Faculty Compassion and Kindness Award

This is the CS Mental Health Committee Proposal for the new Faculty Compassion and Kindness Award. If you would prefer to read a typeset PDF version of this proposal, you can go here.

Overview/Explanation of Award:

Mental health is a growing concern amongst college students, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. With our faculty being an integral part of the student experience within the department, we want to recognize faculty members who have gone above and beyond to create a compassionate and understanding academic environment for students and incorporated empathy and kindness into their teaching.

The Faculty Compassion and Kindness Award is an award that aims to recognize these faculty members within the Computer Science department. We understand that mental health and wellbeing are daunting subjects to tackle, but we want to acknowledge those who have strived to promote a culture of caring for their students and become better allies in the department.


The American College Health Association and Healthy Minds conducted a survey of 18,764 college students at the start of the pandemic. Here was some data collected about the long-term disruptions students experienced in their lives due to COVID-19:

  • Two-thirds of students reported their financial situation became more stressful.

  • 60% of students indicated that the pandemic has made it more difficult to access mental health care.

  • 36% of students reported moving to a new living situation as a result of the pandemic.

The Active Minds study surveyed 2,051 students in September 2020, several months into the pandemic. Their survey found the following:

  • For most respondents, stress (84.25%), anxiety (82.35%), sadness (73.23%), and depression (60.7%) have increased since the beginning of the pandemic.

Finally, the Mental Health America study surveyed 471 college students who identified as having mental health disabilities prior to the pandemic. This report was written in October 2020, and the following results were found:

  • Only 30% of students with mental health disabilities were registered for disability accommodations due to low understanding of the accommodations available - this highlights the importance of creating a compassionate mental health environment for all students, regardless of formal DRES registration.

  • Only 47% of these students said professors have been flexible with requirements during the pandemic.


Over the course of a few months, our team spoke to individuals from the UIUC Counseling Center and Computer Science Undergraduate Advising Office and got feedback from over 10 faculty members within Engineering (in Computer Science and Bioengineering) and the Associate Head for Academics in Computer Science. We analyzed national research around similar faculty, allyship and ambassador training programs by renowned mental health organizations like Mental Health America, Active Minds, and the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

We examined university precedents nationwide to look for similar award designed to recognize kindness and compassion among faculty in the community:

  • Emerson College has an example of a kindness award for the advancement of the university community, the Spirit of Emerson award. In order to receive this award, one must be nominated then evaluated on 10 different criterias by a committee of community representatives, selected by leaders.

  • Tennessee Tech also has a similar award called the Wings of Kindness award, which is to celebrate individual acts of kindness in their community. It’s also a nomination based award and is more simple than the Emerson award.

At UIUC, there is a noticeable shortage of awards designed to celebrate compassion, kindness, and empathy, especially within high-stress departments like Engineering and Computer Science. Currently, UIUC has awards that aim to improve the excellence in teaching, such as the “C.W. Gear Outstanding Junior Faculty Award” and the “Scott H. Fisher Computer Science Teaching Award”. While excellence in teaching is immensely valuable to the university, so is fostering a healthy environment for learning.

Thus we propose the Faculty Compassion and Kindness Award.

The Faculty Compassion and Kindness Award is an award that aims to recognize Computer Science department faculty members that take action to create a space of compassion and kindness within their classrooms. Outlined below are proposed metrics/criteria for this award, as well as candidate and application requirements, decision committee, timeline, and award design. Each of these sections will be explained in-depth later in the document.


We feel that any candidate should embody the criteria below as it best exemplifies the positivity we seek in a faculty member.

  • Demonstrating inclusive kindness and thoughtfulness

  • Displaying compassion and patience in the classroom setting (especially during the COVID-19 pandemic)

  • Promoting mental wellbeing for students and faculty through dialogue with others as well as by example

  • Going above and beyond their role as a faculty member

  • Improving the Illinois Computer Science community

Decision Committee:

We propose the following decision committee of community representatives to select the award recipient(s):

  • Two current faculty members of the Computer Science Department

  • Two current undergraduate students of the Computer Science Department

  • Two current graduate students of the Computer Science Department

  • Current Computer Science Department Head

    • i.e., Dr. Nancy Amato
  • Current Computer Science Associate Head for Academics

    • i.e., Dr. Mahesh Viswanathan
  • Current Undergraduate Programs Coordinator & Academic Advisor

    • i.e., Heather Zike
  • Current Broadening Participation in Computing Program Coordinator

    • i.e., Jancie Harris

Application Process:

Faculty can self-nominate or be nominated by another member in the community (students, staff, faculty, administrators, etc.). In addition to a nomination (by self or others), the applicant must also provide two letters of recommendation once they have been notified of a nomination. We feel that it is appropriate for the candidate to have some prior experience in the Computer Science department before being eligible for this position. The candidate should seek the recommendations from people they have worked with in the department and students they have taught or worked with.

  1. Short narrative/essay (no more than 500 words each)

  2. For self-nomination, please answer the following:

    a. How do you create a positive and kind environment in the classroom?

    b. How have you promoted compassion and mental wellbeing in your teaching, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  3. For nomination by others, please answer the following:

    a. How does this nominee create a positive and kind environment in the classroom?

    b. How has this nominee promoted compassion and mental wellbeing in their teaching, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  4. Two letters of recommendation

    a. One must be from a current faculty or staff member

    b. One must be from a current undergraduate or graduate student

Candidate Requirements:

These are the basic requirements for all candidates for this award. While we are focusing on the impact of faculty compassion during the COVID-19 pandemic, we also want to assess the overall academic environment created by this faculty member over past semesters:

  • Must currently teach a course in the Computer Science department

  • Must have taught a course in the Computer Science department for at least two semesters prior to consideration


Ideally, this award application will open around the start of April in the Spring semester, with a nomination deadline around the start of May. The decision committee will meet to review the submitted nominations and applications and select 1-2 award recipients for the 2020-2021 year as we pilot this award. As the award continues in future years, the timeline can include a Zoom or physical interview with candidates.

Award Design:

This is a mockup of the award design we propose for the Faculty Compassion and Kindness Award. Awarded faculty members can display this badge on a website or syllabus or physically displayed on their office door. Ideally, this design will be displayed on the department website page for awards.


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Typeset Proposal