Tibbitts Award winners: Helping students become 'highest vision of themselves'
Dana Edberg from Business and Candice Bauer from Engineering are 2014's top teachers
For Dana Edberg, it might've been the first time she had ever received applause from one of her classes.
For Candice Bauer, it meant that candy bars and any other sweets for the next class were on her.
For both recipients of the 2014 F. Donald Tibbitts Distinguished Teacher Award, which was presented as a surprise in both Edberg and Bauer's classes on April 3 and April 7, it was clear that the award was emblematic of the special way two talented professors have been able to engage their students in meaningful ways that go far beyond the usual educational outcomes.
Here is a behind-the-scenes look at both awards presentations, and why Edberg and Bauer were chosen.
DANA EDBERG: Helping students become 'highest vision of themselves'
It was difficult for David Croasdell, chair of the Department of Information Systems in the College of Business, not to get emotional himself during the early afternoon of April 3 as Provost Kevin Carman, Dean Greg Mosier, Associate Dean Kambiz Raffiee, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Stacy Burton, and members of the Tibbitts Teaching Committee gathered outside of College of Business Associate Professor Dana Edberg's classroom for her Information Systems 475 class.
Carman had a $5,000 check and the lead duty in stepping into Edberg's class to announce to the class that their instructor had been named the Tibbitts Award winner.
"There is nobody more deserving," Croasdell said. "Dana teaches some of the most difficult courses we have, but they're also some of our most popular. She has an innate ability to push you to your limit ... and to be there with you every step of the way."
Edberg has always been a person others take notice of, Croasdell said, noting that when Edberg graduated from high school she took a job as a shipping clerk to earn money for college. Always observant, Edberg noted some inefficiencies in the company's inventory processes. After sharing her observations with a supervisor, she was promoted to inventory controller - "at the tender age of 17," Croasdell said.
Having to work while attending the University only honed Edberg's skills as an instructor more.
"It's given her great empathy for the students at our University who face similar circumstances," Croasdell said.
He said his colleague and friend possesses an "evangelical" zeal for her subject matter and for her students.
"Her respect and compassion for her students, her ability to challenge students with difficult but attainable goals and her innate ability to instill confidence helps her students become the highest vision of themselves," Croasdell said.
Edberg's career in the College of Business has been one of finding no role too demanding, no challenge too daunting. At various times she has served as a department chair, interim dean, academic advisor, assessment coordinator, director of student internships, mentor and peer advisor for colleagues through the excellence in teaching program, board member for Washoe County Schools technology committee and volunteer for forensics tournaments (her son, Max, by the way, while a student at the University, was one of the finest competitors in the history of collegiate debate, winning individual and team national championships).
"And she's just so actively engaged with the students," added Mosier. "She takes a real interest in their learning. She has high expectations, and she has a way of making sure that her students not only grasp theories and principles behind what she is teaching, but that they understand and can make very practical applications of what they've learned.
"She presents her material in such a personable, accessible way."
Burton, herself a standout teacher during her career in the Department of English, applauded Edberg's ability to make the complex more readily understandable: "I can't imagine anyone explaining it more clearly than Dana does."
And when it came time for the awarding group to enter Edberg's classroom, it was just as you'd expect it to be.
A class agenda was printed on the board for April 3, and the next class, April 8. Edberg's students were so intently listening to their instructor they at first seemed not to understand why the University Provost interrupted class to explain to them why Edberg was so deserving of the honor.
Edberg listened carefully to Carman and a surprised smile broke across her face when she realized she had won the Tibbitts.
"Wow," she said. "I'm thrilled."
And then the class broke into applause for Edberg.
"I think this is the first time I've ever been applauded by a class," Edberg said. She added to Carman, "They've got a huge project due today, so to have everyone smiling is pretty remarkable."
It was clear that the moment meant a lot to Edberg.
"It's my students who make my job so absolutely worthwhile," she said. "They do such an incredible job learning really, really tough stuff."
Her voice trailed.
