Professors Scott Kirkton and Leo Zaibert honored with Stillman Prizes

Publication Date

Two Union professors were recently presented with the College’s top teaching awards.

Scott Kirkton, associate professor of biology, is the winner of the Stillman Prize for Faculty Excellence in Teaching. Leo Zaibert, William D. Williams Professor of Philosophy, Law and Humanities and chair of the department, is the winner of the Stillman Prize for Faculty Excellence in Research.

Scott Kirkton, associate professor of biology, with a student

Scott Kirkton, associate professor of biology, with a student.

The prizes, announced earlier this year, are typically presented at Convocation but were delayed by the pandemic.

Strom Thacker, the Stephen J. and Diane K. Ciesinski Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs, presented the awards at a recent virtual faculty meeting.

“One of things that excites me about being here is the tremendous faculty we have at Union,” said Thacker in a video message. “We have a model here of a teacher-scholar approach to a liberal arts education. It means our faculty are both high-level teachers and high-level scholars at the same time.”

As an animal physiologist, Kirkton and his research students investigate fundamental questions about how changes during an animal’s life history impact biological processes. Specifically, they use insect models to examine how development alters the biochemistry, morphology, physiology and biomechanics of respiration and locomotion.

“I try to have my students be self-motivated, and give them the different techniques and methods to do that,” he said. “We form teams in the classes that are made up of students with different backgrounds, different majors and different genders, and they solve real world complex problems. My goal is to make students leave the classroom maybe not wanting to be college professors, but at least having a passion or an interest in biology.”

Kirkton earned his bachelor of science degree from Denison University and his Ph.D. from Arizona State University. He was also a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral researcher at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. He joined Union in 2006.

Zaibert is one of Union’s most prolific researchers, with work focused on punishment, forgiveness and related phenomena. He has contributed to numerous publications. His most recent book, “Rethinking Punishment,” (Cambridge University Press, 2018) has been the subject of several symposia and special journal issues in the U.S. and abroad.

Leo Zaibert, William D. Williams Professor of Philosophy

Leo Zaibert, William D. Williams Professor of Philosophy

“The teacher-scholar model can work in the context of liberal arts college,” Zaibert said. “I don’t work with my students on my papers, but I find it tremendously stimulating to discuss things with them. My research benefits from their input. My teaching benefits tremendously in that I have a live research agenda. The two things are inseparable. When an institution like Union permits that, and then promotes it, there is potential for really interesting work to be accomplished.”

Zaibert earned his Ph.D. at the State University of New York, Buffalo, where he received the Perry Dissertation Award for outstanding doctoral dissertation. He holds a law degree from Universidad Santa Maria in Caracas, Venezuela. He joined Union in 2009.

The Stillman Prize for Excellence in Teaching was first awarded in 1996 to Mary K. Carroll ‘86, the Dwane W. Crichton Professor of Chemistry.

The Stillman Prize for Excellence in Research was first awarded in 2019 to Lori Marso, the Doris Zemurray Stone Professor of Modern Literary and Historical Studies, and professor of political science.

Both prizes were created by Abbott Stillman ‘ 69, David I. Stillman ’72 and Allan Stillman in honor of their father and grandfather, Abraham Stillman.