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Biology professor wins 2012 teaching award

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – In her four years of teaching at Bethel College, Francisca Méndez-Harclerode, assistant professor of biology, has endeared herself to her students.

The chocolate doesn’t hurt – Méndez-Harclerode is known for frequently supplying her students with chocolaty baked goods and for having a bottomless jar of other chocolate treats.

But her care for students’ learning makes a bigger impression, said Brad Born, vice president for academic affairs. Born presented Méndez-Harclerode with the Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award at Bethel’s 119th commencement May 20.

“[This award] recognizes a Bethel faculty member who has made an outstanding contribution to teaching,” Born said in his citation for Méndez-Harclerode. “[With] this award, we affirm the importance that Bethel College places on excellent teaching by our faculty and meaningful learning by our students.”

Méndez-Harclerode earned her B.S. degree in biology with honors from East Texas Baptist University, her M.S. in biology from Central Missouri State University and her Ph.D. in biology at Texas Tech University. Following completion of her doctoral degree, she worked as a research scientist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio before joining the Bethel faculty in August 2008.

In her application for a faculty position at Bethel, Born said, Méndez-Harclerode described her teaching philosophy: “Good teachers are passionate about their subject and care for their students. . . . In order to maximize learning . . . passion for one’s subject must be complemented with caring for one’s students.”

“Francisca’s teaching practice has been congruent with that expressed belief,” Born said. “Colleagues who have observed her teaching and mentoring have noted her excellent rapport with students, her expectation that students take responsibility for their learning and her personal encouragement for their efforts.”

Both peer and student evaluations carry weight in deciding the Schrag Teaching Award, and students, Born noted, “are extraordinarily positive in their evaluation” of Méndez-Harclerode’s instruction.

Students appreciate the online PowerPoint slides that offer helpful guides to study and review of critical material, the clarity of Méndez-Harclerode’s explanations and illustrations and her commitment to laboratory instruction and hands-on learning, Born said.

“And yes, they like her frequent provision of chocolaty baked treats – ‘yum-yums,’ as she calls them,” Born added. “But the most frequent theme of students’ remarks centers on Francisca’s accessibility and her willingness to assist them outside class – in other words, her commitment to students’ learning matched to her care for them as people.

One student wrote: “She is really concerned with us as students and people and will do whatever it takes to help us learn.” Another commented: “Fantastic, funny and fun professor with a big heart.”

“I believe this class kicked my butt,” a third student wrote, “but Francisca and her upbeat personality made me survive . . . plus the chocolate.”

Born added, “In that same teaching philosophy that Francisca shared when she first applied for [the Bethel biology] position, she wrote: ‘Teaching, like Christianity, is something we are, not something we merely do.’”

Méndez-Harclerode will present an honors convocation sometime in the 2012-13 school year.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2011-12 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2011-12. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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