Five receive 2018 April Brooks Woman of Distinction Awards


South Dakota State University Marketing & Communications

From left are the 2018 April Brooks Woman of Distinction Award recipients: Jane Mort, Semehar Ghebrekidan, Janet Johnson, Lacey McCormack and Michelle Leeds.

The 2018 April Brooks Woman of Distinction Awards went to five women who have made an impact on campus in many ways. They were announced Thursday afternoon at the annual tea and award presentation that was held in the University Student Union’s Campanile/Hobo Day Gallery.

They were: Jane Mort, administration; Lacey McCormack, faculty; Janet Johnson, professional staff; Michelle Leeds, civil service; and Semehar Ghebrekidan, student.

The awards are sponsored by South Dakota State University’s Women’s and Gender Studies Committee.

“Each March, the women’s and gender studies program celebrates Women’s History Month with the Dr. April Brooks Woman of Distinction Awards. Five awards are given to women who have illustrated excellence in their careers, resilience and have promoted opportunities for women. Letters of support from colleagues document these areas and their commitment to SDSU,” said Elizabeth Tolman, professor and women’s and gender studies coordinator. “Our day-to-day interactions do not always give us the opportunity to support successes and excellence. Therefore, this event celebrates those women selected for the award, as well as all women who were nominated.”

This year’s women of distinction:

Administration: Jane Mort, professor and interim dean of the College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions
Since arriving at State in 1986, Mort currently is the interim dean of the College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions, managing a staff of 45 faculty members. She has served in roles as associate dean for academic programs, coordinator of assessment, coordinator for West River clinical education, acting head of clinical pharmacy department, professor of pharmacy practice and associate professor of clinical pharmacy. Mort began her career as an assistant professor of clinical pharmacy.

Mort has served on numerous university and professional committees in addition to being a pharmacy consultant to the South Dakota Foundation for Medical Care since 2004. She recently presented at the American Association of College of Pharmacy annual meeting and is doing research on the incorporation of pharmacy skills into the curriculum using the learning model around community pharmacy innovation.

“Even after 30 years of service at SDSU, Dr. Mort continues to strive for excellence and innovation as a leader in multiple ways,” said Om Perumal, professor and head of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. “This is exemplified from the various innovative approaches that she has developed and implemented, especially in the area of curriculum development and assessment. She continues to excel and explore innovative approaches in her current leadership role and has distinguished herself as an effective administrator with exceptional leadership abilities. She serves as a role model and inspiration for future women leaders.”

Faculty: Lacey McCormack, assistant professor, Department of Health and Nutritional Sciences
Since starting at State in 2013, McCormack has secured more than $24.5 million in funding and published 15 peer-reviewed articles. She is the adviser of the Nutrition and Dietetics Club and also serves on university committees and professional organizations.

“I have not worked with any other professor who is capable of enlightening such a positive attitude; building confidence and helping students achieve their full potential. She does this by understanding and learning the needs of all of her students. She assesses the backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses, interests, ambitions, responsibilities and motivation of her students and guides them accordingly,” wrote Sumadhuri Pamathi, a doctoral candidate.

McCormack won the 2015 South Dakota Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Young Dietitian of the Year Award and was named the College of Education and Human Sciences’ outstanding researcher in 2016.

Professional staff: Janet Johnson, faculty mentor, Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning
Johnson, who retired as an associate professor before taking her role as a faculty mentor for the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, was cited for her innovative teaching practices, role in guiding students to become better teachers and making a difference in students’ lives.

“Since joining the CETL staff, Dr. Johnson has observed more than 300 classes, providing invaluable guidance and support to faculty from across the university as they work to become more effective teachers. I know dozens of SDSU faculty who are better teachers and better professionals because of what they learned from Dr. Johnson. She has been an especially powerful and positive mentor to your professional women who are inspired by her intellect, integrity, talent, experience, wisdom and sincere desire to make a difference for others,” wrote Laurie Nichols, former provost at South Dakota State and now president at the University of Wyoming.

In addition to her on-campus duties, she frequently visited Russia and even served as an interpreter and cultural guide for the SDSU Women’s Choir visit to Moscow. She gained national acclaim for her work teaching Russian via interactive television.

Civil service: Michelle Leeds, assignment secretary, University Housing and Residential Life
Leeds was selected for her ability and willingness to understand the needs and perspectives of the campus community.

“Watching Michelle interact with the wide range of constituents who come to her desk in the course of a week is what I find most compelling in recommending her. Michelle adapts her approach to each interaction with a student or family member to ensure that communication is mutually understood. Michelle is an artful front-line communicator and an asset to our office,” wrote Tobias Uecker, associate director for living-learning and outreach.

Others cited her ability to put co-workers first and her interest in being a lifelong learner.

“Michelle always takes note of when she sees a staff member struggling or having a tough day and will try to help in any way she can. You can almost guarantee that if there is a treat or small card on your desk that Michelle most likely put it there. Michelle strives to continue to become a better professional by going to professional development opportunities throughout the year, whether that be during work hours or after. She continues to find new and innovative ways to improve processes and implement best practices,” submitted Harriet Kandell, occupancy manager and policy/data analyst.

Student: Semehar Ghebrekidan, graduate student, College of Arts and Sciences
While pursuing a master’s degree in sociology, Ghebrekidan has been an advocate for many others on campus.

One example would be her work in obtaining and fixing bicycles for many English as a Second Language students in summer 2017. Ghebrekidan initially posted a message on Facebook asking for donations. After receiving several in disrepair, she learned how to fix bicycles and was eventually able to provide one to each full-time student in her ESL class, in which she served as a graduate teaching assistant.

Ghebrekidan also provided a Thanksgiving dinner for ESL students to help introduce the holiday and help make them feel welcome.

“It is difficult in something as brief as a reference letter to offer the fullest sense of all of Semehar’s contributions to our campus. Suffice to say Semehar leaves behind a campus improved by her leadership efforts and her advocacy for individual students and student groups,” wrote Douglas Wermedal, the associate vice president for student affairs.