News Release| Outstanding Professors; Cal State L.A.

October 12, 2010

MEDIA NOTE:  To request for individual portraits or a group photo of the award recipients, contact the Cal State L.A. Public Affairs office at (323) 343-3050.

A biologist, a music educator, a special education teacher,  an environmental engineer, an historian, and a philosopher honored by Cal State L.A.

Four Outstanding Professors, One Outstanding Lecturer, a President’s Distinguished Professor recognized for excellence in teaching, mentoring

Los Angeles, CA – A distinguished scholar, mentor and researcher who is noted for his passion in integrating technology into the classroom, Robert Desharnais (Foothill Community resident) is the recipient of this year’s Cal State L.A. President’s Distinguished Professor Award. He and five other faculty members were recently honored on campus during a formal reception.


Picture of CSULA faculty honorees for 2010.
Pictured: (front row, l-r) CSULA faculty honorees Sheila Price, David Connors, Diane Haager, Robert Desharnais, Ping Yao and Crist Khachikian; and (back row, l-r) CSULA President James M. Rosser, Academic Senate Chair Nancy Hunt, Interim Provost Cheryl Ney, and Outstanding Professors Selection Committee Chair Lia Kamhi-Stein.

Presented with Outstanding Professor Awards were David N. Connors, an exemplary teacher educator who coauthored content standards for music education (Sherman Oaks resident); Diane S. Haager, a nationally-recognized expert in learning disabilities and reading instruction in education (Diamond Bar resident); Crist Khachikian, a specialist in environmental engineering committed to involving students in research projects with global impact (Pasadena resident); and Ping Yao, an esteemed Chinese historian acknowledged for her research on women’s lives and women’s religious experiences (South Pasadena resident). This year, an inaugural Outstanding Lecturer Award was presented to Sheila Price, emeriti professor of philosophy (Glendale resident).

At Cal State L.A., the annual Outstanding Professor Awards primarily recognize excellence in teaching, along with citing significant achievements in scholarly inquiry or creativity, professional activities, and service to the campus and community. Presented to a previous Outstanding Professor award recipient, the President’s Distinguished Professor Award recognizes superlative teaching and exceptional commitment to students as well as professional accomplishments and services.


David Connors, Professor of Music; Theatre Arts and Dance College of Arts and Letters

Renowned throughout the U.S. as a teacher educator, David Connors is one of only seven instructors in the country approved to teach a Level III class in a nationally-certified teacher education program called Orff Schulwerk, which he directs at both Cal State L.A. and the University of Northern Colorado. Connors was recognized in 2008 for his excellence in teaching by the American Orff Schulwerk Association with the inclusion of a workshop taught by Connors in its video library.

A CSULA faculty member since 1990, Connors has taught more than 24 different classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in the Departments of Music and Theatre Arts and Dance. He also served as adviser for undergraduate and graduate students, mentored faculty members, and worked as the Music department chair. He received his Doctor of Music Education from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.

Since 1999, Connors has worked for the California Commission on Teacher Education. He has coauthored content standards in his field and specifications for exams taken by prospective teachers. He is also the author of an elementary school textbook and he is a coauthor of a K-8 textbook series. The textbook series, adopted by the Los Angeles Unified School District, includes a student text, a teacher edition, accompanying CDs, and a teacher resource book for each of the nine grade levels. He has also published 10 articles, given 42 national workshops or presentations and, since 1997, he has given 29 performances, including performances with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Connors has held numerous leadership positions, including chair of the California Council on Music Teacher Education, president of the California Music Education Association-Southern Section, and president of the L.A. Chapter of the American Orff-Schulwerk Association. In addition to his numerous contributions to faculty governance on campus, Connors is involved in community activities, such as serving as a member of choirs, or performing as a tenor soloist at services at churches and synagogues.

This quotation, from a student in one of Connors’ classes, summarizes what dozens of comments and unsolicited “thank you” notes have to say about him: “Amazing teacher. He gives wonderful feedback and he is very interactive. He makes me feel comfortable participating and speaking out in class. I’ve learned a lot from him.”

Diane S. Haager, Professor of Special Education and Counseling – Charter College of Education

Described as an “outstanding leader in the area of special education,” Diane Haager has served as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Education and is currently a member of a national panel looking at the effectiveness of reading programs in the U.S. For the past five years, she has served as the evaluator of a national reading initiative established under the No Child Left Behind Act for the state of California.

A CSULA faculty member since 1992, Haager has authored or coauthored four books, 22 peer-refereed articles, and 10 chapters published in edited volumes. She has also given 93 presentations at the annual conferences of leading professional associations in her field. She serves on the Editorial Review Board of three research journals, and in 2009, she was named co-editor of Learning Disabilities Research and Practice. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Miami, Florida.

