NCHC Founders Award Winners

The NCHC Founders Award was created in 2015, in conjunction with our organization's 50th Anniversary.

The most prestigious award bestowed by NCHC, the Founders Award serves to honor members who have been instrumental in the development and advancement of NCHC and its programs. They have continually given of their time and talents to support honors faculty and students across the country.

Dr. Rosalie Otero

2023 Winner

Rosalie Otero

For more than two decades, Rosalie Otero was a strong and eloquent advocate of multiplicity (what we now call DEI) in honors education and in the National Collegiate Honors Council. Director of the University Honors Program at the University of New Mexico, one of the finest programs in the country, she exercised her commitment to diversity on her home campus and transplanted that commitment into the fertile soil of the NCHC. From 1991 through 1998, Rosalie was Chair of the Gender and Ethnicities Committee, a committee that has undergone more name changes than any other in the organization, reflecting the growing, evolving consciousness of the organization. Fortunately for the NCHC, Rosalie was willing to serve in the long sequence of offices that include president of the organization; her influence in these capacities at the turn of the millennium and thereafter was invaluable not just to the NCHC but to all the administrators, faculty, and students who experienced her gentle but firm leadership. We also had the pleasure of hearing our welcomes to various meetings in Spanish. Rosalie remained a leader of the NCHC as Co-Chair of the Assessment and Evaluation Committee, Chair or Co-Chair of the NCHC Finance Committee, a member of the Publications Board, a member of the editorial board for the Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, consultant to numerous programs and colleges, and a prominent voice for multiperspectivism. She also worked closely with Bob Spurrier in writing the NCHC monograph on assessment and evaluation, organizing Developing in Honors, and inaugurating the Best Honors Administrative Practices. She was a regular contributor to NCHC journals as well as presenter at national and regional conferences.

The honors program’s literary journal, Scribendi, which began during her tenure as director, is still a remarkably good periodical to which honors students both in and outside of her own program can contribute.

Rosalie’s honors publications have always demonstrated remarkable perceptiveness, clarity, and usefulness—qualities also central to her impressively diverse array of reviews, explications, bibliographical projects, short stories, and cultural analyses, not to mention her extensive work with, for instance, the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities and also the diversity of her instructional activities. The range of her scholarly interests helps to explain the rich perspectives she has brought to the NCHC and to all academic and administrative projects, contributing to the wide spectrum of perspectives and methodologies fundamental to academia.

Congratulations to Dr. Otero on being awarded the 2023 NCHC Founders Award.

Dr. Robert Spurrier

2022 Winner

Jeffrey Portnoy

Dr. Bob Spurrier was elected by the membership for a long tenure of service to the NCHC Board of Directors. He served not only on the Board but as President, Vice President, and at least two terms as secretary. His service to the Board in a variety of roles supported the establishment of the National Office in Lincoln Nebraska. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the organization was his persistence in developing governance. The organization benefited significantly from his professional expertise in recommendations for the Bylaws, Board governance, and Board decision-making. The governance infrastructure that resulted from his guidance and expertise had a high impact on NCHC’s organizational development.

His most significant contribution came from his consultation and training in Honors Assessment and Evaluation. Over the past few decades, Dr. Spurrier was invited and retained by Honors Programs and Colleges for program review. For many years, he had more invitations than anyone nationally or internationally. Additionally, he was a phenomenal teacher and mentor for entry-level program reviewers. He approached each campus visit with the goal of advocacy for honors education. He achieved this advocacy goal by confronting the need for resources. Many Honors Programs and Colleges can attest to their growth based on Dr. Spurrier’s advocacy role. He was highly influential in conversations with Presidents, Provosts, Deans and equally influential with faculty and students. His love of honors education was evident in all he did – at the same time, he was insistent on high-quality education. He was frequently invited to national, regional, and local honors conferences for presentations on this topic. His publications on Assessment and Evaluation, inclusive of a monograph, were recognized as a primary resource for NCHC members. The results of his training and publications in assessment and evaluation established policy and procedures for training.

We are grateful to Dr. Spurrier for his many contributions, and proud to present him with the 2022 NCHC Founders Award.

