Presidential Teacher Awards recognize outstanding faculty

(12-10-2014)

How can you spot exceptional faculty? For one thing, they spend a lot of time with their students. Liz Thomas-Hensley's office door in the School of Business seems to always be open. Dr. Robert Astalos can often be seen outside the planetarium instructing students from elementary age through college. When Dr. Benjamin Waddell speaks to students, his tone has a respectful and supportive quality.

The three professors received the 2014 Presidential Teacher Award. All had a similar response when they first heard of the recognition: "Surprised and honored." "It is not transparent to us if students think we are doing a good job," said Waddell, assistant professor of sociology. "Receiving this award makes me want to be a better teacher."

Coming from a rural, working-class background, Waddell believes he has much in common with many of his students. "Students bring a lot to the classroom. I attempt to incorporate what they already know."

Astalos, associate professor of physics and director of the Zacheis Planetarium, agrees with Waddell. "The best lesson I have learned: never stop learning from students."

Zenobia Contreras, a senior majoring in sociology/social welfare, said Waddell "tries to accommodate each and every individual's own learning strategies. He is an awesome teacher, and I would like to thank him."

Astalos realized he wanted to teach his final year in graduate school. "I knew being a teacher would be more rewarding than a career in research." After finishing his undergraduate degree, he worked for IBM and Lockheed Martin; they weren't the jobs for him.

"I worked for the weekend." Now, his focus is students. "I find teaching most rewarding. It makes me happy to get up in the morning."

And that enthusiasm is obvious to students. Megan Medina, a sophomore English/ Communications major, said Astalos "presented information very clearly and was also able to keep his students engaged and entertained. He has high expectations of his students, but is also very understanding and in no way unreasonable."

Having received her undergraduate degree from Adams State in 2005, Thomas-Hensley, assistant professor of marketing and MBA Program director (see story pg. 18), knew she wanted to become a professor by her junior year. "I wanted to teach like the professors who got the students' attention."

She received her MBA from Arizona State and will soon complete her Ph.D. She started teaching at Adams State in 2008. Before entering higher education, she had a knack for relating to individual learning styles and personalities in the business world. "It transferred to the classroom."

The excitement of sharing knowledge and telling stories, adding to "book text," keeps Thomas-Hensley motivated. Often students will ask her for help writing their resumes and practicing job interviews. "There is such satisfaction when they tell you they got a job."

Senior English/communications major Marquez Hobson said Thomas- Hensley "is a fantastic person who knows what she is doing and cares about the students and their education. She helps kids work hard to get their degrees and graduate on time. It shows in her character that she wants the students to succeed."

Astalos, who started at Adams State in 2005, finds it exciting when a student suddenly understands the material or lesson. "It is really cool when those 'Aha' moments happen."

Waddell agrees, "On any given day, you can turn a student on to new ways of thinking."

Thomas-Hensley believes in Adams State's mission to serve students at all levels. "I embrace Adams State's standards." She values helping students progress and develop the skills to succeed. "I still feel teary-eyed at every graduation." Finishing his third year at Adams State, Waddell believes the campus is a perfect fit for him. "The small class size and real ability to work closely with students is the ideal environment for my teaching style. It is really cool to have the opportunity to help students pursue their goals."

Now in its seventh year, the Adams State University Presidential Teacher Award acknowledges professors' dedication to their students and recognizes outstanding undergraduate teaching, advising, and mentoring.

In the fall, Dr. Michael Mumper '76, senior vice president for Enrollment Management/Program Development, formed a committee of undergraduate students, Rachel Heaton, Kat McLaughlin, and Pauline "Tori" Vigil. They requested Adams State undergraduate students nominate professors who they feel best exemplify what it means to be a great college teacher. After receiving the nominations, the student committee conducted interviews and classroom observations to determine the award recipients.

Each Presidential Teacher receives $1,500 to support his or her professional development and the opportunity to teach a special Presidential Teacher Course during the next academic year.

By Linda Relyea '96

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