CANYON, Texas — An agricultural sciences professor called a “true champion of students” and an innovative staff member often working behind the scenes were celebrated this week by West Texas A&M University.


Dr. Lance Kieth, professor of agricultural education and head of the Department of Agricultural Sciences, was named 2021-22 Magister Optimus, the highest honor for a WT faculty member, and Chance Haugen, senior director for campus community, was honored with the Clarence E. Thompson Staff Excellence Award, the University’s highest staff honor, during a convocation ceremony Aug. 16.


Convocation marks the beginning of the academic year, and WT’s faculty and staff gathered “to recognize exemplary faculty and staff, be inspired as we envision the future, and prepare for the upcoming year,” said Dr. Todd Rasberry, vice president for philanthropy and external relations.


WT President Walter V. Wendler discussed the University’s long-range and strategic plans with the gathered staff. During his remarks, he revealed that WT’s doctoral program in educational leadership has grown to more than 100 students, with additional growth in the Ph.D. program in agriculture. A key goal of the University’s long-term plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World, calls for continued growth in doctoral programs.


“I am proud to be associated with WT, and I hope you are as well as we begin this new academic year,” Wendler said.


Also honored during the ceremony were Staff Excellence Award winners Kyler Estes, assistant director of operations in the Office of Admissions, and Sarah Ramey, head strength and condition coach in WT Athletics.


Kieth joined WT in 2001, tasked to rebuild the agricultural education program. That year, he had only eight students, but the ranks swelled to more than 100 within his first four years.


“Over his career he has taught thousands of students in the art of teaching, and these students have gone on to represent WT at the highest of levels,” Faculty Senate President Dr. Anne Medlock-Ely said. “Dr. Kieth is a true champion of students.”


The Magister Optimus winner is voted on by the Faculty Senate and must have taught at WT for at least six consecutive years.


Haugen joined WT in 2005 in recreational sports before moving to the Jack B. Kelley Student Center.


“Chance Haugen is one of the most hardworking, engaged professionals that I have had the opportunity to work with at WT,” said Mike Knox, vice president for Student Enrollment, Engagement and Success. “Everything that Chance works on is a success, and his service touches the entire campus community and beyond.”


The Thompson Award is named for a former mayor of Canyon who worked at WT for decades, ultimately serving as vice president for business and finance.


Estes joined the WT Office of Admissions in 2013, where he is known for his detail-oriented work in making sure students are correctly entered in WT’s system.


“He also is one of the kindest people around our University,” Dane Glenn, president of the WT Staff Council, said in presenting the award. “He always responds to emails and phone calls with polite answers, and never seems to have a bad day, though I know we all do. He is an exemplary employee in the background that must be brought to the forefront.”


Ramey, a 14-year veteran at WT, was cited for her “dedicated and diligent efforts” in helping guide WT Athletics through the Covid-19 pandemic.


“In spite of the pandemic, the 2020-21 athletic season has been one of the best in the history of WT Athletics, with championships and memorable moments that brought attention to our great university,” WT Athletic Director Michael McBroom said. “The leadership, initiative and drive of Sarah Ramey helped guide our program through the unique challenges of this past year and make our success possible.”


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