Presidential Teacher Award continues to recognize outstanding professors

(05-20-2015)

Rachel Heaton, Stevon Cornish, and Carly Romnes, (front row) Dr. Nick Saenz, assistant professor of history; Dr. Anicia Alvarez, associate professor of teacher education; Karen Adamson, assistant professor of nursing; and David Wreford, adjunct instructor of English

Pictured, the 2015 Presidential Teacher Award recipients and the students on the selection committee include (back row) students Rachel Heaton, Stevon Cornish, and Carly Romnes, (front row) Dr. Nick Saenz, assistant professor of history; Dr. Anicia Alvarez, associate professor of teacher education; Karen Adamson, assistant professor of nursing; and David Wreford, adjunct instructor of English.

Adams State diversity extends to faculty and whether a professor began their ASU career a couple of years or a decade ago, their passion and excitement infuses their students with a thirst for knowledge and desire for excellence.

The Presidential Teacher Award, for the 2015/2016 academic year, recipients include Karen Adamson, assistant professor of nursing; Dr. Anicia Alvarez, associate professor of teacher education; and Dr. Nick Saenz, assistant professor of history. This year the committee added a new award for an affiliate faculty member, someone who is not tenure/tenure track - including instructors, adjunct, and visiting faculty. The will now be an annual award. The first winner of this award is David Wreford, adjunct instructor of English.

Dr. Nick Saenz, assistant professor of history, takes his class outside for instruction.

On a nice spring day, Dr. Nick Saenz, assistant professor of history, takes his class outside for instruction.

When Saenz first accepted the position in the History Anthropology, Philosophy, Political Science, and Spanish Department he was curious about the rural, small environment. "I was excited to engage students on a more direct level than had been the case in graduate school." Because Saenz received his degrees from larger universities he believed it might be a challenge to teach to a range of students – those who require developmental course work to the very exceptional academic student. "I've really enjoyed the challenge that comes with teaching to classrooms of diverse learners."

Wreford understands the desire to reach all students. "My classes are frequently full of students who have hated every English class that they have ever taken. I take that as a challenge." He works hard to help them understand that English is not about "rules and restrictions. English is about freedom. A properly written essay can change the world. My most exciting moments occur when I have just given the students a major assignment and instead of seeing it as a heavy weight or burden, they are excited because they see it as an opportunity to express themselves about something they love."

Each semester Alvarez gets excited to work with a new group of diverse students with unique personalities, experiences, and ideas. "The question is always 'how will I reach out to these students so they can use their full potentials to achieve?' You will need to come up with ways to motivate, to keep things new and exciting every time. In the end, students don't remember the content in the syllabus, but they remember the fun, humor, and push/shove that you gave them so they can hitch their wagon to the stars."

Karen Adamson, assistant professor of nursing, poses with her entire class – she "loves them all."

Adamson realizes that her students have more concerns and responsibilities than their academics. "Everybody has a story. We can't always see on the surface what is going on. I teach about thirty-six students, and when they occasionally come to me with what has happened, or is happening, in their life, I realize there is so much more to this person than just a student. They have lives and families, and so much more going on."

She believes her enthusiasm for nursing and teaching guides her teaching style. "I don't know if my enthusiasm makes me a good teacher or being a good teacher makes me enthusiastic." Adamson, who began her career as a trauma nurse, completed her MSN and nurse practitioner degree became a nurse practitioner for women's health. When she was ready for a change, she sought out a teaching position. "I love learning." Adamson continues to work as an NP a couple days a week in Salida. She tells her students, a nurse can change reinvent their career and still remain in the medical field. "There are so many options, trauma, prenatal, surgery, pediatrics, neurology, etc."

Alvarez said teaching also offers variety. "Each semester I get excited to work with a new group of diverse students with unique personalities, experiences, and ideas."

Adamson expected she would teach nursing theory, she did not expect to connect with her students at such a deep level. "I love watching them grow, professionally and intellectually. The best part is really feeling you are a positive influence."

Dr. Anicia Alvarez, associate professor of teacher education, provides additional instruction to students during a classroom project.

Alvarez believes "enthusiasm is contagious and is a balm to many of our students who may be having a bad day." She also recognizes how time consuming being a good teacher can be. "Effective teaching requires constant preparation and commitment to improve myself and the students. Being prepared and enthused in front of students will surmount all discomfort or frustrations that they may have on any day – personal or professional."

After retiring for the US Army, after 28 years, Wreford wanted a second career working with young people. His expectations for his students included being full of undirected energy, hungry for knowledge and searching for inspiration. "I expected to both teach them and inspire them. I expected them to respond to my energy and enthusiasm with energy and enthusiasm of their own. My life as a professor has met and exceeded my expectations. I cannot imagine a better second career."

A sixth science project inspired Alvarez to pursue a career as a science teacher. "Teachers can touch the feelings and fuel the ambitions of students. This teacher touched mine and since then I knew that I was going to be science teacher.

Saenz and Adamson are completing their second years at Adams State. Both felt honored to receive the award. "Receiving the Presidential Teacher Award makes me feel as though I am doing something right," Saenz said. "But I won't rest back on my laurels. The award encourages me to think about how to improve, to take my teaching to the next level."

"I teared up when I heard I had received the award," Adamson said. Her passion for nursing lends itself in the classroom. I love being a nurse and sharing stories about my profession with the students. I believe it helps them remember facts if they can picture a person or story."

Saenz also teaches an online master's level course. In the classroom, he sees immediate responses as he lectures. His online students may be 100 to 1000 miles away. "It is one thing to stand in front of a class and receive immediate feedback. When I teach online, I don't receive immediate feedback from the graduate students and that can be tough. It might take a little longer to get to know our online graduate students, but the relationships do build."

David Wreford, adjunct instructor of English, reviews a student’s paper in his office

Providing individual attention - David Wreford, adjunct instructor of English, reviews a student's paper in his office.

Wreford believes Adams State students want to learn and do well. "By removing the obstacles that prevent them from being successful, we allow and encourage our students to succeed. We change lives here."

Now in its eighth 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, senior vice president for Enrollment Management/Program Development, formed a committee of undergraduate students, Rachel Heaton, Carly Romnes, and Stevon Cornish. 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 Teachers will receive $1500 to support his or her professional development and the opportunity to teach a special Presidential Teacher Course during the next academic year.