excellence in education award | 2013

When you look at the values of Grand Rapids Community College, it is easy to see why this year’s Excellence in Education Award winner was selected. Her skills, passions, and work, combined with her reputation among colleagues and students, truly do personify the VALUES OF THIS INSTITUTION. Let’s look at some of the highlights…

Cheryl Kautz with college President, Dr. Steve Ender.
With Dr. Steve Ender
Excellence in Education
Excellence in Education Award Medal
Received Award Medal

Responsiveness and Accountability

In many ways our 2013 winner is the embodiment of responsiveness and accountability. As an instructor who teaches multiple online courses, she is very sensitive to the need to stay connected with her students. Students consistently comment on her commitment to answering their questions quickly and to grading assignments in a timely fashion. Students appreciate the fact that she responds to emails and discussion board posts “almost immediately” to quote one student, and that she typically grades assignments within hours of their submission. As anyone who has ever taught online knows, that is a tall order, and the fact that she holds herself to such high standards is a true testament to the value she places on personal accountability.

These virtues carry over to her interactions with peers. It is not uncommon to see her take time out of her busy day to help a colleague with a Blackboard issue or a teaching question. If she sees a need or a way she can help others, she simply steps in and helps, and does so gladly.

Innovation and Sustainability

Innovation is unique. To be truly innovative, an individual must be bold enough to jump into the unknown, passionate enough to put in the time to go the extra mile, and humble enough to admit that they don’t know everything. This year’s winner has all those qualities. One of her nominators commented that every conversation with her involves some discussion of new tools or techniques she is experimenting with in her courses. She is constantly looking for innovative ways to use different technologies to increase success for students with a wide variety of learning styles and preferences. Each year she attends multiple conferences and workshops to help her stay abreast of the cutting edge, best practices in her field.

This commitment to innovation and to the use of technology has helped her become a leader in sustainability as well. Through the use of technology and tools, she has made her classes nearly paperless. Even in today’s tech savvy, electronic world, that is no small feat.

Diversity and Respect

In the area of diversity, this year’s winner has truly stepped to the front to be a leader on campus in one specific, critical area of diversity—the area of accessibility. Her courses have been lauded by both colleagues and peers outside of GRCC for the tireless work she has put in to make her materials accessible. She has made it a point to seek out information on the latest technologies and will take the time to educate herself on how they work and how they can make education accessible to all learners.
Perhaps more importantly, even, she has made it a point to share that knowledge with others in multiple ways. Through workshops, tutorials, and one-on-one help sessions, she has truly gone above and beyond to help move GRCC forward in creating an accessible campus for all. She cares deeply about her students and takes every measure to ensure that all of them have every opportunity and every tool to succeed.

This commitment to accessibility reflects something deeper—a true respect and concern for others. Rather than looking at a class and seeing differences that create challenges for an instructor, she looks at a class and sees a diverse group of learners who all desire, and deserve every opportunity to get a quality education.

Excellence and Integrity

Contagious. That is the way one student described our winner’s passion for her work, and that contagious passion is something that has translated into excellence in every aspect of her work. Students often describe her courses as among the best they have taken at GRCC. Multiple students have commented that they learned more about a subject in the first 30 minutes of one of her courses, than they learned in a lifetime of experiences with those subjects. That kind of excellence is a result, in part, of her integrity. She believes deeply in teaching and learning and will not be content with devoting anything less than 100% to any undertaking. You know that when you work with her, you will get her full commitment.

According to one of her peers, she constantly re-designs and tweak elements of her courses to ensure that her students have the best experience possible. That fact is even more striking when you consider the fact that her Blackboard courses have been recognized at the national level for their design. In one of her supporting letters, she was described in this way: “She is one of the hardest-working adjunct instructors I've ever had the privilege to work with. She takes the time and the pains to make sure her work is impeccable.”

Before presenting the award, I’d like to read one more quote from one of our winner’s colleagues:
“I am proud and privileged to work alongside her with our students, and I hope she continues to educate both students and faculty at GRCC for a very long time!”

And with that, please join me in congratulating our 2013 Excellence in Education Award winner: Cheryl Kautz.