First-ever Excellence in Teaching Award winners named by MnSCU Board of Trustees

Posted: April 19, 2007

Contact: Doug Anderson, doug.anderson@so.mnscu.edu, 651-201-1426

In launching the Excellence in Teaching Awards, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees on Wednesday honored three faculty members from Rochester Community and Technical College, Century College in White Bear Lake and Rainy River Community College in International Falls.

"This is an exciting and proud moment for the system," said David Paskach, the board's chair. "The Board of Trustees Excellence in Teaching Awards are designed to acknowledge and reward exceptional professional accomplishments of individuals and to encourage ongoing excellence in teaching. They also clearly demonstrate the Board of Trustees' commitment to promote and measure high-quality learning programs and services."

Chancellor James H. McCormick said: "We know that the heart of academic excellence is our faculty. They are the ones who bring knowledge, experience and passion for learning to our students. By standing for excellence, our honorees exemplify the kind of innovation and creativity going on at all 32 institutions in the system. I am very proud that teaching is the cornerstone of our colleges and universities."

The selection process began when presidents of the system's institutions submitted nominations for review by a panel of judges that included faculty members, presidents, administrators and students. The panel's recommendations were then submitted to the trustees.

The recipients are:

Donald E. Graves, a biology instructor at Rainy River Community College, which is part of the Northeast Higher Education District. Reviewers cited Graves' commitment to real-world experiences for his students by engaging them in scientific research and his drive to help students assess his teaching and their learning.

"Don Graves and faculty like him will help to create more scientists in Minnesota through a commitment to establishing a strong science foundation in all of his teaching," reviewers said.

The only biology instructor at the college, Graves typically teaches seven courses a year in such areas as human anatomy, physiology, microbiology, environmental science, geology and general biology. He holds an associate of science degree from Blackhawk College in Moline, Ill., a bachelor of arts magna cum laude in biology from Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. and a master's degree in education from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

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Michele M. Neaton, a speech and communication instructor at Century College. Reviewers said she skillfully engages students in large classes with her passion for learning. "She makes ongoing improvements to course structure, teaching strategies, assignments and projects to build students skills in communication.

Michele Neaton is a teacher's teacher..She has a long track record of serving her faculty colleagues and Century College's institutional goals through innovative faculty development initiatives," reviewers said. She holds a bachelor's degree from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, a master's degree from Memphis State University and has done work toward a doctoral degree.

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Julie A. Rodakowski, an English and communication studies instructor at Rochester Community and Technical College. Reviewers noted that Rodakowski formed the Rochester Area Council of Teachers of English to improve cooperation among high school and college teachers and that she was instrumental in forming an honors program and the Comprehensive Learning Center at the college. Also, she has brought an international perspective to the college's curriculum by teaching in the global learning program at Oxford University in England, studying in Tanzania and India, and leading the college to introduce Arabic and Chinese as new courses.

"Her teaching prepares students with communication, language, writing and technology skills for success in a global 21st-century Minnesota," reviewers said. She has bachelor's degree cum laude from Jamestown College in Jamestown, N.D. and a master's degree and a doctoral degree, both from the University of North Dakota.

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Minnesota's 31 state community and technical colleges, and universities serve more than 430,000 students across the state.