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Volume 1, Issue 6


Professor of Year Helps College Garner Grants

The Math Outreach Center at Amarillo College—brainchild of CASE's 2011 outstanding community colleges Professor of the Year—began six years ago with no space, no personnel and no budget. Today, the center provides more than 23,000 hour-long tutoring sessions annually to students—many of whom see their test scores increase at least one letter grade after visiting one or more times. But students aren't the only ones reaping the rewards of the center's success. The Texas community college has recently garnered national attention and millions of dollars in federal grants.

Kathryn C. Wetzel, professor of mathematics and engineering at Amarillo College, was recently named the 2011 outstanding community colleges professor of the year by CASE and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. She and three other national winners were honored last month at a celebration in Washington, D.C.

Award judges said they were impressed by Wetzel's approach to teaching math and engineering to students using real-world applications. They also applauded her efforts at program building—most notably the creation of the Math Outreach Center. The center, which is open 60 hours a week when school is in session, provides Amarillo math students with access to free drop-in tutoring from learning specialists and peer tutors.

Amarillo's Math Outreach Center began attracting national attention in 2009 when it was awarded the John Campaign Memorial Award—an award given by the National Association of Developmental Education to a program that best exemplifies innovative and economical use of resources to effectively reach students.

That same year, the center also won the Texas Star Award from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which recognizes efforts in the state to close gaps in student participation, student success, academic excellence and research. Wetzel has shared her business plan for opening the center with colleagues across Texas, many of whom hope to replicate the model at their institutions.

In October 2011, Amarillo Community College was awarded a $4.3 million grant from the Department of Education to fund a redesign of math and engineering courses and renovate two campus buildings. The grant is heavily dependent on the work of the Math Outreach Center.

"Professor Wetzel and her colleagues at Amarillo College show how an innovative idea, combined with a passion for student success, can be leveraged not just to obtain grants, but ultimately to help transform how students learn," says Paul Heaton, director of the CASE Center for Community College Advancement. "Their efforts are what community college advancement is all about."

Wetzel says data collection has been essential in demonstrating the center's success to those giving awards and grants to the college.

"If you don't have the data to back up what you're doing on the ground, it's just anecdotal experience," Wetzel says. "It's a lot of good stories, but good stories don't get you awards and grants. If you don't have the data, you may be helping people and doing noble service but you won't get much financial support."

Wetzel also says persistence is essential for those seeking financial support of innovative academic programs.

"The $4.3 million grant is going to change us," Wetzel says. "I can't even tell you how it's going to change the program. But you have to keep on looking for more opportunities."

To hear more about Wetzel's teaching philosophy, the reason she started the Math Outreach Center, why she likes being a community college professor and her reaction to winning a professor of the year award, listen to the podcast interview she recently gave to CASE.


This article is from the December 2011 issue of the Community College Advancement News.

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