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Kathy Wellborn Outstanding Teaching Award: Dr. Cathleen Hartney

Kathy Wellborn Outstanding Teaching Award: Dr. Cathleen Hartney

Monday, May 01, 2017

“My path to teaching at FLC has been non-traditional,” Dr. Cathleen Hartney, senior lecturer in the Fort Lewis College Biology Department, explains. “My degree is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, not a PhD. I was (and still am) a practitioner, a veterinarian, who had always dreamed of teaching as that other thing I might love to do.”

After 14 years as a vet, she decided to giving teaching a shot. Her sister, Ann, was part of the Writing Program at FLC and helped her get a foot in the door on campus teaching a couple of composition classes. Eventually, she moved into the Biology Department and today she is the winner of the 2017-18 Kathy Wellborn Outstanding Teaching Award.

An exceptional teacher goes beyond the curriculum and the grades. It’s about caring for the students and doing the little things to help them succeed in and out of the classroom.

“I had a student in one of my comp classes, a thoughtful, hard-working young woman, who, though I didn’t know this at the time, was struggling,” she recalls. “One morning, at the start of class, she was not in her usual seat. No one in the class knew why she was not there. When she did come in, late, which was unusual for her, I exclaimed ‘There you are!’ and told her we’d been expecting her as she never missed a class. That was it, class went on.  

“Several years later, I ran into her working in a local business, and she gave me a big hug and thanked me, telling me that it was this moment that kept her at FLC, at a point when she was seriously doubting her choices. It was the fact that someone had noticed she wasn’t there. Someone knew her. Someone cared whether or not she was in class. This awakened me to the fact that even the smallest things we do as teachers may have impacts we never know about. I don’t always do or say the right thing, but I am always trying.”

She’s been trying, and succeeding, and that compassion and caring has come back to her during the challenging times in her life.

“In 2013, I had to take family leave during the spring semester while my sister, Ann, who had led me into teaching at FLC and who had taught me by example what it means to be a truly ethical teacher, was dying of breast cancer. The day I came back to work, at this most terrible time in my life, I opened my office door and discovered, taped to the wall, a giant paper heart, covered with messages of support from students and colleagues. I cannot express in words how much that meant to me. I love being part of this FLC community.”

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