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Excellence and Expertise

Jason Abbitt and Carole Dabney-Smith receive Distinguished Teaching Award for Excellence in Graduate Instruction and Mentoring

They will be honored at a reception during the Graduate Research Forum Nov. 4

Excellence and Expertise

Jason Abbitt and Carole Dabney-Smith receive Distinguished Teaching Award for Excellence in Graduate Instruction and Mentoring

Jason Abbitt
Jason Abbitt

Jason Abbitt, chair and professor of Educational Psychology, and Carole Dabney-Smith, Volwiler Research Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, each received the Distinguished Teaching Award for Excellence in Graduate Instruction and Mentoring.

They will be honored at a reception during the Graduate Research Forum Nov. 4.


Abbitt served as faculty director of the Special Education Online Hybrid (SEOH) program from 2012-2020. He helped develop innovative partnership programs for K-12 schools in Ohio that established a pathway for paraprofessional educational staff to earn a K-12 teaching license and a Master of Education degree at Miami.

As the director for the SEOH program, he implemented several initiatives to address issues and barriers to a high-quality online learning experience. The students in this program are typically part-time students who are employed full-time, Abbitt said. 

“Improving the quality of learning and reducing barriers are essential to the success of students in this program in achieving their professional goals,” he said. Abbitt helped develop shared models of each online course in the program that were designed using standards for quality online instruction. His efforts led to diverse and underrepresented students having increased access to the SEOH program.

He also identified barriers to completion of the M.Ed. program that students often faced. Through support from the Howe Center for Writing Excellence, he led a collaborative effort among the SEOH faculty team to revise the culminating research project that many students were failing to complete in a timely manner. That effort has led to increased program completion rates, and the SEOH program now has the highest number of program completers among all similar programs in Ohio.

For the past several years, he has primarily taught online graduate-level courses on statistical analysis or research methodology. “Because designing online learning is also a focus of my research and service activities, my efforts to create high-quality online learning experiences for graduate students regularly extends beyond the classes that I teach,” Abbitt said.

“More importantly, however, is that the experience of the students in this program has continually improved and provides the learning opportunities to support students in becoming effective practitioners in the field of special education,” he said.

His students agree. One student nominator said, “We were always pushed to learn and understand the material covered in his course. (Abbitt) would intuitively know if he was moving too fast or if we were already proficient in an area.” As a mentor, Jason has helped me so much with finding a path to a master’s degree and graduation. He encouraged me to finish and found a pathway for me to finish even with the extra challenges of a pandemic. For that, I will forever be grateful.“

Carole Dabney-Smith
Carole Dabney-Smith

Dabney-Smith directs graduate students in Chemistry and Biochemistry and in the interdisciplinary Cellular, Molecular and Structural Biology (CMSB) program.

Her research program explores proteins that are responsible for transmembrane transport in thylakoid membranes in the chloroplast. Her work includes molecular biology, biochemistry, and structural biology techniques employed to tease apart this system of membrane-bound proteins. According to a faculty nominator, “The system is complex, the proteins are delicate, and the experimental approaches are demanding, but Carole has developed effective strategies that give students the opportunity to participate at every level.”

Dabney-Smith’s mentoring style includes inclusive recruiting, incremental training, team building, and individual career planning. She is active in graduate recruiting efforts for the Chemistry and Biochemistry department and the CMSB program and has had success encouraging female students and students from underrepresented groups to work with her. Her research group has a reputation of being welcoming and supportive because she models that behavior, a nominator said.

“An important connection between my teaching and scholarship is the one-on-one independent study opportunities that I provide to student researchers (undergraduate and graduate) working in my lab,” said Dabney-Smith, who has mentored more than 40 undergraduate students and 15 doctoral and master’s degree students.

Her student nominators call her an “exceptional mentor” and “great advisor.” A former doctoral student said, “Our conversations helped me evolve as a researcher; and she continues to play a seminal role in my professional development. Her long-standing support and dedication to ensure that we realize our strengths and succeed is a source of inspiration to me.”

Another student nominator said she was fortunate to be the first graduate student to start and graduate from the Dabney-Smith lab. Now as a research mentor herself, she said she “can better appreciate all that she provided for her students. Carole is an exceptional mentor and I benefited both professionally and personally from her guidance and example.”

Dabney-Smith takes “great personal and professional satisfaction in mentoring students to be their best selves scientifically and as individuals.”

Another former doctoral student agreed. “Throughout my time at Miami, (Dabney-Smith) helped me navigate both the research world and the real world. She was my strongest supporter and advisor. I owe my early career and opportunities to her, and I know her lessons will continue to shape the rest of my career.”