Belmont honored some of its most outstanding faculty and students Wednesday morning at the Scholarship and Awards ceremony, including Chaney Distinguished Professor Award winner Dr. Vaughn May and Presidential Faculty Achievement Award winner Dr. Edgar Diaz-Cruz.
The Chaney Award honors one professor each year, chosen by Belmont’s full-time faculty for his or her excellence in teaching.
May started teaching at Belmont in 2003, and he currently works as a professor of political science and chair of the political science department. He teaches classes like American Political Institutions, American Government and Southern Politics.
Before coming to Belmont, May earned his Ph.D. in political science from Vanderbilt University and taught at University of Tennessee at Martin, according to Belmont’s website.
He started studying political science with the goal of going to law school, but he soon realized he loved the subject and wanted to pursue a graduate degree in it, he said.
As an educator, he’s loved getting to interact with students and talk about important issues.
“The students get better and better every year! My majors in particular are lively intellects, terrific writers and critical thinkers,” he said. “I am certain that Belmont has given me more than I have given back.”
May was surprised to win the award because he works with many other deserving people at Belmont, but he thinks one thing that sets him apart is his seminar-style classes which largely focus on discussion.
“I am not sure that is a ‘superior’ style of teaching, but it works for me in political science.”
As much as he loves Belmont, May wants first and foremost to prepare students for life after college.
“I do hope in some small way that I have improved the lives of my students. Specifically, I hope my classes have encouraged them to cultivate the kind of critical thinking skills that will serve them well long after their time here is done,” he said.
Diaz-Cruz also hopes to make an impact on the lives of his students, and Belmont recognized those efforts with the Presidential Award, which is given to a faculty member who goes above and beyond to serve students both in and out of the classroom, according to Belmont’s website.
Diaz-Cruz has worked in Belmont’s College of Pharmacy since 2011, teaching as an associate professor of pharmacology. He earned a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry from The Ohio State University.
A three-time nominee for the Presidential Award, he still felt surprised at this year’s nomination. When he won, he was ecstatic.
“I was honored, humbled, excited and very optimistic. The award is student-centered, and I think that I’ve worked really hard to make sure Belmont University stays student-centered,” he said.
This desire to serve others goes beyond his work in the classroom, it’s the whole reason he started studying medicinal chemistry in the first place.
“My undergraduate was in chemistry, but I needed more purpose to what I was going to do in life. In chemistry I was synthesizing molecules, synthesizing compounds, and that was okay, but to me it was more important to know how things would impact society,” he said. “So then I got into medicinal chemistry, where I found the perfect balance of chemistry and medicine.”
He started teaching because he loves students and wants to learn from them.
“I have the power and the privilege to be able to educate others, but I have the privilege and I am honored to be able to be educated by others.”
Beyond science, Diaz-Cruz is also passionate about diversity. He helps to lead diversity and inclusion training for Belmont faculty and started a chapter of the Student National Pharmaceutical Association, which focuses on serving to people who traditionally don’t get the best quality care.
“It’s not only educating, it’s also fostering an environment of equality,” he said. “We are all individuals that are so diverse, and we have to really foster a place where we can include all.”
Other Belmont faculty were honored with the Christian Scholarship Award — given to Dr. Beverley Alleyne and Dr. Elena Espiritu — the Leadership in Christian Service Award — given to Dr. Joan Li and Dr. Martha Minardi — and the Scholarship Award — given to Dr. Ronnie Littlejohn.
Several students also received awards for their writing or for campus leadership.
Contributing reporting from Zach Gilchriest