Balance, Nicholson honored for research, teaching and service

Two faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences – Christine Balance, associate professor in the Department of Performing and Media Arts (PMA), and Linda Nicholson, professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, are the recipients of the 2023 Faculty Award for Excellence in Research, Teaching and Service through Diversity.

President Martha E. Pollack and Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff announced the awards based on nominations from students, faculty, and staff, and the recommendations of a selection committee. The recognition comes with a $15,000 prize.

“Professors Nicholson and Balance demonstrate exceptional commitment to creating inclusive spaces in their teaching, advising and research,” Pollack said. “I’m delighted that they are being recognized for their excellent work in preparing our students to engage in an increasingly diverse world.”

Balance, who is also director of Asian American Studies Program (AASP) in A&S, focuses her research on popular music and performance, with an emphasis on Filipino and Filipino American cultures. Her first book, “Tropical Renditions: Making Musical Scenes in Filipino America,” received the 2018 Best First Book Prize from the Filipino Studies section of the Association for Asian American Studies.

Balance arrived as faculty at Cornell in 2018. Previously, she was in residence as an external faculty fellow with the Society for Humanities (2014-15). As director of AASP, she has helped establish the Asian American Studies graduate minor, collaborated with Derek Chang, associate professor of history (A&S), to start the Cornell Asian/Asian American Alumni Oral History Project and expanded the range of classes offered in both PMA and AASP.

“Some of the work I’m most proud of while here at Cornell broadly brings attention to ‘anti-Asian racism’ – not just bias or discrimination or other languages of individual injury but a real accounting for how Asian America – its people, their histories and communities – have been shaped by structural racism in the U.S. and across the globe,” she said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when hostilities soared against Asians and Asian Americans, Balance organized well-attended forums, including “Hate in the Time of COVID” and “Racism in America,” providing not only safe spaces for Asians and Asian Americans at Cornell but also opportunities to educate others about the historical context of anti-Asian sentiments.

She also created new courses open to students across the university, such as “U.S. Cultures of War and Empire,” a seminar that examines how U.S. militarism has and continues to shape the Asian and Asian American experience.

“As a teacher, I recognize that my students come to college and the classroom with their own set of unique experiences and perspectives,” Balance said. “I am not here to ‘bank’ knowledge into their empty minds but instead to engage their ideas, passions and interests while also offering them tools – scholarly and practical – for critique, creation and the roads ahead of them.”

Nicholson – also the Hays and the James M. Clark Director of Undergraduate Biology – studies the biophysical properties of proteins critical for a range of biological processes from plant growth to Alzheimer’s disease. She joined Cornell’s faculty in 1994.

She assists in the selection of incoming scholars with the Posse Foundation, a nonprofit organization that identifies public high school students with exceptional academic and leadership potential and collaborates with university partners, including Cornell, to provide scholarships and mentoring. She also recruits Cornell faculty to mentor the income Posse cohort and to sustain support for the Posse community on campus.

From 2013-18 Nicholson mentored a cohort of 10 underrepresented Posse scholars from Chicago studying at Cornell. She also arranged weekly events to help the students adjust to and thrive at Cornell.

“Serving as faculty mentor for Cornell’s first Posse cohort – we have now hosted 10 cohorts and the 11th will arrive this fall – gave me the gift of seeing the undergraduate experience through the eyes of brilliant and resilient Posse scholars who are part of my chosen family,” Nicholson said.

In 2020, Nicholson was the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences lead for diversity and inclusion for the multicollege Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics. From 2016-20, she chaired the A&S Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Nicholson also has won several Cornell awards, including the Estevan Fuertes Award, the Robert A. And Donna B. Paul Award for Excellence in Advising, and the Kendall S. Carpenter Advising Award. She received the Graduate School’s Diversity and Inclusion Change Agent Award in 2022.

As the director of undergraduate biology, Nicholson assists undergraduates in one of the most popular majors at Cornell. Her colleagues praised her efforts, including monthly meetings with instructors, to ensure that introductory biology courses meet the needs of all students.

Launched in 2018, the Faculty Award for Excellence in Research, Teaching and Service through Diversity recognizes faculty for their sustained and transformational work promoting diversity through research, teaching and service. Nominations for recipients of the 2024 award will be solicited at this year’s end.

Lori Sonken is the communication and program manager for the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity.

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