You-sook Yoon and Eun-Mi Seo both teach Korean language classes to University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) students in Asia. The women have something else in common, they are among the eight faculty members honored with this year’s Stanley J. Drazek Teaching Excellence Award.
The prize is the highest faculty honor that the university bestows and, with a UMGC global faculty of more than 5,000, it is highly competitive. The Drazek Awards are announced annually in tandem with UMGC’s Teaching Recognition Awards. Nominations are made by students, followed by a rigorous evaluation process.
The awards are named for the university’s second chancellor, a well-known advocate of teaching excellence in higher education and expanded educational opportunities for adult learners.
Yoon and Seo, who are friends, both say they cannot imagine a more fulfilling career than teaching. Yet neither had originally planned to become an educator.
“I was in my senior year of high school when I finished my Korean SATs. Usually, Korean students don’t know what they want to do, and my mother was very enthusiastic about making me an elementary school teacher. Being a teacher as a woman was prestigious in Korea, and it was a stable job,” Yoon explained. “But I hated the idea of becoming a school teacher at that time, so I entered a private university and studied English language and literature and then worked at a private company for eight years.”
She felt “something was missing,” so she applied for a master’s program in the United States for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Now, after 24 years as an educator at UMGC, she said the front of the classroom with her students is the place she feels happiest. In addition to teaching military students and their spouses, she holds a teaching position with Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea.
Seo, meanwhile, said her mother wanted her to become a doctor. “But I was not very good at science and math. I preferred English, so that’s what I majored in,” she said.
In 2001, when Seo was an assistant professor at Howon University in Gunsan, South Korea, the chair of the Department of English encouraged her to apply for an adjunct position with UMGC. Seo had studied at the University of Hawaii as a Fulbright Scholar. She also spent seven summer teaching at the TESOL Summer Institute at St. Michael’s College in Vermont. When she was hired by UMGC—it was the continuation of what became long career in education.
Drazek winners are not given specific reasons why they were chosen for the awards. Yoon said it might be because of her care in preparing lessons and her commitment to forging strong connections with students.
Seo teaches English in addition to Korean at UMGC; she is also a professor emerita at Howon University. She echoed Yoon in describing how important her students are to her.
“I’m always in the class at least one hour before time … and when my students come in the classroom, I start a conversation and call them by name and create a comfortable atmosphere,” she said.
Keeping current on teaching strategies and technology is a priority—and one that she will invest in “for the rest of my life.” She planned to use the $1,500 stipend that comes with the Drazek Award to attend international education conferences.
The expertise of this year’s Drazek Award recipients spans a broad spectrum, from Arabic language to cybersecurity to legal studies. What the eight educators share is a deep engagement with their work and a powerful commitment to their students.
Alaa Afifi, based in Bahrain, teaches Arabic, Middle Eastern cultures and other courses. He joined UMGC in 2004 and he has also taught for the U.S. Embassy, U.S. Naval Support Activity (NSA) in Bahrain and Bahrain’s Ministry of Education. Students nominating him for the award, said he “makes learning Arabic easy and fun.”
“I work diligently to establish a strong rapport with each student, build positive relationships which are intended to foster a safe and inclusive classroom environment,” Afifi said. “I recognize the commitment of our adult learners, so it is critical to combine continuous engagement with students in and out of the classroom, keeping them engaged with stimulating activities during lessons and adding healthy doses of kindness and humor in all my interactions.”
Afifi likes to innovate, integrating technology and creative tools into his teaching. He said he had a remarkable role model: His father was an educator.
“As I grew up, I witnessed his passion for teaching and genuine interest in his students’ learning,” he said. “Even though he passed away 10 years ago, I attribute his modeling to my dedication to teaching to this day.”
The Drazek Award is not his only honor. Afifi received an Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Award this year and last year.
Michelle Bailey, a mechanical engineer, had a 23-year career at NASA before joining the Department of Defense, where she trained personnel in systems engineering, science and technology management, and information systems. She has been teaching at UMGC since 2010 and is a faculty member in the Cybersecurity Graduate Program.
Bailey’s students sometimes tell her that she provides them with more feedback than most faculty. She said she had many part-time teachers “who were terrible” when she was studying for her doctorate and master’s degrees, and that has made her conscious of doing better for her students.
“My students are working on projects independently, and there always one group project in every class,” she explained. “I like to post something every day, or every other day.
Bailey said the news that she had won a Drazek Award brought back an amusing memory.
“My grandmother thought it was nice that I had a doctorate and was working for NASA, but she always wanted me to be a teacher,” she said.
Simon Reese, an adjunct with UMGC’s MBA Program, has a reputation for responding quickly to students’ concerns and setting clear expectations in class. The former U.S. Army officer intimately understands the challenges of servicemembers striving to balance their educational pursuits. He was once a student taking classes at UMGC as he prepared for his military transition.
Teaching is a third career for Simon, who transitioned from the military to work for an oil and gas company more than 25 years ago. His position as president of a multinational company in South Korea brought him into contact with UMGC seven years ago.