Haager has taught students enrolled in several different programs, including credential, master’s and doctoral programs. Since 1992, she has served as adviser on approximately 40 M.A. theses and 12 doctoral dissertations. She works extensively with the University’s joint doctoral program with UCLA and is a core faculty member for CSULA’s newly-launched Ed.D. Program. She previously worked as an elementary school teacher and a reading specialist in schools in Florida.

Having garnered more than $12 million in grant funding, Haager has been a principal investigator, co-principal investigator, or subcontractor in 17 projects focusing on issues of reading and literacy instruction and teacher quality. Her most recent grant, in the amount of $8.8 million received from the U.S. Department of Education, is designed to strengthen both teacher preparation and student academic achievement.

One of her students commented: “This professor is one of the best teachers I have had at Cal State L.A. her strong research background is a great asset. She also provides very clear and real-world examples. Give her more money!”

Another student’s comment highlighted Haager’s ability to relate to students: “…one of the most effective and knowledgeable instructors I have had. Her ability to connect, not just with students, but the material to students, was exciting…yes, exciting! I truly learned a great deal and I am implementing the strategies learned in my class already. Bravo!”

Crist Khachikian, Professor of Civil Engineering – College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology

Committed to strengthening the preparation of engineering students, Crist Khachikian has collaborated with two of his colleagues to revitalize a Bachelor of Science program, proposed a new interdisciplinary master’s program for professionals and Ph.D.-bound students. He also served a principal coauthor of a proposal for a joint doctoral program, to be offered with the School of Mathematical Sciences at the Claremont Graduate University. The proposal is now on the five-year master plan implemented by the CSU Office of the Chancellor.

A CSULA faculty member since 1999, Khachikian’s goal is to get students excited about engineering and the sciences, helping them to build confidence in their ability to solve problems. He also involves his students in much of the research he conducts, and integrates the research findings into the syllabi of the undergraduate and graduate courses he teaches. He specializes in the areas of fluid mechanics, environmental engineering, sewage treatment, and groundwater contamination and remediation. He earned his Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering from UCLA.

Khachikian has taught 14 different courses, supervised master’s students who were recognized for their outstanding contributions in engineering, and served as chair of 14 graduate theses. He was named Professor of the Year in the Department of Civil Engineering three times in the last decade. He also received the New Faculty Excellence Award given by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and he is a Fulbright Scholar for 2010.

Since 2000, he has coauthored 10 peer-reviewed articles and three reports. He has also given 45 presentations at professional conferences, 25 of which were coauthored with undergraduate or graduate students. Currently, he serves as a reviewer for several journals in his field.

He has garnered nearly $10 million in funding for serving as a principal investigator or co-principal investigator in grants funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy, and the Department of Education.

He has also contributed to the campus community by serving on numerous committees and has served as an associated faculty of the University’s Center for Environmental Analysis-Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology. Currently, he is the director of a multidisciplinary center in which he coordinates the work of 20 faculty members from across campus. The Center for Energy and Sustainability, funded by the NSF, is designed to address issues that are critical to the advancement of technologies affecting the well-being of the nation and the world.

Ping Yao, Professor of History – College of Natural and Social Sciences

An esteemed Chinese history scholar, Ping Yao considers improving the cultural bridge between the United States and China as one of her life callings. She co-organized—with Shanghai University—the first international conference to evaluate developments in the field of Chinese history. Currently, she is working on a second conference to be hosted at the University of Macau in 2011.

A CSULA faculty member since 1997, Yao is responsible for all of her department’s undergraduate and graduate offerings in Asian history. Several of her graduate students have received departmental awards and have gone on to study in prestigious Ph.D. programs. She received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Yao’s research focuses on women’s lives and women’s religious experiences. Since 1996, she has authored, coauthored, or co-edited nine books, and is a forthcoming co-general editor of a multivolume translation series. She has also published 14 peer-reviewed articles and her most recent article on the influence of religion on perceptions about sexuality will appear in the Journal of the History of Sexuality. She has also authored and coauthored nine chapters and published in edited volumes, and has translated works from English into Chinese and Japanese, and from Chinese and Japanese into English. Currently, she is serving on the editorial board of three international journals.

She has presented invited public talks at several universities, including Harvard University, where she is a visiting professor and research associate. She has also given 24 conference presentations in the U.S. and China, and has organized, chaired or participated in 20 panels.

Her academic accolades include a 2005 faculty research grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities for a project focusing on women’s lives, and a 2006 Academic Excellence Award given to her by the Chinese Historians in the United States for an article on childbirth and maternal mortality. For four years, she also served on the board of directors of the Chinese Historians in the United States, and she went on to serve as the first female president of the organization.

