from the founder, Danny Thomas, ‘There are two kinds of people in this world: givers and takers. The takers may eat better, but the givers sleep better.’ It is my hope that I will always be able to sleep better.”


SMWC Vice President for Academic Affairs Janet Clark (right) presents Jill McNutt with the Pomeroy Faculty Excellence Award for Scholarship.

Pomeroy Faculty Excellence Award for Scholarship

Jill McNutt, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of the Master of Art Therapy, has been a member of the SMWC faculty since 2013. During the past two years, McNutt has engaged in research and program development in the field of art therapy. Having recently completed her Ph.D. dissertation in Expressive Therapies related to art therapy and cancer care, she has focused on two newer areas of research—one, on the effectiveness of an art therapy program with children and adolescents with epilepsy, and the second, in partnership with SMWC colleagues and the United Service Organizations (USO) of Indianapolis. 

McNutt has been involved with the Epilepsy Foundation of South Eastern Wisconsin since 2004, providing bi-annual, six-week art interventions for children with epilepsy. In the fall of 2014, her research proposal was approved to begin discovering the effects of art therapy groups on children, adolescents, their parents and other family members. 

At The Woods, she is involved with faculty and staff in providing an experiential weekend retreat for couples re-connecting following deployment of one or both partners.  Art therapy is employed during one of the weekend sessions, and McNutt has just recently been approved along with three other faculty colleagues to begin testing the efficacy of the methods employed during the retreat. Participants will be questioned before, during and 12-15 months following the weekend, and the researchers hope to show increased marital satisfaction after such an experience. Information gained through this pilot project will contribute to knowledge of military couples and is expected to inform the selection of future services aimed at assisting with their reunification. This is of interest to the College, to the USO and to other current and future service providers of military veterans and their families.

McNutt presents at numerous national and regional conferences each year for organizations such as the American Art Therapy Association, Mount Mary University, the Indiana School of Medicine and the conference on National Bone Marrow and Blood Transplant Survivors.  She has been invited to sit on a grant review team from Arts Illiana and is an active member of the research committee and social justice caucus of the American Art Therapy Association.

Most notably, McNutt has been invited to contribute a chapter to a new, 24-chapter edited book bringing together a variety of authors with sound knowledge in their area of expertise. Under contract with Routledge Publishers, the compilation of writings is intended to shed light on the creative approaches and clinical applications for those working in the art and expressive therapies within the medical population/model. This book will also incorporate a biopsychological approach within the standard medical model definition used by previous authors. The book’s goal is to illustrate the importance of perspectives that remain creative, therapeutic and balanced within a medical perspective.


SMWC Vice President for Academic Affairs Janet Clark (left) presents Sharon Boyle with the Pomeroy Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching.

Pomeroy Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching

Sharon Boyle, associate professor of music therapy, has been teaching at SMWC since 2002, and this is her third time receiving a Pomeroy Faculty Excellence Award. Her teaching epitomizes the expectation of the type of faculty at a small liberal arts institution: delivering personalized attention and caring about the student as a human being and the journey she or he is undergoing at SMWC. 

Known to be rigorous yet supportive, Boyle’s philosophy is to provide students with high expectations for his or her performance and initiative to learn through applied experience.

She states “I demand the best of my students, but feel that the supportive relationship I develop with each one generates a desire to improve and strive for excellence. It would be a disservice (and unethical) to send a student into the professional world feeling underprepared.”

Boyle holds a variety of roles – teacher, clinical supervisor, mentor and academic advisor and talks about the importance of each role in the learning process. Her syllabi are thorough but not excessively wordy, and she provides a clear grid of the week: material covered in class, the skill sets, assignments and assessments, along with student learning outcomes that week has addressed. She teaches in all three formats like many at The Woods: campus and online undergraduates as well as graduate students in a hybrid setting.

Connecting learning outcomes to courses, assessing student progress and creating effective teaching strategies are a challenge for any instructor. However, Boyle has demonstrated her growth as a teacher. She describes her use of BrightSpace (the learning management system) as a way of making the face-to-face course more efficient for grading and giving feedback as well as to store resources and videos that were created of herself or the students demonstrating techniques they are learning to master. Her repertoire of teaching and learning methods includes hands-on experiences, lectures, lab days, readings, audio and video recordings, written papers, quizzes and discussion boards. She provides self-made rubrics for student evaluation that give clear expectations for students to aspire to. 

Boyle also described a new experience that she brought to her students from collaborating with her colleagues across campus. The addition of the nursing lab has also provided a lab setting for the therapy students. She was excited to share how different it was to have students practice their techniques while wearing surgical masks (meaning they had to use their eyes for expression), wearing gloves, how to position themselves amongst a bed or drive a wheelchair. Her willingness to embrace new experiences was evident.

Boyle’s student evaluations are consistently high with similar comments about her passion and her willingness to help each individual student. Boyle exhibits enthusiasm, creativity and maturity as a professor. Another of Boyle’s important attributes is her continued scholarship and education which has helped her strive to be innovative and adaptive to meet the needs of each individual student. She is a life-long learner and is instilling that in her students as well.