John Wadach - Acceptance Speech

2014 Outstanding Community Colleges Professor of the Year
John Wadach
Professor of engineering science and physics

Monroe Community College

In most cases, the work of community college professors is largely invisible to those outside of their institutions. That is why I am so grateful to the Carnegie Foundation and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education for prominently recognizing the important work that community college professors selflessly perform. Our titles may not be as prestigious as those of professors from large research universities, but in many cases we are the difference between a student working for minimum wage or one who will be entering the middle class.

Although my wife Bonnie tells everyone that I am now the best community college professor in the country, I don't think of myself that way. In my career I have met many highly dedicated community college professors who have created innovative curricula and dedicated themselves to their students. I therefore think of myself as just one example of the many community college professors from around the country who create significant positive change in the lives of students.

Many of our students support themselves and pay for school without parental assistance. For example, my student Danny has two disabled parents, which requires him to works 35 hours per week while attending Monroe Community College full time. He was formerly an auto mechanic but dreams of becoming an automotive engineer someday.

Then there is Min, an immigrant from Burma who has to work from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. as a machine operator to afford school. When I asked Min when he sleeps, he told me that on some days, his only sleep comes in his car in the school parking lot before going off to work. Even with such hardship, Min does all his assignments on time and is always striving to learn everything he can. His goal is to become a computer engineer.

Another example of the incredible dedication of our students is Kierstyn Dodson, who introduced me today. Even though women comprise only 15 percent of the students in our engineering program at Monroe Community College, Kierstyn had the self-confidence and interpersonal skills to become the first female president of our Engineering Leadership Council. I think that Hillary Clinton better watch out for Kierstyn Dodson in the future.

One example of Kierstyn's dedication came last month when we were returning from the Annual Conference for Women Engineers in Los Angeles. The flight left Los Angeles at 9 p.m. and arrived in New York at 5 a.m. I was so exhausted while waiting in JFK airport for our connecting flight that I fell asleep on the floor. To my amazement, Kierstyn used the two hours to complete all her physics and electrical engineering homework!

With students such as Danny, Min and Kierstyn, it is impossible not to be motivated to help them. They may have turned to a community college as their only option, but I want to make sure that these students someday conclude that they received their best education at Monroe Community College.

I recently had dinner with a former student named Nick, an optical engineer who designs space telescopes. He stated that the one thing that helped him most at Monroe Community College was that the professors genuinely cared about him and his success. It is this student-centered approach of community college professors everywhere that makes a profound difference for many students. I am grateful to have been selected for this award but I am in no way unique. I am fortunate to work at one of the best community colleges in the country.

I am thankful to Monroe Community College President Dr. Anne Kress for nominating me for this award. Dr. Kress has been instrumental in increasing private donations to our college that have helped me and other faculty members be more effective and innovative. I am also indebted to Mr. Clayton Jones for all the hours he devoted to preparing my nomination for this award. My wife, Bonnie, also deserves my gratitude for being a good sport about all the time I spend at school.

Once again, I would like to thank the Carnegie Foundation and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education for choosing me to represent the important work that is performed by community college professors everywhere. I feel a very strong responsibility to live up to the prestige of this award and pledge to you that some of my best work is still yet to come.