Faculty members leave indelible impact on Pacific

photo of attendees at the faculty retirement ceremony

(L-R) Mahnaz Shakerin, Said Shakerin, Ed Pejack, Gary Litton, Linda Litton, Allie Litton, Mike Doherty

Four retiring professors who have received this year’s Order of Pacific—the university’s highest honor—were among 15 lauded for their excellence in teaching and service May 4 during University of the Pacific’s Faculty Retirement and Years of Service Awards Ceremony.

Awardees Gene Pearson and Bill Swagerty, from College of the Pacific, Gary Litton from the School of Engineering and Computer Science and Linda Webster from Benerd College received the coveted Order of the Pacific, which recognizes faculty, staff and regents for outstanding contributions. Pearson’s 51 consecutive years as a professor is unmatched for longevity in the 171-year history of California’s first university.

In addition to classroom excellence, Pearson is known for popular student field trips and participation on many university and faculty committees.

“Gene is the epitome of what it means to be a Pacifican,” said Lydia Fox, a professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences. “He is and always has been student-centered and committed to academic excellence.”

Gary Litton is one of northern California’s foremost experts on water quality. In his 29 years with the Civil Engineering Department Litton conducted extensive research in the San Joaquin Delta and was frequently sought by the media and governmental entities for his expertise.

He has worked on almost 30 grants resulting in about $1.5 million in funding. Most were for researching water quality issues in the San Joaquin River and south Delta region. 

Webster was a long-time chair of the Department of Counseling and School Psychology in what was formerly known as the Gladys L. Benerd School of Education. She twice served as interim dean and was instrumental in the transition to the new Benerd College in 2019. Webster taught at Pacific for 26 years. 

Swagerty joined the Department of History in 2001 and worked at Pacific for 21 years, including work directing the John Muir Center. In 2021, Swagerty received the Northern California Excellence in Teaching Award from Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society. 

Rena Fraden, who is retiring as dean of College of the Pacific after nine years, also was honored. Fraden said she is working on her third book with a focus on “sentimental education.”

Recently retired Professor Said Shakerin of the School of Engineering and Computer Science was recognized for 35 years with Pacific. 

Shakerin was active in the Department of Mechanical Engineering after joining the university in 1986, but a medical condition caused him to curtail his activities and Shakerin has primarily focused on mentoring students and research the past 22 years.

“It is a real honor for me to be retiring alongside Said,” Litton said. 

Other retirees honored were:

•    Cary Bricker, McGeorge School of Law: Bricker is the Noel Ferris Professor of Trial Skills and has taught at the school for 17 years. In 2013, she was named one of the 26 best law teachers in the United States by the book “What Best Law Teachers Do.”
•    Alan Budenz, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry: Budenz served for 30 years at the dental school and has received numerous teaching accolades. He was the recipient of the 2022 Distinguished Faculty Award.
•    Mark Christiansen, School of Health Sciences: Christiansen was clinical professor, department chair and the founding director of the Physician Assistant Program on the Sacramento Campus. Christiansen had seven years of service.
•    Peter Hilsenrath, Eberhardt School of Business: Hilsenrath taught a variety of courses including finance, management, economics in the health sector and ethics and corporate responsibility. He has 13 years of service.
•    Cathie McClellan, College of the Pacific: She worked at Pacific for 20 years, mostly in the Theater Arts Department, where her efforts included costume design and set construction. She twice served as department chair.
•    Berit Gundersen, School of Health Sciences: Gundersen is a Pacific alumna who joined the faculty of the Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy in 1986. Gundersen also was on the leadership team that supported the launch of the new School of Health Sciences. She worked at Pacific for 35 years.
•    Cathy Peterson, School of Health Sciences: In her two decades of service, Peterson served as chair of the Department of Physical Therapy for 11 years, helping lead two accreditation cycles. In 2012, she was named a Fulbright Scholar. 
•    Rahnea Sunseri, School of Health Sciences: After 35 years practicing medicine, Sunseri went into teaching and was integral in working with Mark Christiansen on the launch of the Physician Assistant Program as medical director. She worked at Pacific for six years.
•    Michael Susca, School of Health Sciences: Susca joined the Speech-Language Pathology Program in 2001 and retired in September of 2021. Susca conducted more than 75 professional workshops focusing on fluency disorders (stuttering).

Also honored were current Pacific faculty members for their years of service, including:

•    35 years: J. Clark Kelso (Law);
•    30 years: Eric Thomas (Biology);
•    25 years: William Chan (Pharmacy), Larry Langley (Mathematics), Michael Malloy (Law), Jeffrey Miles (Business/ Management and Organizational Behavior), George Randels (Religious Studies), Vyacheslav Samoshin (Chemistry), Eleanor Wittrup (Philosophy).

“We have a great university because we have great faculty,” President Christopher Callahan said. “Part of the fabric of Pacific is our faculty and staff’s long-serving commitment to our students. That is a strength. And that is part of what makes this university great.”