A student praised Professor Yao saying: “This professor’s enthusiasm for the subject matter and for student learning makes the class both enlightening and enjoyable. She is encouraging of all her students, fostering positive academic and personal performance. She truly cares about us as students and people.”


Sheila Price, Philosophy Lecturer – College of Arts and Letters

This year, Cal State L.A. established the Outstanding Lecturer Award, to be given to a non-tenure faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in teaching and service to the CSULA campus community. The first Outstanding Lecturer is Sheila Price, who began teaching at Cal State L.A. in fall 1964 and retired in June 2008, though she has continued to teach on a part-time basis. She was associated with the inauguration of the CSULA Canadian Studies Program.

Described as being “deeply committed to educating undergraduate students,” Price has taught more than 12 different courses in the Philosophy department and in other departments. She has also written course descriptions, bibliographies for General Education course revisions, and has been engaged in many other campus activities. An expert in philosophy of religion, comparative religions, East Asian philosophy and environmental ethics, Price received her master’s degrees in philosophy and folklore and mythology from UCLA.

Her knowledge of the campus and the department has provided Price with valuable information, which she has used both to advise students and supervise them on numerous independent studies. She regularly has students contact her for professional advice well after they have graduated from Cal State L.A.  

Price has also responded to the Philosophy department’s need to increase class size as a means to streamline the budget and help students move along in their studies. For example, in fall 2009, enrollment for one of her courses, which traditionally ranged from 55 to 90, went up to 147. In spite of this large student enrollment, her approach to instruction still involved interactive discussion accompanied by lecture.

An unsolicited e-mail message, reflecting the impact Price has on her students, reads:

“Some years ago, I was a high school sophomore, 16 at the time, I took a class taught by you in order to fill up the summer. The class made me want to study philosophy. I got a full scholarship at the University of Delaware, and I completed my Ph.D. studies at the University of Arizona. Now, I’m in a tenure-track position teaching philosophy at Santa Clara University. I have been wanting to thank you for the impact you had on me. You sparked the interest that turned philosophy into my career and changed the way I live my life. I hope I can do as much for one of my students at some point.”

Robert Desharnais, Professor of Biological Sciences – College of Natural and Social Sciences

Honored as this year’s President’s Distinguished Professor, Roberto Desharnais is a model of a stellar university citizen. He brings an incredible record of achievement as a teacher and mentor, a researcher, and a leader in faculty governance on campus.

In 2006, he received the Nicholas Award for Excellence in Science Teaching from the Quality Education for Minorities Network, a non-profit organization in Washington DC. He has garnered more than $7 million in federal grants to support research, education and student training, and much of the grant support he has received has come from the National Science Foundation (NSF). A recipient of the University’s 1998 Outstanding Professor Award, he received his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Rhode Island.

A CSULA faculty member since 1988, Desharnais has taught lower, upper division, and graduate level courses, while mentoring high school and college students, new faculty members and postdoctoral fellows. As noted by a former post-doctoral fellow working under his supervision: “This professor’s greatest impact as a faculty member is his sustained and focused energy on mentoring his colleagues and students.”

Committed to the preparation of teachers, he has served as a member on a Cal State L.A. Initiative workgroup whose goal is to provide support for aspiring teachers. Working with a colleague, he organized and ran hands-on workshops for new K-12 teachers participating in a NSF-funded program.

He is also passionate about the integration of technology in the classroom as a means to enhance teaching and learning. He is the founder and director of a Virtual Courseware Project (, an award-winning website with several science education simulation available for free to students and teachers. To date, more than six million students, including but not limited to K-12 and community college students, have earned certificates of completion for these web-based applications. The online project has been recognized as an outstanding educational tool by Science magazine, and by premier Internet websites and search engines.

A prolific author, Desharnais has a sustained record of publications. He has coauthored two books, edited a third, and published five chapters. He has also co-authored 46 peer-reviewed articles, published in leading journals in his field. He published the first experimental evidence of chaos in ecological population dynamics, which received ample attention in the media and the scientific community. Two of his recent coauthored, peer-reviewed articles appeared in the distinguished journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Working for California since 1947: The 175-acre hilltop campus of California State University, Los Angeles is at the heart of a major metropolitan city, just five miles from Los Angeles’ civic and cultural center. More than 20,000 students and 215,000 alumni—with a wide variety of interests, ages and backgrounds—reflect the city’s dynamic mix of populations. Six Colleges offer nationally recognized science, arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and humanities programs, among others, led by an award-winning faculty. Cal State L.A. is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Jazz Orchestra and to a unique university center for gifted students as young as 12. Programs that provide exciting enrichment opportunities to students and community include an NEH- and Rockefeller-supported humanities center; a NASA-funded center for space research; and a growing forensic science program, housed in the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center.