2016 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

Yesterday I received word that I would be a recipient of Duke University’s Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. The email I received from Dean Jacqueline Looney said that a “review committee of deans, graduate faculty, staff, and graduate students chose you from a highly competitive pool of nominees to receive this award, which this year will recognize two graduate students who best exemplify the characteristics of effective college teaching.” And that’s when the tears started.

When my desktop notification told me I had an email with the subject line “Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching” I took a deep breath, clicked on my email and opened the message. When I saw “you have been selected to receive” I screamed “I GOT IT!” It didn’t really sink in until I went back to the email and gave it a good read with my sister and then my parents on the phone and when I got to that sentence above.

I’ve applied for a lot of things, some I’ve received and many I haven’t. But this award, this one is very special and carries a lot of meaning for me. You see, I love teaching and I hope to teach for the rest of my career.  I continued in the Ph.D. program at Duke because I knew I wanted to teach at a college or university when I was done. And for that, I’ve gotten some pretty strange looks when I’ve professed my love of teaching and mentoring students. Don’t get me wrong, I love my research but I always thought my strengths and passion lied in the teaching side of things. So to receive an award for something I’m so passionate about and for something I’ve dedicated a lot of time, effort and energy to. It’s validating and meaningful in a way I probably can’t describe very well in words. This is like my Golden Globe or my National Championship Trophy.

After I got the news my Director of Graduate Studies emailed the Duke Marine lab and my Mom took to Facebook to share the news and the emails, likes and comments poured in from friends and family all over the country and the world. And that’s when the tears continued. To hear people that I respect and admire tell me that this was richly deserved and that they’re proud of me. To share their support for me and ultimately for what I love to do. It’s completely overwhelming (in a very good way)!

I added a message on Facebook and again the response, I can’t even describe it. But I want to echo something I wrote there, here in this blog. And that is THANK YOU. So I’ll take the next bit as my acceptance speech.

I couldn’t have gotten here without the support and love of a countless number of people. I’ll start with My Mom, Dad and sister Kaitlin. I have learned from the best and can’t thank you three enough for everything you do for me and for everything you’ve taught me. This is your award too. I have friends, family and teachers I’ve known as far back as Kindergarten to thank for inspiring my love of science and for showing me the power of teachers. I have so many people at UConn and specifically the Honors Program at UConn to thank for giving me a chance to start pursuing research and for giving me my first mentoring and teaching experiences. That’s when it started really, when I caught the bug. And my set of beautiful, smart and amazing friends from both UConn and Duke, I’m really extremely lucky to have some of the best women and so many of the best women in STEM I’ve ever known as my best friends. You ladies inspire me every day. And at Duke. All of my students in all of the classes I have TA’d, taught and guest lectured in. My advisers, mentors, committee, teachers, everyone (and I mean everyone) at the Duke University Marine Lab. If I didn’t have such an amazing place to learn and grow and develop as a teacher, I wouldn’t have received this award. So thank you, thank you. This is exactly the inspiration I need to finish off this dissertation of mine. So I should probably get back to that 🙂