New award recognizes outstanding department heads

A new award is shining a spotlight on the hard work of department leaders at the University of Oregon.

The Office of the Provost is recognizing Mark Unno and Gretchen Soderlund as the Outstanding Department Heads of 2022. Both winners will receive a $5,000 award.

Sierra Dawson, associate vice provost for faculty and leadership development, said the award is the final phase of efforts to improve support for unit heads.

“I mostly hope that department heads feel seen and valued for the incredibly important work they do, which might mostly feel invisible,” she said.

Dawson added that she hopes more faculty members will be able to see themselves in the role and step into a leadership position.

In 2019, Soderlund took on the role of area director of media studies in the School of Journalism and Communication just months before the pandemic shifted instruction online. Both she and Unno, in the Department of Religious Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, have been praised for their effective response to COVID-19.

When the role opened, Soderlund said she jumped at the opportunity to realize her vision for the future of the school. Nominators highlighted the many improvements she spearheaded, including expanding curriculum and opportunities for media studies majors and reducing class sizes.

“I was surprised and honored to receive the award,” she said. “It was so affirming to know that my work was appreciated by my colleagues in the SOJC.”

Soderlund plans to use the funding from the award on a research trip to London.

“In August, I spent two weeks doing archival research at the British Library,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience, but I only scratched the surface of their international newspaper holdings.”

Unno plans to use his $5,000 award to bring in researchers to present their work to his team, and he’ll also be using it to cover some of his research costs.

In his second stint as department head of religious studies, Unno said his prior experience has been invaluable. Nominators said he is a consummate professional who fosters a positive environment and excels in the role.

“I’m humbled to receive this award,” he said. “I feel as though all of the department heads and program directors who helped to guide their units through the pandemic are deserving.”

He also acknowledged the faculty members, administrative staff and college leaders who have contributed to the department’s success.

“The colleagues in my department are highly successful; we have a disproportionate number of awardees in terms of prestigious research fellowships as well as teaching awards and recognition,” he said. “My hope is that they felt well-supported in their work.”

Soderlund and Unno were announced as the winners of the inaugural award at the Academic Leaders Summit before fall term.

By Chelsea Hunt, Office of the Provost