CCV faculty receive Teaching Excellence Awards

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Fri, 09/10/2021 - 2:02pm -- Denise Sortor

CCV proudly recognizes members of its outstanding faculty with the annual Teaching Excellence Awards. Faculty are nominated by students, staff, and faculty colleagues, and this year more than 60 instructors received nominations. Recipients are selected by Academic Council, which includes faculty, staff, and student representatives. This year, CCV is pleased to honor Melanie Meyer, Allison Dean, and Telemachus (Telly) Halkias.

The Joy of Teaching

Many of the students in Melanie Meyer’s classes are headed into careers in healthcare, and she says helping them get started on that pathway is hugely rewarding. “Watching them put together the basic building blocks toward that objective is really exciting. I’ve kept in touch…over the years with many many of my students and have seen sort of what they’ve done with those building blocks that they started with at CCV, and it’s really exciting and it makes you feel like you are a part of something larger because you know that those folks are out there helping people and doing meaningful work—and it’s extraordinary.”

Meyer is a naturopathic physician who complements her medical practice with teaching allied health and other sciences at CCV. “Because I am always in the mode of explaining, for example in Anatomy & Physiology how the body works, in microbiology how organisms interact with bodies, when I’m working with my patients you develop good skills over the years in terms of being able to relay information effectively for people with different backgrounds and different levels of experience in the sciences.” And she says her work as a physician informs her teaching. “I get to make real-world connections with the academic piece that I’m bringing to the table in the classroom, and I get to give examples and expand upon what we’re pulling in from just the textbook.”

Meyer is not alone as a working professional who brings this real-world experience to the classroom. “This is what’s nice about those of us teaching at CCV, we’re not just academics, most of us are out in the world applying the subject matter that we’re teaching in different ways…my clinical experience does bring something special, something that I will always pepper in, and that’s to the benefit of the students.”

One student shared that Meyer helped them re-engage with school after many years away. “This is my beginning to hopefully becoming a nurse in a few years,” the student wrote. “I graduated high school in 1994 and have never been back to school since. I took the leap and entered A&P I and am so happy that I was assigned [Meyer] as a teacher. She has made this process less overwhelming and she is such a cheerleader for her students. She has such enthusiasm for teaching that just explodes through the computer screen so I can’t even imagine how great she is in person. I am now with her again doing A&P II and again she is my cheerleader and answers any questions I have or helps me through my struggle.”

“It’s such a joy for me to teach, and it’s something that means so much to me. So this is icing on the cake,” Meyer says of being recognized with the Teaching Excellence Award. “It feels really special and it’s really something that’s humbling...it feels lovely that some individuals recognized that it meant something to them, so my heart is full.”

A Growth Mindset

Allison Dean thought she was destined for a career in research, but quickly found she just didn’t enjoy the work. She’d always had an interest in teaching, and was licensed as a K-12 teacher when she saw an ad for an Anatomy & Physiology instructor position at CCV. “‘I don’t know if I can do that. Can I do that?’” she remembers thinking. Her husband encouraged her to try, and “I kind of fell in love with teaching.”

That was in 1999, and Dean has been teaching at CCV ever since. She also teaches at Vermont Tech and Champlain College, but says being an instructor at CCV is different because students are coming from such a wide variety of backgrounds. “[They’re] not all traditional students,” she said. “They’re fitting this around other things. Most CCV classes I teach, students are really motivated…They really want to excel, and that is probably the best thing about teaching at CCV for me, is students really want to learn.”

Dean says she’s grown as a teacher over the years. “I think I’ve learned a lot about different ways of thinking about material, which has kind of pushed me to pull a lot of different kinds of labs and activities into my class because I realized that everybody learns differently. I knew that in my core but I didn’t see it as much as I see it now.”

A staff member who nominated Dean for the award wrote, “What makes Allison so special is the way she approaches her work with all students…She is culturally prepared to work with any kind of student, culture here meaning all different backgrounds represented by CCV students.” The staff member shared that they worked alongside Dean to support students who felt frustrated and hopeless. “She also used a holistic approach to deal with students, knowing that we were/are working with human beings with different needs at different levels…Allison truly cared/cares about her students’ future, the efforts they made, their motivation and love of learning.”

This fall, she’s teaching Nutrition and Anatomy & Physiology I and II, all online. “I ask a lot of ‘why?’” she says about her courses. “I want students to really learn how to apply material rather than memorize. I really want you to understand it, not to just tell me what you think I want to hear. I want you to explain it so you really know it.”

She says keeping a growth mindset allows her to continue improving her skill set as an instructor. “I’m still learning too, which is one thing I really like about teaching…there’s always something else I can learn and I’m always changing things. I’m always working to change things to make it better for students.”

“Education Doesn’t End at CCV”

Telly Halkias’s CCV teaching career began when his son was a CCV student. Halkias started helping his son with college-level writing, which eventually got noticed by a staff member, who invited Halkias to teach a course. Since then, he’s been instructing everything from Global Issues in the Media to War Literature to the capstone Seminar in Educational Inquiry.

Halkias was also a recipient of the Teaching Excellence Award in 2013, but he’s modest about being recognized a second time. “I like to think that if I’m getting an award for something it means other people either are succeeding or have succeeded before me…my students. If you’re giving me an award, it must mean they’re doing a good job, not I’m doing a good job.” He also gives credit to Hartness librarian Larraby Fellows, who has been embedded in most of the courses he’s taught throughout his career at CCV. “She has truly been an indispensable, vital teaching partner, and a true friend and trusted colleague. If I could give a healthy slice of this award to her, I would.”

With a diverse background—he studied both English literature and civil engineering in college, and he is a military veteran, journalist, poet, and former businessman—Halkias brings a global perspective to the classroom. He also carries the story of his family, which has instilled in him a deep and genuine appreciation for education. His mother was the daughter of Greek immigrants to New York who came “with no education and ten cents in their pocket.” His mother and uncles went on to earn college degrees, as did everyone in his own generation. “That’s just less than a century removed from some goat herders who came over literally with nothing in their pockets but wanting a better life for themselves and their families.”

This legacy informs his approach to teaching. “For me, I have to talk with my students about more than just this course material. I have to talk to them about life. And one of the big things I talk about is education doesn’t end at CCV…I try to translate that to my students, that education is the great societal equalizer and it’s not about sociological demographics, it’s not about politics, it’s not about ideologies, it’s about your own self-actualization. It’s about your place in the world. College isn’t just about these subject matters. It’s about the rest of your life.”

That focus on context has an impact long after the semester is over. One student wrote to him recently, sharing “you saw a student who didn’t believe in herself or her academic abilities, and rather than allow her to continue, you stood firm and told her to push herself. I’m not sure if I can ever fully express how grateful I am for that…You have enriched my life, and I certainly would not be this far in my journey had I not taken that first Global Issues in the Media course.”

It’s common for Halkias to hear from former students years after they’ve left his class, students who struggled at CCV and have gone on to earn bachelor’s degrees and graduate degrees. “To me that’s the kind of stuff that brings me to tears, because it’s a human story,” he says. “It’s a story about someone who never thought they were good enough and then realizes that they’re more than good enough. And that’s powerful stuff.”