Dr. Samuel Schuman

2021 Winner

accepted by Professor Dan Schuman

Jeffrey Portnoy

At the start of his career in 1970 at Cornell College in Iowa, Sam Schuman taught and directed Shakespeare plays, and he also began his long and distinguished career in honors, attending his first NCHC conference in 1974. In 1977, he became Director of the University of Maine Honors Program and, during his four years there, hosted an Honors Semester on the Maine coast. In 1981, he became Academic Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, where Anne Ponder was Director of the Honors Program. He and Anne co-founded NCHC’s annual conference session called “Beginning in Honors” in 1986.

For most of the years from 1986 until his death, Sam remained a co-director of BIH, first with Anne Ponder and then with Ted Estess, and he remained exceptionally active in NCHC even though his administrative career could easily have taken him away from honors. In 1991, he became chancellor of the University of North Carolina, Asheville, just as he was taking on the major offices of vice president and, in 1992, president of NCHC. Starting in 1995, he spent eleven years at the University of Minnesota, Morris, first as academic dean and then, starting in 2000, as chancellor until 2006.

Subsequently, Sam—constitutionally incapable of what we call “retirement”—served in various academic and administrative positions back at UNCA as well as, for instance, at the University of New Mexico. All the while, Sam remained one of the most dedicated and productive contributors to honors education, not just co-directing Beginning in Honors but publishing four editions of Beginning in Honors: A Handbook, three editions of Honors Programs at Smaller Colleges, and, in the NCHC Monograph Series, If Honors Students Were People: Holistic Honors Higher Education (2013). He served as an honors consultant to over thirty-five institutions, co-facilitated three NCHC Site Visitor training workshops, and wrote twelve articles for JNCHC and HIP. He and Anne Ponder were guest co-editors of, and contributors to, the first issue of JNCHC (1.1) in 2000.

Sam’s books and articles for honors were only part of his academic scholarship. He wrote books on Cyril Tourneur (1977) and John Webster (1985), and he was a serious Shakespeare and Nabokov scholar his whole life, from Vladimir Nabokov: A Reference Guide (G. K. Hall) in 1979 to Nabokov’s Shakespeare (Bloomsbury) in 2014, just weeks before he died. He also published Old Main: Small Colleges in Twenty-First Century America ( Johns Hopkins University Press); Seeing the Light: Religious Colleges in Twenty-First Century America (Johns Hopkins University Press); and Leading America’s Branch Campuses (ACE).

Two last mentions of Sam’s realms of accomplishment: he completed twenty marathons as well as numerous triathlons, and—most important of all—he was married for fifty-two years to wonderful Nancy, with whom his finest productions may well have been their son, Dan, and their daughter, Leah.

These facts of Sam’s life are overwhelming in their versatility and ambition, but most members of NCHC will remember Sam for his soft-spoken civility, intense focus, and quiet nobility. He has shaped the history of honors education and the path of NCHC, and we salute him as we hope and try to live up to his legacy.

- from "Some Highlights of Sam’s Career in Honors", published by Ada Long in Honors in Practice: Remembering Sam Schuman (2015)

Dr. Jeffrey Portnoy

2020 Winner

Jeffrey Portnoy

Jeff Portnoy has been active in honors for three decades at a variety of institutions, including UNLV and Georgia Perimeter College, and recently retired as Professor of English and Associate Dean of the Honors College at Georgia State University, Perimeter College.

Jeff has been active in both the NCHC and the Georgia Collegiate Honors Council throughout those three decades. He has published eight essays in NCHC Publications, served as presenter, moderator, or panelist at nearly 50 NCHC sessions, and 23 GCHC sessions, served as president and in other leadership roles in the GCHC, served on the annual NCHC conference planning committees from 2006 through 2020, and been a service provider for the NCHC in a variety of other roles, including as a peer reviewer for JNCHC and HIP. Jeff also serves as the founding General Editor of the NCHC Monograph Series and former Chair of the Publications Board. He was a member of the inaugural class of NCHC Fellows and received the Ron Brandolini Award.

2017 NCHC Founders Award recipient, Dr. Ada Long, wrote, “Jeff makes every project, publication, venture, and meeting into rollicking good fun. He is serious and focused about the work to be done, but he makes everybody look forward to being together and doing more work.”

