BLACKSBURG — Jacqueline E. Bixler, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Spanish, and Michael F. Hochella Jr., University Distinguished Professor of Geosciences, are recipients of the 2016 State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) Outstanding Faculty Award.

The award, sponsored by the Dominion Foundation, is the commonwealth’s highest honor for faculty in Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities, recognizing their commitment to excellence in teaching, research, knowledge integration, and public service.

Bixler and Hochella are two of 13 faculty members given the 2016 award, selected from 92 nominees.

The recipients will be recognized at an awards ceremony on Feb. 16 at The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia, with an address from Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Since the award began almost three decades ago in 1987, 30 faculty from Virginia Tech have received the award.

Jacqueline E. Bixler

Bixler has been a Virginia Tech faculty member for 35 years, teaching in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She is currently an Alumni Distinguished Professor.

“I came to Virginia Tech in 1980, thinking that it would just be for a short while and that I would then look for a school with a Ph.D. program in Spanish. By 1989, I had three children and knew that Blacksburg was where I wanted to raise them. More importantly, I knew that I wanted to devote myself to undergraduate education, that Virginia Tech was exactly where I wanted to be, and that there could be no job more exciting or rewarding than that of being a teaching scholar,” Bixler said.

Bixler is an inductee in the Academy of Teaching Excellence and has won the Alumni Excellence in Teaching Award, Diggs Teaching Scholar Award, and three Certificates of Teaching Excellence.

She teaches about the Spanish language, including grammar, conversation, and translation, in addition to Hispanic culture, literature, and film. After trips to Mexico and Spain solidified her love of the culture while in college herself, Bixler encourages students to study abroad and explore the world and cultures outside the United States.

“In 2008, I traveled to Mexico with Bixler and other students to spend a summer learning Spanish. From that moment on, I decided that my path in life would somehow include Spanish and Latin America. I am now a bilingual attorney in Puerto Rico thanks to that gentle push from Bixler when I was merely a teen to step out and explore a world outside my comfort zone,” said alumna Jessica Earl who earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish in 2010.

In her research, Bixler is an internationally recognized scholar of contemporary Latin American theatre. She has published seven books. One of her biggest honors was an invitation to speak in front of 2,000 Mexicans following the death of the country’s famous contemporary dramatist, Emilio Carballido.

“It is a very rare faculty member who truly excels across all areas of their professional life. When that happens, though, it invariably involves a faculty member who has successfully internalized and integrated the too often disparate missions of higher education in the way that we hope for. Jackie Bixler is such a faculty member,” said Elizabeth Spiller, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Bixler received her bachelor’s degree from Ohio University, and her master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Kansas. She serves as chair of the Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures and also as the editor of the journal Latin American Theatre Review.

Michael F. Hochella Jr.

Hochella performs research and teaches environmental science on local, regional, and global levels. He joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 1992, and was previously at Stanford University, for a total of 27 years as a professor. He currently serves as University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech.

“The drivers of all that I do really boil down to two things that meet my core needs. These are simply my strong sense of curiosity and a desire for healthy and productive human relationships,” Hochella said. “The first core value explains my passion for science and technology. Certainly, deeply rooted curiosity gives all of us, if we so choose, the ability to not only be curious, but to quench this urge through discovery. The second core value explains my love of teaching and service. And both core values together explain my great attraction to knowledge integration and academics in general.”

In student evaluations, Hochella’s classes earn exceptionally high praise. “He has continuously exhibited being a true mentor inside and outside the classroom by guiding me through my young academic journey filled with all sorts of personal and professional obstacles,” said Albert Hinman, a 2015 Virginia Tech graduate with majors in biological sciences and nanoscience from Smithfield, Virginia, and presently a doctoral candidate at Stanford University. “He played a major part in catalyzing my decision to pursue a Ph.D., and turning around a young man with no sort of direction into an inspired academic scholar. As an aspiring professor, I hope I can one day emulate the amazing insights he displayed to me onto others.”

Hochella is considered a pioneer in the research field of nano- bio- geochemistry, with sponsored research programs totaling more than $22 million. He also directs the Virginia Tech Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology.

“As a result of Hochella’s expertise in the field of geo- and environmental nanoscience, the National Science Foundation established the Virginia Tech National Center for Earth and Environmental Nanotechnology Infrastructure. The $2.5 million project has the potential to revolutionize critical fields such as medicine and national security, while advancing our understanding of the world around us,” said Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands.

“Mike has been at the forefront of major initiatives that truly integrate the learning, discovery, and engagement mission of Virginia Tech throughout his career,” said Nancy Ross, department head and professor of geosciences. “He was the first in his field to use atomic-force and scanning-tunneling microscopes as well as high-resolution transmission electron microscopes to study surface properties at the atomic level. He has applied this research to many areas of earth science and mineralogy, particularly environmental contamination issues.”

Hochella received his bachelor’s degree and his master’s degree from Virginia Tech and his doctorate from Stanford University. He is a fellow of eight international scientific societies, including the American Geophysical Union and American Association for the Advancement of Science. Hochella has served on high-level advisory boards at the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

Share this story