Katherine R. Rowell - Acceptance Speech

Outstanding Community Colleges Professor of the Year National Winner
Katherine R. Rowell
Professor of Sociology
Sinclair Community College

I am greatly humbled and honored to be receiving this award. I would like to offer my sincerest gratitude to the Council for Advancement and Support of Education as well as The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement for Teaching for this honor.

I did not make the journey here alone. Numerous people have supported me along the way. First, I learned early-on the value of a solid education from my parents. I grew up in a family that had limited educational opportunities. My Grandpa Teater never went to school. He signed his name with an X because he could not read or write. Two of my grandparents had less than an eighth-grade education. My mother never graduated from high school, although she finished her GED when she was 35 years old. My father worked his whole life on an assembly line, making just enough money for our family to have the basics but too much for our family to qualify for federal financial aid.

Growing up, I was taught that without an education you really could not make it in the United States. Education was the key to the future.

Yet, I also remember thinking that college was something for very smart and very wealthy people. My parents, however, continually told me that if I worked hard enough in school and got good grades, I could get scholarships to help pay for college. I believed them; I worked hard and received an academic scholarship from the state of Ohio that just covered my tuition and books at Wright State University in Dayton. Today, that same scholarship would cover only about two quarters of tuition at that same institution.

Even though I was an excellent student in high school, I was terrified of college. I had only known a couple of people who had gone to college. I still remember raising my hand in my first class and asking what a "syllabus" was. Fortunately, I was privileged to have amazing college professors and mentors—in fact, some are here today. Their guidance, encouragement, and mentoring have helped make me the person I am today. I am eternally grateful for their support. I had no idea that graduate school could ever be a possibility; I wasn't aware that such things as assistantships and fellowships were available. They convinced me that I was capable of this achievement and opened doors that I did not even know existed.

I am also blessed with an amazing and supportive family. Kurt, my husband of 21 years, and my sons, John and Jack, have always been there to support me. John, who's now a sophomore at Pacific Lutheran University, was with me through part of my undergraduate program and all through graduate school. I still remember when he came home one day from third grade and asked me why I was so stupid. I looked at him and said, "Why would you say such a thing?" And he said, "You are the only mommy I know who is still in school!"

Jack was born while I was completing my dissertation. He is not here today because he didn't want to miss two days of school. I had a hard time arguing with that!

Needless to say, I have had and continue to have a lot of support from various family members, my wonderful sister and brother (who are here today) and good friends—friends who helped care for my children while I was in school and friends who continue to call or send me e-mails to tell me they saw my name on something and are proud of me. I've also had wonderful support from the chair of my department, college administrators and from my students. I would not be here today without all of that support and encouragement, and I sincerely thank everyone who is here. It means everything to me.

Many of the students I teach today are up against some of the very same challenges that I faced as a student. That's why I work hard every day to make a difference in my students' lives. I know their struggles. Because of this, I am very proud to be part of the community college movement in the United States and proud to receive this award as a community college teacher. I go to work every day at an educational institution that has as a primary mission to make higher education accessible and affordable for all. I am part of a national organization that is making the dream of education available to everyone.

In conclusion, I want to again say how grateful I am to receive this award—especially knowing that I work every day with teachers and staff who are equally deserving. However, I am even more grateful for the opportunity to be a teacher. I consider it an honor to walk into a classroom and help students critically think about the world they live in. I consider it a privilege to help students achieve their dream of a college education. While awards are wonderful to receive, just knowing that you have helped a student in his or her educational journey is truly reward enough. I am one of those fortunate people who goes home knowing that I make a difference in my community just by being a teacher. My greatest reward is being a teacher.

Again, thank you.