Dr. Long also stated, “Jeff’s almost single-handed resurrection of NCHC publications and tenacious adherence to high standards of writing and scholarship have endowed the NCHC with a professionalism and credibility that are assets to all its members, to the organization, and to the success of honors nationally and internationally.”

Dr. Joan Digby

2018 Winner

Joan Digby

If honors education in some sense celebrates a Renaissance vision of humankind, Joan Digby is that image incarnate. She is a scholar, an essayist, an editor, a poet, an adventurer in nature, a protector of Wild Camels, a woman of the horse, a publisher, a film producer, a provider of food and lodging for generations of cats, and a Founder of initiatives central to the heart of honors education and NCHC.

That Joan's award-winning dissertation at New York University was on Eighteenth-Century fabulists was prescient. She has rarely strayed far from the world of animals. While teaching at the Post Campus of Long Island University for almost 50 years, she has befriended multiple feral cat colonies on LIU’s glorious acreage and the horses stabled adjacent to the campus. In 2005, with her collage artist husband John Digby, Joan founded--aptly named--The Feral Press, which has published over 250 limited-edition books. Her fall 2017 sabbatical resulted in her writing three volumes of poetry, including one with Joan’s favorite equine collaborator, Snowball, a horse of great renown on Long Island.

Joan became Director of the LIU--Post Honors Program (now the Honors College) and Merit Fellowship in 1977. She soon became a creative force in honors on the regional and national level. She was president of the Northeast Region in the mid-1990s and has served on numerous NCHC committees, often co-chairing them: the Publications Board, External Relations, Honors Research, and Partners in the Parks. Not only serving on the Editorial Board of JNCHC, Joan is frequently writing for it and HIP. Her seminal essays include “My Objections to Outcome [Note the Singular] Assessment” and “The Age of Imitation.” Joan presided over the NCHC Conference in Orlando, which was one of the most innovative in NCHC history because of its emphasis on small-group discussions of books, and she became its president in 2000.

While even this sketch of Joan’s academic career in honors should merit the NCHC Founders Award, it has not yet highlighted two initiatives that Joan bequeathed to NCHC: Peterson’s Guide to Honors Programs & Colleges and Partners in the Parks. Following in the Eighteenth-Century footsteps of Samuel Johnson, who produced the first English dictionary with only the help of several amanuenses, Joan with Tracey Christy, her LIU assistant, produced four editions of Peterson’s Guide. This mammoth undertaking chronicled the resources of honors operations, attributes, and offerings at colleges and universities across the country, not only generating royalties for NCHC but swelling the ranks of NCHC’s institutional members because schools wanted to be included in Peterson’s. And just as Johnson’s Dictionary became the foundation for the Oxford English Dictionary, Joan’s labor was the forerunner of the incredible database that NCHC, with all its staff and volunteers, has created about honors education in this country and around the world.

The story has oft been told how Joan was visiting Rocky Mountain National Park and gazing across a magnificent panorama when it occurred to her how few of her students had been to that park or anywhere in the western United States and likely not even to the several national parks in the vicinity of LIU. From that explosive realization, Joan conjured Partners in the Parks, an amazing collaboration with the National Park Service that has produced over 90 weeklong experiential, academic, and service-learning adventures in the national parks as well as many mini-PITP excursions at NCHC conferences. Not surprisingly, in a recent meeting of NCHC leaders with representatives from the Department of Education, Partners in the Parks was the initiative that most drew their praise.

At a birthday dinner for Joan during the last NCHC Conference in Boston, one celebrant noted two of Joan’s striking attributes: her creativity and her ability, which is rare, to release what she creates and allow others to take her work in new and unanticipated directions. That is precisely what Joan did with the database she created and with Partners in the Parks and the two highly collaborative NCHC monographs she edited on PITP. The grandest foundations are laid for others to build upon; Joan Digby is a Founder who has produced for honors enthusiasts and adventurers a glorious foundation.

