UA Little Rock honors top faculty of 2024

April 15-21, 2024

By Angelita Faller

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock has honored Anastasia Boles, Dr. Heidi Skurat Harris, Dr. Noureen Siraj, Kiel Thorlton, and Dr. Casey Rockwell as the winners of the 2024 Faculty Excellence Awards.


Anastasia Boles, professor of law, won the Faculty Excellence Award in Teaching, sponsored by the Bailey Family. Skurat Harris, associate professor of rhetoric and writing, has won the Faculty Excellence Award in Research and Creative Endeavors, sponsored by Dr. Jaafer Golzar and Renee Golzar, while Siraj, associate professor of chemistry, received the Faculty Excellence Award in Public Service, sponsored by the Chancellor’s Circle.


In the university’s newest Faculty Excellence categories, UA Little Rock honored Kiel Thorlton, assistant professor of mass communication, as the second recipient of the Rising Faculty Excellence Award, sponsored by Dr. Scott Bowen, as well as Rockwell, associate professor of marketing and advertising, as the second recipient of the Faculty Excellence Award in Social Justice, sponsored by Just Communities of Arkansas.


“Our recipients’ unwavering commitment to scholarship, teaching, research, public service, and social justice has significantly enriched both our institution and the wider academic sphere,” Provost Ann Bain said. “On behalf of the university, I extend heartfelt congratulations to each award recipient, expressing gratitude for epitomizing the essence of excellence that defines our institution.”


UA Little Rock annually celebrates the achievements of the top professors of the year who are making a difference in the community through their contributions in teaching, research and creative works, public service, and social justice. This is the highest honor UA Little Rock awards its faculty members. Each university-level award winning faculty member will receive a $5,000 prize.


Created in 1989, the Faculty Excellence Awards has provided a way to recognize the great work of UA Little Rock faculty for the past 35 years and is made possible through the valued contributions of the Office of the Chancellor, the Office of the Provost, the UA Little Rock Chancellor’s Circle, and the Bailey Foundation.


The UA Little Rock Board of Visitors selected the university-wide winners from the 19 faculty members who were selected as the top faculty members for the 2023-24 academic year in each of the five categories in their respective colleges and the William H. Bowen School of Law.


Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching


Anastasia Boles is a professor of law at the William H. Bowen School of Law and co-director of Bowen’s Center for Racial Justice and Criminal Justice Reform. She has been noted by fellow faculty, students, and alumni as an example of the teacher-mentor model. Boles’ background is in large law firm litigation, and she brings her civil litigation experiences to her classes and incorporates culturally proficient legal instruction into her courses. 


Unlike most law classes, which use the Socratic method, Boles uses a panel system to call on students. This allows students to know what day they will be questioned in class and helps build student confidence.


“I am extremely honored and humbled to win this award,” Boles said. “Our students at UA Little Rock are so talented. My goal as a Bowen law professor is to help them develop the lawyering skills necessary to become competent, equity-informed, and culturally competent leaders. Many students come to law school wanting to change the world, so I focus on keeping my classes interactive, grounded in social context, and full of opportunities for formative assessment.” 


Faculty Excellence Award for Research and Creative Endeavors


Dr. Heidi Skurat Harris is an associate professor and graduate coordinator in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing. With a decade of experience at UA Little Rock, Harris has made significant impacts in the research field.


Her research areas of online instruction and online writing program development allow her to use her research data to improve her teaching and advising. She is also a recognized national expert on online writing instruction, editing the Bedford Bibliography of Research in Online Writing Instruction and co-authoring important works such as “Multimedia in the College Classroom: Improve Learning and Connect with Students in Online and Hybrid Courses.” She developed UA Little Rock’s Graduate Certificate for Online Writing Instruction, the only certificate of its kind in the nation.


“I am deeply passionate about online education and continually strive to enhance the student experience,” Skurat Harris said. “Whether in the classroom or engaging with students online, I am committed to fostering meaningful interactions that remind students of the human connection behind the screen. When working with online students, it’s especially important to be present in the classroom and interact with students so they know there is a human behind the screen that cares about them.” 


Faculty Excellence Award for Public Service


Dr. Noureen Siraj is an associate professor of chemistry at UA Little Rock. She is involved in numerous organizations within and outside the university. At UA Little Rock, she serves on the Awards Committee in the Chemistry Program, the Chemical Safety Committee, the Faculty Senate Honors and Awards Committee, and the Student Research and Creative Works Committee. Outside the university, she serves as a grant proposal reviewer for many state and federal agencies including the National Science Foundation and NASA.


Since 2020, she has served as the Chemistry Olympiad Coordinator for the American Chemical Society. The Central Arkansas American Chemical Society honored her with two prestigious awards in 2023 - Central Arkansas Professor of the Year and Volunteer of the Year.


Siraj has played a significant role in the community by helping build pathways to STEM careers for underserved children in Little Rock, as well as encouraging students, especially female students, to follow their STEM-related interests. Over the past five years, Siraj has mentored 22 middle and high school students for their science fair projects.


Faculty Excellence Award for Rising Faculty


Kiel Thorlton, assistant professor in the School of Mass Communication, joined the university in 2020 and has become well known for his film work and mentoring students. Thorlton’s film work includes writing, directing, and co-producing a feature film called “A Place Called Home” and writing episodes for the animated series, “Gabriel and the Guardians.” 


Thorlton is currently in preproduction on a second feature film, “The Invisible,” where he serves as writer, director, and co-producer. Additionally, he is also the coordinating producer for ESPN+ and manages a student crew responsible for over 100 broadcasts a year. 


Faculty Excellence Award for Social Justice


Dr. Casey Rockwell is an associate professor of marketing and advertising at UA Little Rock. During her time at UA Little Rock, she has demonstrated her dedication to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of academic life.


In the classroom, Rockwell works to create inclusive learning environments where every student feels valued and respected. She incorporates diverse perspectives into her curriculum and challenges students to examine issues of inequality and injustice to inspire them to become agents of positive change.


Additionally, Rockwell serves marginalized communities and vulnerable populations by amplifying their voices and advocating for their rights. She has served at organizations such as the Junior League of Little Rock, Arkansas Children’s Hospital Auxiliary, and the Arkansas Bar Association Board of Trustees. Rockwell has shown her commitment to serving others and opening doors of opportunity through her volunteer work, community partnerships, and advocacy campaigns.  


Photo Captions:

1. Dr. Sarah Beth Estes, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences, and Education, congratulates Kiel Thorlton, assistant professor of mass communication, for receiving the 2024 Rising Faculty Excellence Award at UA Little Rock. 


2. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock celebrates the winners of the 2024 Faculty Excellence Awards during an April 4 awards ceremony at UA Little Rock. This is the highest honor UA Little Rock awards its faculty members.


Photo Credits:


1.Photo by Ben Krain


2. Photos by Ben Krain

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