Pratt-Heins Awards recognize Exstrom, Fritson, Van Renen as outstanding UNK faculty

KEARNEY – Three University of Nebraska at Kearney faculty members were recognized Friday for outstanding contributions in the areas of teaching, service and scholarship and research.

Denys Van Renen, Chris Exstrom and Krista Fritson received the prestigious Pratt-Heins Faculty Awards during the Faculty/Staff Convocation at UNK’s Fine Arts Building. The awards have been presented annually by the Pratt-Heins Foundation for the past 37 years.

Here’s a look at this year’s honorees:

Chris Exstrom
Chris Exstrom


Exstrom, a professor in the department of chemistry, received the Pratt-Heins Award for Service.

A department chair from 2000 to 2006, Exstrom has been at UNK for 22 years and is currently the Ron and Carol Cope Professor of Chemistry. He has received several honors and awards during his time at UNK, including the Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentor of the Year Award, Pratt-Heins Award for Scholarship and Research and Leland Holdt/Security Mutual Life Distinguished Faculty Award.

“He is, of course, an outstanding teacher-scholar and mentor and holds seven patents for his research and developments,” Tye noted.

As department chair, Exstrom started the chemistry research apprentice program, allowing a dozen or more students each year to shadow and learn from senior undergraduate chemistry students and faculty members while seeing firsthand what it’s like to conduct meaningful research in the lab. For many years, he has coordinated the UNK Adventures in Chemistry Camp and College of Natural and Social Sciences Summer Academic Camp for high school students.

Exstrom is also involved with Keep Nebraska Beautiful, helping create a program that instructs high school teachers on how to properly store and dispose of chemicals, and he served as a project director for Superfund site monitoring for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality.

“He just has and continues to do it all,” Tye said, “and I’m sure proud he is here in Kearney and a member of the UNK faculty.”

Krista Fritson
Krista Fritson


Fritson, a professor in the psychology department, received the Pratt-Heins Award for Teaching.

Since joining UNK in 2004, Fritson has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the Mortar Board faculty honor on three separate occasions, College of Natural and Social Sciences Faculty Mentor Award, Panhellenic Council’s Distinguished Faculty Award, Student Government Faculty of the Year Award and a residence life recognition award.

“Her teaching style is engaging, encouraging, interactive and, in most cases, transformational for her students,” Tye said. “She inspires.”

“She is also innovative,” he added. “For example, she has provided opportunities for students to see how creatures such as snakes, tarantulas, mice and dogs can be used to demonstrate the interaction between psychological, behavioral and physiological factors in mental health.”

Tye noted that Fritson also encourages her students to develop hands-on life skills by volunteering at the local homeless shelter or UNK Campus Kitchen.

One student wrote this about Fritson when evaluating the professor: “While she may not know it, she also became more of a secret, professional mentor for me. Her conduct displayed nothing but integrity and professional ethics, and her personality possessed a spark, which drew in all who were around her. She embodied for me the psychologist I hope to become. She always displayed genuine interest in me and provided a real, tangible example of a true helping professional. I truly believe that she is an asset to the institution, and she is one of the stellar UNK faculty members who bring out the best in the students.”

Each Pratt-Heins Award recipient receives a plaque and $2,000.

Denys Van Renen
Denys Van Renen


The associate professor in the department of English received the Pratt-Heins Award for Scholarship and Research.

Van Renen, who joined UNK in 2012 and was promoted to associate professor in 2017, has published three highly acclaimed books through the University of Nebraska Press, University of Virginia Press and Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, Voltaire Foundation. His first book, “The Other Exchange: Women, Servants, and the Urban Underclass, 1620-1720,” offered a new approach to how English culture was shaped by women and the poor in the early modern era and has received high praise from professors in the U.S. and England.

Van Renen has also completed 17 articles, essays and reviews that were published in the most respected journals in his field.

“He is rapidly becoming recognized as a leading scholar in his field, having been asked to act as a peer reviewer for such prestigious publications as Eighteenth-Century Fiction and Configurations,” Tom Tye, trustee of the Pratt-Heins Foundation, said during Friday’s presentation.

Van Renen has received numerous honors and awards, including a Newberry Center for Renaissance Studies Consortium Grant, UNK Research Services Council Grant, Faculty Mentor Award and Virginia Faulkner Fund Award from the University of Nebraska Press.

Tye called Van Renen a model teacher, scholar and mentor for students who serves the university and community in numerous ways, including his current position on the UNK Faculty Senate.

Staff Awards for Excellence

Staff Awards for Excellence (SAFE) are presented annually during convocation to honor UNK staff members for outstanding service to students, the university and education.

SAFE Awards sponsored by Fidelity Investments were presented to Val Glaser, accounts payable technician in the Business Services and Accounts Payable Office, and Aliese Hoffman, coordinator of experiential student entrepreneurship education and administrative assistant with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development at UNK.

A third SAFE Award, sponsored by the Jim and Lynn Rundstrom Family Foundation Fund, was presented to Barbara Wayman, administrative associate in the College of Arts and Sciences.

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