Tibbitts winner surprised by award

Kristen Clements-Nolle of CHS named 2013's top teacher at University

4/10/2013 | By: John Trent  |

It was Trudy Larson's job on Monday evening to play hall monitor on the second floor of the Lombardi Recreation Building.

Larson, the director of the School of Community Health Sciences, made sure that no one even remotely connected with Kristen Clements-Nolle wandered by without being whisked inside a conference room that was strategically located next to Lombardi Room 203B, the classroom where Clements-Nolle was teaching Monday.

Clements-Nolle's family, including husband Jack and sons Owen, 11, and Samuel, 7, was squeezed into Larson's impromptu Green Room. University Provost Kevin Carman was there. So was School of Medicine Dean and Vice President of the Division of Health Sciences Thomas Schwenk, as well as some of Clements-Nolle's colleagues and members of the selection committee for the F. Donald Tibbitts Excellence in Teaching Award.

In readying everyone for their entrance into Clements-Nolle's classroom at a few ticks past 5:30 p.m. - an entrance that would be thoroughly unexpected on the part of Clements-Nolle - Larson said with a knowing smile, "Kristen is very precise in her teaching and in her classroom ... so this is going be a big surprise."

And so it was as Larson's holding room emptied and flowed quickly and surprisingly into the next-door classroom of Kristen Clements-Nolle, an associate professor in the School of Community Heath Sciences, who learned Monday that she was the recipient of the 2013 Tibbitts Award - the University of Nevada, Reno's most prestigious teaching award.

To say Clements-Nolle seemed a bit surprised would be a bit of an understatement. Student Sierra Simmons, a fourth-year medical student and second-year Master of Public Health candidate, was in mid-sentence of a presentation she was making on traumatic brain injuries. On the screen behind Simmons, a photo of Arizona Sen. John McCain stared out at the classroom, with the words "Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996" emblazoned behind him.

The smell of food - Clements-Nolle apparently always has a potluck in the classroom when her students are making major presentations, such as the one on Monday night - hung deliciously in the air.

"Oh my," Clements-Nolle said, her voice trailing off good-naturedly as the Tibbitts party entered the room.

"This," said Carman, walking next to Clements-Nolle to hand the professor a check as one part of the award, "is a wonderful day to recognize you."

"What a treat," Clements-Nolle said, as she rose to receive the check from Carman. And then, not missing a beat and illustrating why Larson wasn't kidding when she said Clements-Nolle is nothing if not precise, she added with a laugh, "You guys want to hear about traumatic head injuries in boxing?"

Very quickly, Clements-Nolle was surrounded by her family, including her parents, Bill and Sally Clements.

"How did the family get here?" Clements-Nolle asked, her smile growing wider by the minute.

"They just happened to be in the building," Schwenk quipped.

The scene of his wife being slightly at a loss for words, then quickly taking control, all the while flashing a grin that was equal parts wonder and gratitude, said Jack later, was priceless.

"I'm so proud of her," Jack said. "This is so awesome. When I heard she had won the award, I was really surprised, and really proud. I knew it's a big honor and just felt so proud of her."

The hardest part after finding out the news on Friday was keeping it secret an entire weekend, Jack said.

The family had been out and about during the weekend, and at one point, Kristen had excused herself for a moment. Jack took the opportunity to turn to Bill and Sally and ask, "Hey, what are you guys doing (Monday)?"

The parents quickly agreed to be on hand on Monday.

"They were so excited about it," Jack said.

Jack said his wife's excellence as a teacher stemmed from some deep-rooted talents and traits.

"She has such great passion for her students," he said. "She loves her subject, and she loves her students. Plus, Kristen has super-high standards for herself. She's worked very hard to refine her skills.

"She does everything she can for her students."

Paul Devereux, an associate professor in the School of Community Health Sciences who was on hand for Monday's ceremony, agreed.

"Kristen is very in touch with her students as learners," said Devereux, who has been a colleague of Clements-Nolle since 2000. "She knows how to communicate to where their learning skills are at. She's a very smart, a very caring, and a very compassionate person."

Simmons, the student who was caught in mid-sentence on Monday, called Clements-Nolle "a fantastic teacher."

"She has a lot of enthusiasm," Simmons said as she sat in a chair, moments before all in the classroom were gathered for a celebratory group photo. "And her enthusiasm really catches on."

Nowhere was this more apparent than when the visitors began to file out Clements-Nolle's classroom.

"Thank you everyone," the campus' top teacher for 2013 called, the wattage of her happy grin probably powerful enough to light an entire urban area for a month. "I'm quite embarrassed ... now please ... have some food."


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