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Dr. Leanne Roberts recognized for teaching excellence

Friday, May 2, 2014

After 13 years at Mercyhurst University, Education Department Chair Leanne Roberts, Ph.D., has been honored with the 2014 Mercyhurst Teaching Excellence Award for her passion for teaching and her dedication to positioning the university as a leader in the field of teacher preparation.

As associate dean of the Hafenmaier School of Education and Behavioral Sciences, Roberts played a significant role in securing a $1.5 million Pennsylvania Department of Education grant to fund the Carpe Diem Academy, an academic enrichment program designed to enhance education for students in inner-city grade schools. She has also received subsequent grants totaling $26,000 for Carpe Diem that have supported both music education and nutrition.

Roberts has initiated several other programs, both on and off campus, including the Education Major Mentors program and Mercyhurst Teach Away Program (MTAP), as well as the Mercy Center of the Arts Cooperative Agreement, which gives education majors and graduate students another avenue for student teaching.

“Receiving recognition from one's peers, particularly past recipients of the Teaching Excellence Award, is a tremendous honor,” said Roberts. “I am humbled, appreciative, and I believe this to be one of the most memorable events of my life.”

Teaching in higher education wasn’t Roberts’ original plan. She earned her Bachelor of Science in elementary education from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania in 1989, and later earned her M.Ed. in reading education from Edinboro in 1994.

As an early elementary school teacher for the General McLane School District during the ‘90s, Roberts started to question what makes an effective teacher. Her “quest” — or “obsession” as she put it — to answer that question led her to pursue a Ph.D. program. A year later, Roberts was teaching a college course as part of a fellowship and never looked back.

“I knew after that first class, teaching itself would be my life's work and study,” said Roberts. “It was invigorating, challenging and an opportunity to combine my quest for answers about effective teaching with my desire to teach.”

Since joining Mercyhurst as an assistant professor of education in 2001, Roberts has taught several courses including Children’s Literature, Pedagogy and Practice in Education, Reading Methods and Teaching Primary Literacy. Roberts earned her doctorate in curricular and instructional studies from The University of Akron in 2005 and two years later was promoted to associate professor status at Mercyhurst.

“Leanne as a professor, and teacher of future teachers, constantly demonstrates to her class the art and science of teaching. What sets Leanne apart, especially through her leadership in the Carpe Diem Academy, is her ability to convey to future teachers the social justice of teaching and that at the core of education is hope,” said Phillip Belfiore, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs.

Both current and former colleagues agree; Roberts’ work for the university has earned her this year’s Teaching Excellence award.

Kathleen Bukowsi, Ph.D., dean of the Hafenmaier School of Education and Behavioral Sciences, calls Roberts a "master teacher.” “Leanne possesses a unique style of high energy, matched with direct modeling of current research and pedagogy, which results in great teaching. She teaches with such passion and charisma,” said Bukowski. “Leanne's most critical asset is the modeling of best practices in her teaching, which serves as a strong motivator to positively influence the behaviors of the future teachers she is mentoring.”

Joanne Carney, Ph.D., a former Mercyhurst colleague and officemate of Roberts, expresses the highest regard for her, saying she was instantly in awe of Roberts’ “warm connections” with students and “dynamic teaching” when they first met.

“It is especially fitting that this year Mercyhurst honors an elementary teacher educator for excellence in teaching, given the teaching tradition of the Sisters of Mercy―who educated generations of school children, many of whom came from humble backgrounds (including me),” said Carney, currently a professor at Western Washington University. “Leanne models not only pedagogical methods, but education as action for social justice.”

The Mercyhurst Education Department boasts high-profile programs, such as the Autism Support Classroom and the Institute for Applied Behavioral Studies. The department also requires students to obtain student-teaching hours well above the state’s minimum requirement; it helps several students each year find unique teaching opportunities abroad; and graduates of the program from recent years report near-perfect placement rates in jobs or graduate schools.

The Teaching Excellence Award will be presented to Roberts May 2 during an end-of-year reception for the Mercyhurst faculty.