Dr. Cynthia Tidwell, professor of chemistry at the University of Montevallo, was awarded COPLAC’s (Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges) 2017 Charles Dunn Award.
The COPLAC Charles Dunn Award recognizes a faculty member whose commitment to student success goes “above and beyond” the classroom and office, the traditional roles of teacher, academic advisor and mentor. The faculty member will have demonstrated, over the course of many years, extraordinary attention to students as individuals who sometimes face unique challenges, both on and off campus, which may compromise their academic performance.
During her 15 years as a faculty member at UM, Tidwell has focused on student success. Students consistently report in their student course evaluations that they love to take her classes because she is so enthusiastic about chemistry and her students. Her students comment that she will drop what she is doing to help them with whatever they need whether it be an explanation of a concept, a reference letter or just a word of encouragement.
While many programs do not give students the opportunity to conduct research until their senior year or in graduate school, Tidwell designed her research program in a manner allowing students in their sophomore year of chemistry to participate. She recognizes that the hands on research cements concepts and leads to a better understanding of chemistry and wants students to have those experiences.
Because she truly believes in the life-changing power of undergraduate research participation, Tidwell also took on the role of coordinator of the Undergraduate Research Program at UM. Her excellent example as a mentor of undergraduate researchers and her leadership qualities are a few reasons why she was chosen for this position.
“Dr. Tidwell champions undergraduate research on our campus by reaching out to faculty and students in all areas of study and encouraging them to participate and present their work. For the past six years, she has taken students from all disciplines to the annual undergraduate research conference hosted by COPLAC,” said Dr. Houston Byrd, chair of the Department of Biology, Chemistry and Math at UM.
There are many success stories over the years of students who have worked with her in undergraduate research and have gone on to do great things. According to one of her colleagues, two international students were working on a biology research project several years ago involving the testing of tree frogs in the area for a particular fungus. This potentially deadly fungus seemed to be moving across the southeast via the tree frog population. Upon hearing of their endeavors, Tidwell invited them to her home for dinner and then spent the evening catching frogs to assist the students in gathering needed data for their project. This is one of the numerous student stories that demonstrate her dedication to students’ success.
“Dr. Tidwell is considered one of our best teachers and mentors and she does an outstanding job with our transformational Undergraduate Research program. She is a dedicated and positive presence on our campus and students greatly appreciate her passion for UM and their success,” commented Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Mary Beth Armstrong.
In addition to her service to students, Tidwell also serves on several campus committees. Over the years, she has been recognized with several awards. In 2009, the University of Montevallo Committee on Undergraduate Research recognized her outstanding commitment to undergraduate research and named her the Undergraduate Research Distinguished Faculty Mentor. Then, in 2012, the University of Montevallo National Alumni Association named her the recipient of the Outstanding Commitment to Teaching Award.
“Dr. Tidwell has a genuine care and concern for her students. She is seldom seen without a smile on her face and it is from a sincere happiness that comes from within. There is not a more respected faculty member in the department. She has set an example for all to follow. In my opinion, she is deserving of the Charles Dunn COPLAC Award, because no one goes ‘above and beyond’ more than she does when it comes to student success,” said Byrd.