Contributed by Dr. Jeff Portnoy, co-chair of the NCHC Publications Board and Editor of the NCHC Monograph Series.
Photo Credit: Bill Wolak

Dr. Ada Long

2017 Winner

The NCHC Founders Award honors those members of NCHC whose work has guided and sustained the organization over many decades and at many levels, including matters of policy, process, and substance.

Ada Long’s consistent investment in honors education, both as a founding honors director at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and through her work with the NCHC, has had widespread application and influence in the United States and internationally. An NCHC colleague quoted, “As you can see from her incomparable CV, [Ada’s] extensive honors publication and presentation record is extraordinary. In addition, Ada has served on innumerable NCHC committees, is the founding editor of both JNCHC and HIP, served as a site visitor for 20 years, has been a leader in Honors Semesters and City as Text™ since the mid-nineties, and is a past president of NCHC. Ada’s contributions to NCHC since becoming an honors director in 1982 have reshaped and sustained NCHC in endless ways; NCHC literally would not be what it is today without Ada Long.”

Dr. John & Edythe Portz

2016 Winners

accepted by Dr. Traci Doula, Associate Director of the University of Maryland Honors Program

John & Edythe PortzThe Founders Award commemorates individuals who embody the very nature of the honors experience: expecting more, conceptualizing different and exciting, impacting internal as well as community growth, and instilling a similar love for learning in those around them.

In 2016, we recognized the contributions and career of Dr. John Portz. His contributions captured the essence of his personality: big and impactful. Dr. Portz, a long-serving volunteer and leader at NCHC, provided not only expertise but understood the value that a life-time gift would provide for students long after his hands were still and his voice was silent. His gifts to NCHC were many—the office has letters from the Portzes asking how much money the organization needed—and what projects they wanted to fund! Beyond those gifts, he planned for a long-term investment in students he’d never meet, using the money he’d earned at the career he loved.

John was Bernice Braid’s mentor in NCHC – she describes him as imaginative, energetic, and an exceptional student advocate. He created such programs as Honors Semesters, Faculty Institutes, Sleeping Bag Seminars, and was the first editor of the newsletter. His wife Edythe came to the NCHC meetings and worked in Washington DC. She brought with her a professional diplomacy to the deliberations. As her husband John, she loved working with the students. It is the love and passion for students that gifted NCHC with the foundation for programs still in existence.

Dr. Bernice Braid

2015 Winner

If any one person embodies the highest values of honors education, that person is Bernice Braid, who has been a passionate innovator, sustainer, and supporter of all that is best in honors. She is a founder and presiding genius of the NCHC, setting the path not just of the organization but of honors and, to a large degree, higher education.

Dr. Braid began her distinguished academic career at LIU Brooklyn in 1964 and started teaching honors courses in 1965, the same year as the founding of NCHC. She became the director of the LIU Honors Program in 1968, and she soon became a leader far beyond her own campus, serving as president of the Northeast Regional Honors Council in 1977-78 and as national president in 1979-80. She has served on the Board of Directors/Executive Committee a total of 23 years between 1976 and 2011, and during that time published some forty essays and books.

What everyone in the NCHC, in honors, and throughout higher education knows about Bernice is her pioneering role in experiential education and active learning. Through Honors Semesters, Faculty Institutes, City as Text™ excursions, journal articles, monographs, workshops, campus consultations, and daily infusions of her prodigious energy, she has created experiential education as a pedagogical strategy in honors and far beyond. She deserves the credit for what so many others have subsequently adopted and adapted.

Dr. Braid has served as a consultant, evaluator, or workshop leader at over sixty colleges and universities in the United States and several more in other parts of the world such as Spain, Chile, Greece, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic. Students around the globe have caught fire about experiential education, cultural studies, and public service through participation in one of the more than thirty Honors Semesters she has organized, and faculty have honed their teaching skills in more than twenty-five Faculty Institutes. Any member of NCHC during the last three decades knows Bernice as the founding mother and annual organizer of City as Text™. Thousands have experienced cities with her maps, handouts, instructions, and insights as their guides, and hundreds have returned to their home campuses to adopt her learning strategies in their own programs and courses. She was practicing and teaching active learning for at least two decades before the rest of the country caught up with her, and—in this as in all things—she has kept the NCHC in the forefront of excellent education.