"Oh my gosh," she added.
Said Croasdell: "What an absolutely beautiful moment. It was great to see someone so deserving honored in the way Dana was."
CANDICE BAUER: 'Our students in our college know Candice before anyone else'
Engineering Dean Manos Maragakis had been waiting for the afternoon of April 7 for a long time as Carman, Burton, Mathematics Associate Professor Edward Kepplemann and Foreign Languages and Literatures Professor Nelson Rojas, from the Tibbitts Teaching Committee, gathered in the lobby of the William Raggio Building to honor College of Engineering Lecturer and Director of Assessment Candice Bauer.
When asked about what made Bauer such a memorable teacher, Maragakis didn't hesitate.
"Candice is the complete package," he said. "She takes innovative teaching methods, she cares deeply about her students and is so passionate about the things she teaches. If you put all of these things together, you have Candice Bauer ... a person who can accomplish great things in a classroom."
Maragakis said time and again, Bauer had not only excelled in being an effective and memorable teacher, she had helped the College of Engineering turn courses that were headed for frustrating learning cul-de-sacs into clear strengths that had left students wanting to learn more.
Over the years, Bauer had taught and developed courses in Mechanical Design Aerodynamics, Senior Capstone Design - Entrepreneurship in Engineering, Statics, Manufacturing Processes, and Engineering Communications. The Communications course originally was taught by the English Department, which eventually returned it to the College of Engineering. Bauer, with extensive experience as a professional development trainer for the American Society of Mechanical Engineering, proposed a new curriculum which was whole-heartedly accepted by the college. The college then assigned Bauer to teach the course.
"We never could get value out of it," Maragakis said of the course. "That is, until Candace took it over. It has become one of the most important courses we offer. We can produce the greatest engineers in the world, but if they can't write and express themselves well, they will have difficulty succeeding.
"Candice has made sure that the students who take that course learn through innovative methods that they will apply throughout their careers in engineering."
"Innovative" can often be an overused word in education, but Maragakis quickly explained why Bauer so often is able to find real-world applicability for her course material.
"She uses service learning techniques in her Engineering Communications course," he explained. "She began the concept of service learning long before it became a buzzword. In her class, students are assigned to develop a design project or contest to teach a physics or engineering principle to K through 12 students.
"Candice then sends her students into the classroom. They visit 30 classrooms and reach out to nearly one thousand K through 12 students per semester. The enrichment, encouragement and real-life motivation that the college students bring into the classroom is beyond measure."
Engineering can often be a field of major, deeply complicated concepts and subject matter. Yet with Bauer's teaching, Maragakis said, it can be the little things that make all of the difference: Engineering Communications students compete in a "American Idol" type of competition where they give speeches and receive audience (classmate) feedback in the form of votes; peer-editors are often responsible for asking questions during classmates' presentations; Origami has been incorporated into writing manual exercises.
When it was time to announce Bauer's award, Carman's long strides took him to the front of the classroom before Bauer had time to react.
"In case you haven't noticed," the Provost said with a broad grin to the class, "you've been invaded."
Carman praised Bauer's teaching, noting that it was Bauer's devotion to her students, and to her teaching craft, that made such an important difference.
"It's critical for us to have faculty like Dr. Bauer who are so committed to what they do," Carman said.
The superlatives were almost too much for Bauer to handle. She began to wipe away tears as she was presented with the $5,000 check for the award.
Just as with Edberg a few days earlier, it was evident that Bauer felt the award was not hers alone.
She looked to her class as photos were taken to commemorate a moment that for more than 40 years has recognized the institution's finest teachers.
"I love you so very much," Bauer said to the class. "I really appreciate what all of you have done. I really do."
She paused, and then added with a smile: "I guess candy bars are on me on Monday."
Afterward, Maragakis was still beaming.
"Our students in our college know Candice before they know anyone else," he said. "She's a very popular person, and for good reason. She's a very unique resource for us. She has always done the things that give others an opportunity to succeed."