Outstanding UNT faculty honored during annual awards dinner

Thursday, May 2, 2019 - 11:16
UNT recently celebrated faculty members at the Salute to Faculty Excellence Awards Dinner and Ceremony.
UNT recently celebrated faculty members at the Salute to Faculty Excellence Awards Dinner and Ceremony.

DENTON (UNT), Texas – The University of North Texas recently celebrated four faculty members for their dedication to excellence through research, service and education as part of the eighth annual Salute to Faculty Excellence Awards Dinner and Ceremony on April 25 at UNT’s Apogee Stadium HUB Club. 

The ceremony was supported by the UNT Foundation, which accepts, invests and manages private gifts, endowed funds and other assets for the benefit of the university, including faculty and students.


Janice Miner Holden

Holden, professor of counseling, earned the Eminent Faculty Award, which included a $15,000 check, a commemorative engraved gift and the honor of being an Eminent Faculty Awardee. Holden’s research focuses on counseling implications of near-death experiences, after-death communication and other transpersonal experiences – those that transcend the usual personal limits of space, time or identity.

She served as lead editor of the 2009 Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation and co-authored the textbook, Theoretical Models of Counseling and Psychotherapy. She has served for 10 years as editor-in-chief of the International Association for Near-Death Studies’ peer-reviewed Journal of Near-Death Studies. Holden joined the UNT faculty in 1988 and served 12 years as chair of the Department of Counseling and Higher Education. For her career-long research on and advocacy for people who have had transpersonal experiences, Holden earned the 2013 Association for Spiritual, Ethical and Religious Values in Counseling’s Research Award and the 2015 American Counseling Association’s Gilbert and Kathleen Wrenn Award for a Humanitarian and Caring Person.

Karen Weiller Abels

This year’s Faculty Leadership Award winner is Karen Weiller Abels, associate professor of kinesiology, health promotion and recreation. She specializes in research on gender issues in media representation of sport activities. Her current projects include working as part of a team examining the role of sport and physical activity in the social integration of refugee communities and working as part of an interdisciplinary research team investigating the media representation of women with disabilities in the 2018 Paralympic Games. 

Among her leadership roles at UNT, she has served on 18 university committees including the University Review Committee and Faculty Senate. Weiller Abels is currently completing a year as one of three UNT Academic Affairs Fellows and serves as the university’s Academic Integrity Officer. Weiller Abels won the J.H. Shelton Excellence in Teaching Award in 2008 and has been a member of the UNT faculty since 1990.

Bradford Charles Leali

Bradford Charles Leali, professor of jazz saxophone at UNT, received the Community Engagement Award. Leali, a UNT alumnus, is one of the most notable jazz saxophonists of current times, having toured and recorded with numerous jazz greats, including several years with the Harry Connick, Jr. Orchestra, Count Basie Orchestra, Clark Terry, Jon Hendricks, Michael Bublé and several notable others. 

Leali continues to perform domestically and abroad, including as a featured member with Lyle Lovett and His Large Band. He was a long-standing member of the Kennedy Center Honors Band and performed for President Obama’s inaugural celebration. Leali’s annual Gospel Meets Jazz Celebration at UNT has been an endeavor to educate and raise awareness of the influence of gospel and jazz music and to celebrate UNT’s community diversity. A new adventure for 2019, his Melodious Graffiti Project is a unique musical endeavor, fusing elements of jazz and orchestral musical genres. 

S. Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton, a senior lecturer in the Department of Management, is this year’s winner of the Outstanding Lecturer Award, the highest honor awarded to UNT lecturers. A UNT alumnus, Sexton has taught more than 10,000 students enrolled in 11 different courses. He was one of the first instructors at UNT to incorporate multiple location video conferencing technology, Skype classroom conferencing and many other innovative learning technologies in the classroom. 

Sexton has co-mentored 12 new UNT faculty members and hundreds of undergraduate students, has supervised 15 doctoral students and has lectured to 400-plus students at Dallas Hillcrest High School. He has conducted 12 study abroad programs with more than 250 students and is headed to Spain with the next group in June and July 2019. He has been awarded many teaching awards during his career at UNT.


Weiller Abels, Leali and Sexton each received $5,000 and a commemorative gift. In all, more than 25 professors were honored during the evening. Faculty were bestowed with research, teaching and service awards. These awards were funded by UNT Foundation in celebration of UNT's faculty members.

To read more about the winners and see a complete list of faculty members who were lauded for their accomplishments, visit http://vpaa.unt.edu/fs/recognition/awards-2019.

UNT News Service
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