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Caitlin McKeown Recognized With Provost’s Award For Accessibility Efforts

Caitlin McKeown, left, with Vice Provost Donna Petherbridge at the University Awards for Excellence ceremony on June 4, 2024.

The Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost honored Lead Instructional Designer for Digital Learning Caitlin McKeown with a 2024 Provost’s Unit Award for Excellence at a ceremony held in March at the James B. Hunt Jr. Library. McKeown was one of five staff members from across the university recognized with the award. 

McKeown was nominated in the customer service category for her exceptional leadership in fostering a culture of inclusion at NC State through accessible course design. This category recognizes an employee who consistently provides outstanding service and exceeds client expectations.

As the principal course accessibility expert for DELTA, McKeown focuses her work primarily on courses delivered virtually or in a hybrid format. Partnering with instructors to evaluate course content, assessment approaches and course communications through the lens of Universal Design, she ensures that inclusive educational experiences are available to NC State students.

A group of four people posing together at an awards ceremony
Caitlin McKeown, second from left, with (from left) Provost Warwick Arden, DELTA Director of Instructional Design and Development for Digital Learning Daniel Davis, and DELTA Vice Provost Donna Petherbridge at the Provost’s Unit Awards for Excellence ceremony on March 21, 2024.

McKeown was nominated for this award by Daniel Davis, DELTA Director of Instructional Design and Development for Digital Learning, with many additional testimonials from NC State faculty members and campus partners. 

Caitlin’s passion for accessibility, curiosity when designing, and congenial nature have made her an indispensable and valued member of the DELTA team,” said Davis. “She stepped up to fill a leadership need in DELTA, recruited an amazing team of collaborators, and is largely responsible for DELTA becoming more proactive in our approaches to digital accessibility.” 

Ensuring Accessibility in Online Learning

Among McKeown’s most notable accomplishments, in partnership with many campus stakeholders, is the creation of the DELTA Digital Learning accessibility team. Composed of McKeown and three DELTA instructional designers, the team works to ensure that NC State instructors are successful in implementing accessibility tools and practices in online learning environments. 

A frequent example of a course design element the accessibility team addresses is document formatting. Instructor-created documents such as syllabi should always employ a heading hierarchy, preferably using the built-in settings found in Google Docs and Microsoft Word. This allows screen readers to correctly identify and convey how a document is organized, a feature essential for those who use assistive technology.  

There are many other course design strategies and pedagogical practices that can be addressed in an online or hybrid course. McKeown is an expert at looking for ways to improve all of them. 

“Caitlin’s efforts in accessible education have had a profound impact on the way I teach and design classes,” said Melissa Srougi, Associate Teaching Professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine. “I feel fortunate to have had her as part of my team.”

McKeown was also instrumental in creating the DELTA Course Accessibility Express Grants, in which DELTA staff partner with faculty on semester-long initiatives to remove barriers to equitable course access. The grants focus on both big-picture accessibility concerns and specific technological issues that may be present. 

Additionally, McKeown works with faculty in assessing course design for students with specific disabilities, and presents regularly at conferences. Her doctoral thesis for her Ph.D. in adult education, completed at the University of South Florida, focused on success factors for Deaf adult learners in online learning environments, a subject about which she is both passionate and respected. 

“Customer service is too lackluster a term for what Caitlin does to facilitate projects at NC State,” said Nathan Williams, teaching Assistant Professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management who worked with McKeown on a grant for his PRT 152 course. “‘Idea ignition, actualization and awesome encouragement’ would be more appropriate.”

2024 Provost’s Unit Award recipients, from left: Valerie Oti, Brionna Johnson, Carolyn Howard, Susan Varnell and Caitlyn McKeown.

Provost’s Unit Award winners are eligible for consideration for the University Awards for Excellence, NC State’s highest honor for non-faculty members. Accompanied by Petherbridge at the ceremony held June 4, McKeown was again recognized for her outstanding contributions to accessible course design at DELTA.

DELTA congratulates NCSCaLE colleague Susan Varnell, Assistant Director of the Upper Coastal Plain Learning Council and The Collaborative, who was one of 12 university-wide award winners for outstanding public service at the University Awards for Excellence.

Additional DELTA Nominees

DELTA also recognizes the following Provost’s Unit Awards nominees who were commended for their significant contributions to the NC State community:

Stacy Somers, DELTA’s Lead Finance and Business Accountant, was nominated in the category of efficiency and innovation. Somers joined DELTA in 2019, bringing nearly 20 years of experience with budgeting and business management in higher education.

Merranie Zellweger, Director of Project Management for Academic Technology, was also nominated in the category of efficiency and innovation. Zellweger joined DELTA in 2011 and leads a team providing agile and traditional project management, change management, conflict mediation, and leadership and communication coaching.