By: Mollie Lastovica
Two members of the ALEC family were recognized by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences on September 12 as recipients of the inaugural Dean’s Outstanding Achievement Awards.
Created in an effort to recognized outstanding faculty, staff and students across the college by Mark Hussey, Ph.D., Vice Chancellor and Dean for Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Dean’s Outstanding Achievement Awards span over sixteen different categories ranging from undergraduate teaching to international impact.
Senior Lecturer Deborah Dunsford, Ph.D. received the award for Advising and Student Relations. Dunsford serves as an academic advisor for agricultural communications and journalism students and teaches a number of AGCJ courses. She has worked as an advisor in the department for approximately 14 years since 1994.
“I truly do like getting the chance to know the students a little better than I do in the classroom,” Dunsford said. “I do pretty well in the classroom, but it’s really not the same as getting a chance to sit across from them every few months and seeing when they sort of figure it out… when they figure out how all the pieces fit.”
Dunsford not only serves as an inspiration for students, but she also impacts her colleagues across the department.
“As a new adviser, I know that Dr. Deb is somebody that I turn to for advice. I think it is noteworthy when you advise the advisors,” Academic Adviser Tobin Redwine said. “Dr. Deb is perpetually a source of sage wisdom, profound logic and life knowledge. She is also a champion for the students. There is never doubt that she has the best interest of the students at heart.”
For Dunsford, developing personal relationships with and getting to know her students helps her provide opportunities for those students to aid in their success down the road.
“Every once in a while we’ll get calls needing someone for a project and if we have a chance to know the students and know not only perhaps what classes they’ve had and how well they’ve done in those classes, but what they’d really like to do, we can match things and it is great for the person calling and for the students,” Dunsford said.
During her career, Dunsford has seen both the good and bad in regard to students and both, she said, impact her greatly.
“One time, I had a student that was having serious problems and I knew part of what was causing the problems and I finally found a way to get him some help,” Dunsford said. “He came back later and told me I saved his life. That was really pretty cool.”
Receiving the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Outstanding Achievement Award for Advising and Student Relations was an unexpected treat for Dunsford.
“It means a lot. I always am extremely thrilled by things that are for working with or helping students, because that’s really why I’m here,” Dunsford said. “And it helps because everyone has a bad day and when you have those days it certainly makes you feel a little better because they are not all that way.”
As she heads into the future with both her advising and teaching roles, Dunsford hopes to leave her mark on Texas A&M through the lives of her students.
“I would hope that my legacy here would be that I made the students’ experience better in some way,” Dunsford said. “That I helped them get the most out of being at Texas A&M in a way that was enjoyable for them.”
That focus on student success appears to be commonplace within the department, as it also drives Dunsford’s fellow award winner, Assistant Professor Jennifer Williams, Ph.D. Known by her students as “Dr. Jen,” Williams received the Outstanding Achievement Award for Early Career Teaching.
Williams started her career at Texas A&M University in January of 2010. She instructs a mix of undergraduate and graduate agricultural leadership and development courses including ALED 340, ALED 341, ALED 424, ALED 401 and ALED 481. A graduate of the department with both her Bachelor’s and Master’s, Williams was inspired to teach by those who taught her.
“I had amazing professors here at Texas A&M that inspired me and I knew I wanted to be a professor as a freshman,” Williams said. “Looking at their amazing teaching styles and the way they can connect with students made me want to have an impact on others in the same way.”
In her short time as a faculty member, her reputation amongst her colleagues and students attests to her passion for teaching and following in those professors’ footsteps.
“I love Dr. Jen because she truly cares about her students and wants to see them succeed,” Graduate Assistant Megan McClure said. “Caring about the students is the biggest part about why I truly think she is a great person.”
As a professor, Williams enjoys the moment when her material finally “clicks” with students.
“When I see light bulbs go off in students’ heads, that’s the moment I live for,” Williams said. “It’s also pretty great when students come back after class and say ‘I can apply that to what I’m doing,’ and even former students when they say ‘hey, you won’t believe it, but I just used this that I learned in teams class.’ I’m lucky because what I teach is very applicable.”
Williams also makes a conscious effort to stay in the know with pop culture and trends that are relevant to her students’ lives to better communicate her classroom material.
“I never can leave a power point alone,” Williams said. “Every semester I have to add something, find a new activity or change things around because I want to make sure students have an application piece.”
Being rewarded for her efforts as a professor not only provides encouragement for the time she devotes to her job, but the recognition is also in line with some of her career goals.
“I have some lofty goals… I want to win every teaching award Texas A&M University has to offer. I would love to be recognized for teaching because I personally think that is why professors are at Texas A&M—to educate students,” Williams said. “For me, the nights that I stay up combing the internet for new material or watching shows that I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy for my entertainment… this award says all the time and effort that I spend going above and beyond makes an impact on students and I think that helps me a lot.”
Williams points to a wooden quote in her office window as the legacy she wants to leave on campus. It reads, “The mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates, the great teacher inspires.”
“A great teacher inspires,” Williams said. “Inspires students to be and do more than they ever thought possible.”