Pratt-Heins Awards recognize UNK faculty for excellence

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – Three University of Nebraska at Kearney faculty members were recognized Friday with the prestigious Pratt-Heins Faculty Awards for their excellence in teaching, service and scholarship and research.

Brenda Eschenbrenner, Kristy Kounovsky-Shafer and Linda Van Ingen accepted the awards during UNK’s Faculty/Staff Convocation in the Fine Arts Recital Hall. Each honoree received a plaque and $2,000.

The Pratt-Heins Foundation has presented the annual awards for the past 38 years.

Brenda Eschenbrenner
Brenda Eschenbrenner


Eschenbrenner, an associate professor in the department of accounting and finance, received the Pratt-Heins Award for Scholarship and Research.

Since joining UNK in 2010, Eschenbrenner has published 13 research papers in peer-reviewed journals, including Management Information Systems Quarterly, the Journal of Information Systems and Communications of the Association for Information Systems, as well as 16 papers and two abstracts in conference proceedings. Her research has been downloaded more than 1,600 times since February and is cited frequently by her peers.

In 2016, Eschenbrenner received the UNK College of Business and Technology Outstanding Faculty Award and was selected for a Ron and Carol Cope Professorship.

“Brenda exemplifies the best of the UNK scholar-teacher ideal,” said Tom Tye, trustee for the Pratt-Heins Foundation. “She leverages her cutting-edge research in human-computer interaction and virtual learning in the classroom for the benefit of future generations of UNK students.”

After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from UNK in 1994, Eschenbrenner worked as a senior auditor for a Lincoln accounting firm then was recruited to a major computer company, where she served as senior finance manager.

She received her Master of Business Administration and doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Kristy Kounovsky-Shafer
Kristy Kounovsky-Shafer


Kounovsky-Shafer, an associate professor in the department of chemistry, received the Pratt-Heins Award for Teaching.

A UNK faculty member since 2013, Kounovsky-Shafer is known for utilizing multiple teaching methods, and she won’t hesitate to alter her approach if it benefits students. Her course evaluation scores are consistently superior, and she teaches classes on multiple levels, from introductory and general chemistry to analytical chemistry and instrumental analysis.

“No matter the course level, she creates a welcoming learning environment for her students so they can excel,” Tye said.

In their course evaluations, UNK students called Kounovsky-Shafer a professor who makes chemistry fun and enjoyable.

“I was very nervous about taking a college-level chemistry class, but she made me feel welcome,” one student wrote.

“I will never forget her usage of stuffed animals to demonstrate particle attraction and repulsion,” another student, now studying at Harvard Medical School, noted.

In addition to her excellence in teaching, Kounovsky-Shafer is also an outstanding scholar. She leads an undergraduate research group developing DNA elution and concentration devices using a 3D printer and her work has been published three times since 2017. Kounovsky-Shafer and her students have presented their research at regional and national conferences.

She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and mathematics from Wayne State College and a doctorate in analytical chemistry from the University of Wisconsin.

Linda Van Ingen
Linda Van Ingen


Van Ingen, a professor of history and director of the women’s, gender and ethnic studies program, received the Pratt-Heins Award for Service.

Since joining UNK in 2001, Van Ingen has been a model of academic citizenship through service, as well as a superior scholar and educator.

Her contributions to the history department include serving as chair of the assessment committee and as an adviser for the honor society. She has mentored and advised on numerous master’s theses and guided students on countless undergraduate and graduate research projects, presentations and publications.

Van Ingen actively participates in UNK recruitment events, served on rank and tenure and dean’s advisory committees and chaired the College of Arts and Sciences Honors Convocation.

“All of this would be befitting of this recognition, however, her greatest passion lies in the area of women’s and gender studies,” said Tye, who called Van Ingen someone who “serves with meaningful purpose and humility.”

Van Ingen has been director of the women’s, gender and ethnic studies program since 2007, implementing transformative changes during that time.

“She increased the visibility of the program both inside and outside the UNK community, elevated a minor into a major with tireless attention to curriculum and assessment and empowered students in helping them present their research at the No Limits women’s and gender studies regional conference,” Tye said, noting that Van Ingen has served as program chair and host for the conference four times.

In the community, the UNK professor has volunteered with Kearney Public Schools, Senior College of Central Nebraska, Humanities Nebraska, the Museum of Nebraska Art and many other organizations.

She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Iowa and a master’s and doctorate from the University of California, Riverside.


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 Lisa Plummer, business manager for UNK Student Health and Counseling, and Jolene Berg, student accounts manager in the Finance Office.

A third SAFE Award, sponsored by the Jim and Lynn Rundstrom Family Foundation Fund, was presented to Cherie DeFreece, office associate in the department of modern languages.

Each honoree received a framed certificate and $1,000.


Roger Davis, a professor in the department of history, was recognized with the Faculty Senate Distinguished Service Award. Davis has been involved with UNK Faculty Senate for 30 years, holding numerous positions during that time.