Teaching, service earn AFS honors for two college profs, one staffer

For exhibiting the highest standards of excellence in teaching and service, two faculty and one staff member of the Texas A&M College of Architecture are among 24 recipients of 2017 Distinguished Achievement Awards, presented annually by the university and The Association of Former Students.

The college’s honorees, Ben Bigelow, assistant professor of construction science; John Cooper, urban planning associate professor of practice; Kevin Gustavus, business administrator II, and their fellow award winners will be formally honored 1:30 p.m. Monday, April 24, 2017, at ceremonies in Rudder Theatre where they will receive an award plaque, an engraved watch and a cash gift.

A universitywide committee of faculty, students, staff and former students selected awardees for the prestigious honor in seven categories based on their resumés and letters of nomination and support from colleagues and students.

In his letters of support, Ben Bigelow, who earned a teaching award, was praised by students for providing his classes with challenging ideas and adapting his teaching style to benefit each student.

“I am proud to have him as a professor in our program because of the compassion he shows his students and the community around him,” said a student.

Bigelow, who holds the George W. Seagraves ’80 Faculty Fellowship in Residential Construction, teams with design faculty to lead interdisciplinary courses in which students design and build “tiny” houses delivered to a master-planned Austin development that provides affordable, sustainable housing for disabled, chronically homeless people in the Austin area.

In another interdisciplinary course he helped lead, students created a stylish, pergola-like structure to replace tents that house booths at the Brazos Valley Farmers Market in downtown Bryan.

Bigelow’s research interests include residential construction, affordable and sustainable housing, construction finance, and underrepresented groups in construction management.

An additional award recipient from the college, John Cooper, directs Texas Target Communities, a college outreach unit that provides urban planning for Texas communities in need. Cooper earned an award in the extension, outreach, continuing education and professional development category.

Under Cooper’s leadership, TTC has invested almost 12,000 hours of student and faculty expertise to provide municipal planning assistance to more than 20 Texas communities across the state, and has connected communities to resources offered by the Texas A&M System.

Among TTC’s projects is an initiative that’s helping transform Manchester, an inner city Houston community, by providing students in nearby Furr High School with extraordinary educational opportunities that include training from graduate urban planning students to gather and test the toxicity of the impoverished community’s groundwater.

TTC students are also teaching Furr students to gather data to inform infrastructure development, community design options and city planning.

The partnership helped Furr garner a $10 million grant from XQ, a foundation that rewards schools creating new learning models for students seeking to excel in a world characterized by constant change.

Cooper also led TTC’s efforts to host the 2017 Sustainable City Year Conference, a gathering of university educators from across the nation who discussed how to improve their research and service projects that enhance communities and provide transformative learning experiences for students.

He is also interim director of the Center for Housing and Urban Development, a college research center that engages in multidisciplinary scholarship and research to address issues in the built environment.

Cooper’s academic interests include principles of inclusive planning and plan quality. He works with municipal planners to transform high-risk, low-opportunity communities into equitable, resilient places by mitigating threats to the economy, environment, and culture.

He earned a Bachelor of Economics degree at Texas A&M in 1992 and a Master of Urban Planning degree at Texas A&M in 1994.

Another Distinguished Achievement Award winner from the college, Kevin Gustavus, was lauded in a nomination letter for his significant contributions to the college and unmatched commitment to excellence as a member of the business office staff. “I honestly can’t say enough about how impressed I am with Kevin and how he operates,” said the supporter.

Gustavus is responsible for the day-to-day supervising, training and performance of the college’s seven-member business office as well as implementing the college’s budget, managing its contracts, grants, revenue, payroll, continuing education, and project accounts.

He has earned numerous awards and honors, including the President’s Meritorious Service Award, the college’s Linda J. Todd Outstanding Support Staff Award and Star Performer Awards.

After serving six years as a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army, Gustavus earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication in 2008 at Texas A&M and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Houston‒Victoria.

posted March 31, 2017