By Gabby Gamez
Growing bacteria on petri dishes with biology majors is the environment in which Tamara McEwen, assistant professor of biology, surrounds herself in on a daily basis. McEwen is one of the first recipients of the Kansas Independent College Association Faculty of Distinction Honor.
McEwen was surprised and honored for the recognition. McEwen said “I came into college as an educator first and science teacher second.” She said she appreciated being recognized for the work she does.
McEwen takes a different approach to teaching, with greater emphasis on student learning than the lecture ideas. McEwen said she is there to serve her students in any way that she can. Having this experience allows McEwen to give a big picture idea, and not force so specific things at a time. With this teaching strategy it allows her students to learn a general picture and focus solely on small details.
Andy Sheppard, provost, said selecting the recipient was easy because McEwen won teaching awards the year before. He said “If you are successful here as a professor, you have a heart for teaching.” Sheppard said that Southwestern strives to produce a value of students who are critical thinkers. With professors such as McEwen, Southwestern is on track to stick with the goals they have for their students. Sheppard said “Tammy has an incredible knack when it comes to making difficult material assessable to students.”
McEwen said she strives to help her students succeed. She led an M-CAT study group over the summer, working with students who want to apply to medical school. McEwen said, “I want to make a positive impact on my students. I want to facilitate them reaching their goals.”
Taylor Fogle, biology senior, said “She actually cares about your life as a student.” Fogle said McEwen is always there for students. It does not matter if they are biology majors, or even if they are in her classes.
McEwen said, “I like the smaller interactions that I can have with students. They know they can knock on my door and get help.” With that same willingness to help students, McEwen also has the courage to tell students if they are suitable for a career in science, and help them find a better fit.
McEwen’s favorite class to teach is Developmental Biology, though she does enjoy teaching Biology to get the opportunity to meet more students, allowing her the opportunity to make a connection with individual students.
McEwen said she enjoyed teaching alongside a great group of professors within the biology department. McEwen said “I like the academic freedom I am allowed here. It allows me to decide what I am going to teach and no one tells me what to teach.”
The Kansas Independent College Association Faculty Distinction program celebrates excellence and achievement among faculty at the accredited private colleges and universities in Kansas. Throughout their experience, these colleges, which include the oldest colleges in Kansas, have emphasized the importance of classroom teaching, personal attention to each and every student, and a commitment to character, values, and learning through every facet of their graduates’ lives.
McEwen will be recognized at an awards luncheon at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library on Oct. 21.
Gabby Gamez is a junior majoring in communication. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.