2007-2008 Teaching Excellence Award Recipients
The Undergraduate School
Kina Leitner began her teaching career at UMUC in 2000 with a joint appointment in the psychology and math/statistics departments, teaching various psychology courses and two different introductory level statistics courses. Her experience as a psychotherapist helps her to create learning environments in which students can recognize, acknowledge and talk about their anxiety about taking statistics courses. She actively engages students in online discussions where they learn from each other and strengthen their analytical and communication skills. Student nominations were unanimous in acknowledging her enthusiasm and love of the subject and her commitment to making a complex subject understandable, relevant and interesting for all her students.
In addition, Dr. Leitner provides guidance and support to many of our new students through their first course, "Principles and Strategies for Successful Learning." She also mentors students through the Cooperative Education Program, in which they apply classroom theory to "real world" projects to gain advanced academic credit.
Dr. Leitner takes this mentoring to the next level and also mentors faculty within her departments who are new to online teaching. She supports other faculty at UMUC through her service as a course chair for courses in both departments. Her experience and expertise are shared outside of UMUC through several publications, presentations and trainings.
Dr. Leitner received her Ph.D. in psychology (measurement and evaluation) from Columbia University.
Dennis Whitford came to UMUC in 2002 following his service as chair of the oceanography department at the U.S. Naval Academy. His work throughout his thirty year U.S. Navy career involved extensive experience in working with culturally and linguistically diverse sailors and marines who are, by definition, non-traditional adult learners. Therefore, Dr. Whitford found UMUC and our students to be a perfect fit for sharing his passion for teaching and learning.
Dr. Whitford's students respond to his passion and report striving to learn and demonstrate their academic capabilities even if they were initially intimidated by the coursework expectations and learning marine biology online. They reported that his personable style readily comes across in the online discussions and his thorough feedback and timely responses to their questions.
Dr. Whitford's passion for learning is shown in his own professional development as he continues to research and develop science lectures that are presented to the general public. The challenge he poses to his students to achieve personal and academic success is the same he poses to himself – and both succeed.
Dr. Whitford received his Ph.D. in oceanography from the Naval Postgraduate School.
The Graduate School
Mona Engvig joined our graduate faculty in 2003 and has brought significant credentials to the classroom. She was a music school principal in Norway for 9 years and has three graduate degrees: arts administration, sociology, and education administration and policy analysis. She was a Fulbright grant recipient and has taught face-to-face and online courses at numerous institutions. She also has a wide range of professional activities, including lectures, presentations, published articles and a recently published book on e-learning.
Dr. Engvig's guiding principle in teaching is very simple: "Treat all students with deep respect, and let all decisions follow from this." In teaching an introductory graduate course, she recognizes that many students are taking their first class after years away from school and may not feel especially confident in taking on graduate-level studies. She makes it clear from the start of the class that she is available for any of their questions and concerns. She provides critical support and encouragement for them, not only in providing timely feedback on their assignments and clear expectations of their class performance, but also in advising them on ways to navigate the challenges they face in balancing school, work and family obligations. Remarkably, this guiding principle is reflected in her students' nominations, who noted that her kindness and dedication to her work and students went beyond just teaching the subject matter.
Dr. Engvig received her Ph.D. in education administration and policy analysis from Stanford University
Laura Witz began to teach at UMUC in 2004 and also has been actively involved in shaping the curriculum on research methods for managers and organization communication. Her work is based on years of teaching both graduate and undergraduate classes in persuasion, conflict management, research methods, intercultural and business communication, and interpersonal relationships at both small and large institutions.
Dr. Witz shares that her teaching philosophy involves being present and ready to help overcome challenges in the online environment. She believes in learning from her students and encourages them to learn from each other. One way she practices this philosophy is to highlight and draw attention to a particular student's posting when she finds a good example of a course concept, especially when it pertains to technical and mathematical issues. Students have noted that these highlights have often helped them to finally understand the concept – more so than with what was presented in the class text or lecture notes. Other students have shared that her positive feedback and constructive criticism made them want to try even harder in her class to learn the material.