“I was living a half mile from Yongsan Army base in Seoul, and UMGC was just starting the hybrid MBA program on base. They needed faculty to teach on weekends, and I had just completed my doctorate two years earlier,” he recounted.
Two years later, when Reese relocated to the United States, he remained an UMGC adjunct. He currently teaches a marketing and digital innovation course and is a past recipient of the UMGC Teaching Recognition Award.
When asked about his student interactions, Reese explained, “Many of my students haven’t been in a classroom for a long time, and I think they get anxiety and writer’s block. My goal is to help walk them through the writing process.
“Instead of telling them they need to write an executive summary,” he continued, “I offer links to UMGC Effective Writing Center tools, which include helpful examples. If there are five questions to answer in a paper, I’ll offer them an outline to guide their responses.”
He described effective teaching as “often nothing more than quickly breaking down small learning barriers to unleash important learning objectives.”
“Passion” and “empathy” are the attributes that Jessica Stock, a collegiate professor of literature, writing, and field studies courses, brings to her classroom.
“I really believe in the deep marrow of my bones that education transforms and repairs,” she said. “When I see my students come out of my classroom and know they’ve learned something, I’m thrilled.”
Literature, diversity and travel are three lenses through which she teaches. “I teach everything from Shakespeare to African American literature. Right now, I’m teaching mythology,” she said. “I look through most things with a theoretical lens and an eye on justice.”
Stock joined UMGC in 2015 as an adjunct in Belgium. As a faculty adviser for UMGC’s Field Studies Program, she has taken students on study trips throughout Europe. A trip to Nuremberg, Germany, focused on the rise of fascism. Another, to Frankfurt, was scheduled to coincide with the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Stock also serves on the university’s Diversity Council, and she founded and directs UMGC’s bimonthly book club focused on diversity themes. In 2021, she received the Bylee Massey Memorial Award for contributing “in an unselfish and innovative way to make UMGC a better place.”
Stock was in 10th grade when she knew she wanted to be a literature teacher. “My grandmother was an English teacher in Manhattan in the 1920s, so I have that heritage,” she said. “I am lucky and grateful to have my position at UMGC.”
Some students new to UMGC will have their first class with Marsha Fortney, a collegiate associate professor in the Student Affairs, First Term Experience and Tutoring Services division. Fortney teaches PACE 111, a UMGC signature course that helps students map out their educational path. She also provides coaching and support to adjunct faculty members who teach the Intro to Research course and the Career Planning Management course.
Fortney believes the “personal touch” is key to student success at UMGC.
“As a student at a school that is online, you might feel a bit isolated or that your instructor doesn’t know you,” she said. “By designing courses like PACE so students are required to connect with faculty, we make sure faculty are both present and available.”
Fortney frequently uses video in her own outreach to students. “In a video, I try to be warm and welcoming and accessible,” she said, adding that it is surprisingly easy to make meaningful connections with students—no matter where they are located—through discussion boards, email, phone or Zoom meetings.
Fortney has developed a number of training courses for faculty and previously served as a faculty training specialist. She said it wasn’t long after she started teaching in 2004 that she “fell in love with technology’s ability to connect educators with students all over the globe.”
In 2021, Fortney also received a UMGC President’s Award for distinguished service.
Spring Jenkins Walton likes to say she brings a “checkerboard” of career experiences to UMGC. She has done consulting work, practiced law, been in corporate management, owned a small business, worked in interior design and served as assistant dean at University of Maryland Carey School of Law.
“All these experiences were fun and rewarding, but I am happiest teaching and interacting directly with students,” said Walton, who has been part of the UMGC community for two decades. She was a full-time collegiate faculty member for many years and chair of the Legal Studies Program. Since her retirement, she is a legal studies adjunct professor.
“Engaging with students in the classroom, of course, is fundamental, but I love reaching out and learning their personal stories, interests, and needs through telephone and Zoom calls and one-on-one messaging,” she said. “For me, this is an integral and rewarding part of coaching students to become confident, responsible learners and apply their best efforts to succeed.
“I am always inspired by students’ individual stories and their determination and motivation to finish their degrees,” she said. “Many of our students have competing priorities—families, jobs and other thing in their lives along with school—but they still persevere.”
In addition to the Drazek Awards, 10 faculty members received UMGC Teaching Recognition Awards. This year’s award recipients in Europe are Imrana Iqbal, who teaches English, writing, government and speech; Mark Dorny, who teaches English, writing, speech and art history; and Andrea Davis, who teaches biology, nutrition and chemistry. For UMGC Asia, Damien Horigan was honored with the award.
The six stateside award recipients are Adjunct Assistant Professor Sutonia Boykin, who teaches in the First Year Experience program and is involved in tutoring services; School of Business Adjunct Professor Julia DeLoria; School of Business Adjunct Professor Nancy Glenn; Todd Heller, adjunct associate professor in the School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology; Leola Powers, adjunct professor in the School of Arts and Sciences; and Collegiate Professor of History Danielle Skjelver.