Today@Sam Article

Honoring The 2022 Faculty Excellence Winners

Aug. 5, 2022
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti

Michael T. Stephenson, Benita Brooks, C. Renee James, Madhusudan Choudhary, Alisa White

Sam Houston State University professors whose scholarly accomplishments, service and academic engagement stand out among their peers have been honored with the 2022 Faculty Excellence Awards. The recipients are Santosh Kumar, Excellence in Scholarly and Creative Accomplishments; Madhusudan Choudhary, Excellence in Service; Benita Brooks, The David Payne Academic Community Engagement Award; and C. Renee James, Excellence in Teaching.

Each year, the university invites the Bearkat community to nominate faculty members who have consistently demonstrated excellence. A committee reviews the nominations and selects winners to be honored at the Annual Faculty/Staff Meeting and receive a financial stipend.

Excellence in Scholarly & Creative Accomplishments:
Santosh Kumar, Associate Professor of Economics

Kumar is a highly prestigious development and health economist with various published works in well-regarded academic journals, including Review of Economics & Statistics, Journal of Economic Behavior, Review of Development Economics, and Health Economics. His recent work has demonstrated that a true understanding of health outcomes and their connections to economic prosperity are key to developing deep insights and formulating impactful policies towards ending global poverty.

Kumar’s work has received vast notoriety since he began publishing just a decade ago. According to Google Scholar, he has been cited over 1,400 times on his 40-plus articles at the time of this writing, demonstrating the relevance and importance of his policy-relevant scholarly works. He has served as an expert for multiple international organizations and forums, such as Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Albanian Development Fund (ADF) and is consistently invited to teach graduate classes abroad (India, Germany) and to give seminars at national and international conferences.

Kumar has developed academic collaboration with top-notch economists including 2019 Nobel prize winner in Economics Abhijit Banerjee (MIT), Rohini Pande (Yale), Dean Karlan (Northwestern), Aimee Chin (University of Houston), and Adriana Kugler (World Bank and Georgetown).

Recently, along with Fidel Gonzalez (SHSU), Kumar has embarked on an ambitious project that analyze the impact of extreme temperatures and climate change on neonatal health of infants in Mexico as well as COVID-19 and its impact on birthweight in Mexico.


“Dr. Kumar has devoted his academic life to produce high-quality research that provides unique insights and policy prescriptions to improve the life of some of the most vulnerable and needy populations in the world. His research is relevant for many people who are on many occasions overlooked or forgotten. I strongly believe that Dr. Kumar is extremely deserving of this prestigious award at Sam Houston State University.”

“Dr. Kumar is a highly accomplished researcher who has made significant contributions to the field of Development Economics and Global Health.”

The David Payne Academic Community Engagement Award:
Benita Brooks, Assistant Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the College of Education

Few have done more than Brooks in the way of developing lasting partnerships between the university and local youth eager to take a positive step in their academic journeys. She is an associate professor of literacy and provides methods to teacher candidates seeking their certification in fourth through eighth grade literacy. Her experiences have taught her the importance of providing her future educators with opportunities to develop authentic relationships with students from different backgrounds through her Academic Community Engagement (ACE) courses.

To accomplish these goals for her students, she has created the Huntsville Immersion Partnership (HIP) After School Academic Program, located at the Boys & Girls Club of Walker County. This program uniquely strives to connect future teachers with students in their community for two hours each week for a whole semester.

Numerous former students and colleagues have advocated for Brooks as an educator and community leader as she strives to continually open more and more doors for countless individuals. Her ACE projects and devotion to connect her students to worthwhile service opportunities truly embody the university’s motto, “The measure of a Life is its Service.”   


“Dr. Brooks goes the extra mile and I have come to see clearly that she is skilled and passionate in the domains of community engagement, teaching, scholarship, service, and mentoring. She is continuously engaged and actively seeks ways to improve the student, faculty, and community experience at SHSU.”

“Dr. Brooks’ passion and commitment to these endeavors are simply a snapshot of the type of leader and faculty member that she is for SHSU. She is, without question, a role model for community service and engagement in our college and SHSU.”

Excellence in Teaching:
C. Renee James, Professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy

Professor Renee James’ entire professional identity revolves around improving the science education. She believes this is one of the surest ways to avoid the explosion her childhood idol, Carl Sagan, stated would happen in a society based on science and technology in which nobody understands either.

James incorporates several familiar strategies in her classroom setting in an attempt to create a distinctive experience for her students. These strategies include group work, social media, blogs and activities aimed at allowing students to see where they are struggling and why using a “5E” model (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate) can be so impactful. She has received multiple awards for her work, which can be identified across the globe.

She has received support from NASA to help regional secondary science teachers better understand content in an ambitious effort called Astronomy Summer School of East Texas (ASSET). This project, which began in 2012, ultimately caught the eye of multiple Australian scholars involved in astronomy education and research. She has since spent sabbaticals in Australia while ASSET has assisted secondary teachers near and far for a decade.


“A first observation was that she maintains precise command of a very large group of students, keeping their interest, attention and respect. Also, she gives immediate and direct responses to the prior meeting’s feedback reports, generating engagement and buy-in from students as their voices are heard and validated.”

“Professor James has developed a unique set of pedagogical strategies to teaching astronomy and in turning the participants in her classes into lifelong learners.”

Excellence in Service:
Madhusudan Choudhary, Professor of Biological Sciences

Professor Madhusudan Choudhary’s list of service to the community seems, at a glance, to be never-ending. He has participated in multiple committees and chairs at the university as well as service projects. Along with his commitment to his own university, he has served rural communities in his native state of Bihar in India through a program called Academy for Scientific and Professional Inspiration in Research and Education (ASPIRE). The public foundation local educationists, public administration, social workers and business leaders to promote science and mathematics education in schools in rural areas of Bihar.

He has served as director of the Center for Enhancing Undergraduate Research Experiences and Creative Activities (EURECA) since 2018. Their mission is to advance the culture of scholarly and creative excellence by cultivating and developing faculty-mentored, discipline-specific inquiry among undergraduate students.

Outside of the university, he serves on five editorial boards and is a member of four professional societies. It is impossible to list all of the important organizations he has played a role in, but his service to the university and communities abroad are immeasurable.


“Dr. Choudhary is not just a teacher but a mentor who motivates, guides, inspires and creates an environment in which students become lifelong learners… I have come across a number of students who admiringly acknowledged his role in their academic interest and success, and in shaping up their career goals.”

“It is evident that Dr. Choudhary has consistently shown excellence in his service to the university, the COSET, the department, the professional organizations, and the reginal communities. His dedicated service activities as a faculty member have significantly enhanced the quality of the students and colleagues, which have had a lasting and significant impact on the excellence of the whole community he has worked for.”

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