Another student expressed Dr. Witz's teaching philosophy this way: "She has not only provided educational guidance, she has also proved to be a mentor." Dr. Witz's efforts to continue learning – and sharing what she has learned with her students – inspires them to believe they too can succeed in their endeavors.
Dr. Witz received her Ph.D. in communication (conflict management and intercultural communication) from Michigan State University.
John A. Bolton employs the Socratic, dialectical teaching method in the classroom – a method regarded by philosophers as an essential tool in the quest for truth. A native of Scotland, Mr. Bolton taught for UMUC at St. Mawgan, in the United Kingdom, prior to moving to the Channel Island Jersey. Presently, he teaches a variety of online philosophy courses for students worldwide.
Mr. Bolton, adjunct instructor, asserts that philosophy teaches you not what to think, but how to think. For nearly ten years, he has led students in the science of reasoning, critical thinking, and question formulation. Mr. Bolton characterizes his role in the classroom as that of a facilitator and a primus inter pares (first among equals). He creates a forum for open discussion and encourages students to derive their own answers to life's deepest questions, such as what is "right" and "wrong."
Fascinated by the concepts presented in Mr. Bolton's introductory philosophy courses, students inquired about earning a degree in philosophy. Mr. Bolton says, "I was moved by the passion students demonstrated for the subject matter and I felt compelled to help them in their pursuit of knowledge." Subsequently, he petitioned UMUC Europe to expand the philosophy program and, due to Mr. Bolton's dedicated effort, the university now offers students an undergraduate philosophy minor.
Prior to joining UMUC, Mr. Bolton worked for the Fonden for International Forstaelse, a Danish foundation providing external research and philosophical analysis on proposals for the United Nations Council. Mr. Bolton earned an MA in continental philosophy and a BA (Honors) in philosophy from the University of Essex. Outside the classroom, he enjoys long bike rides with friends, walks along the Jersey coast, surfing, and playing an electric guitar.
Mr. Bolton says, "Life is a work in progress," and aspires to continue with expanding UMUC's online philosophy program, learning by teaching, and evaluating life's mysteries.
For over fifteen years, adjunct professor Mary-Ann T. Sagnella has led students in the appreciation and comprehension of Italian language and culture. She derives her definition of teaching excellence from the Old English word taecan, meaning, "to guide, to show, or to give instruction." She says, "Indeed, I see myself as both a guide and catalyst."
As the granddaughter of Italian-American immigrants, Dr. Sagnella decided to learn Italian in order to communicate with her grandmother. Additionally, she aspired to earn a doctoral degree, and in combining her passion for learning with her passion for Italian, she fulfilled her life's ambition. After her first visit in 1987, she succumbed to Italy 's spell and moved to Naples in 1993, where she has taught for UMUC Europe ever since.
Dr. Sagnella's affinity for the Italian lifestyle assists her in guiding students through the challenge of learning a foreign language. She says, "My primary objectives are to deeply motivate my students and provide them with the confidence and self-assurance needed to effectively express themselves." She supports her students in their pursuit of degrees and encourages them to persevere. She says, "The most important thing is to believe you can achieve your goals, even if it takes time to do it."
Outside of the classroom, Dr. Sagnella enjoys cooking Italian cuisine for family and friends, which she balances with regular fitness class attendance. She also enjoys long bike rides in the countryside with her husband, Francesco, and sons Nicholas and Valentino.
The author of several articles for the Italica and Mystics Quarterly magazines, Dr. Sagnella is an avid reader, writer, and researcher. "An industrious teacher seeks to blend teaching with a fervent need to learn and discover," she says. As an American Association of Teachers of Italian (AATI) member, she looks forward to attending the annual conference in Taormina, Sicily. Continuing with researching and teaching, she hopes to soon publish a book on Italian women writers from the Middle Ages.
Dr. Sagnella earned a PhD and an MA degree in Italian from the University of Connecticut in Storrs, and a BA in Italian studies from Connecticut College.