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Montgomery College’s Deborah Stearns Named Maryland Professor of the Year Psychology Professor Honored by Two Organizations for Her Teaching Excellence and Passion

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) have named Dr. Deborah Stearns at Montgomery College as the 2010 Maryland Professor of the Year. Dr. Stearns was selected from more than 300 top professors in the United States.

The U.S. Professors of the Year program salutes the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country—and those who excel as teachers and influence the lives and careers of their students. It is recognized as one of the most prestigious awards honoring professors.

“If I can spark my students’ curiosity and get them to want to learn more; if I can help them develop an appreciation for scientific research and evidence-based knowledge, then I have given them vital tools for success and personal growth,” said Dr. Stearns.

“College is not just a place to learn theories and facts: It is where we learn to see the world in new ways, where we can find our passion for learning. It is a place of transformation, and my mission is to facilitate positive change in my students’ lives.”

Dr. Stearns joined the faculty at Montgomery College in 2002 as an associate professor and became a full professor in 2007. During the course of her career, she has taught a wide range of psychology courses, from general psychology to the psychology of human sexuality. She has also taught a number of women’s studies courses. She received the Faculty Outstanding Service Award at Montgomery College in 2007, and the National Institute for Staff and Organization Development (NISOD) Excellence Award in 2008.

She strives to provide students with the opportunity for intellectual engagement outside the classroom. She is founder and organizer of the Psychology Brown Bag Series, a popular discussion series in which students, faculty and staff come together to discuss topics ranging from emotional intelligence to the cultural messages of hip-hop music. She is extensively involved with the Women’s Studies Student Group and the People’s Alliance Club, where she provides support and mentorship to students, fosters their leadership skills and creates an ongoing campus dialogue about issues of gender and sexuality.

Dr. Stearns regularly involves students in research. Each year she hosts interns from local high schools who are taking psychology courses at the College, who act as academic apprentices, becoming involved in research and scholarly activities.

She works to support the professional development of her colleagues to improve the quality of undergraduate education. As part of her work as a campus representative for the Writing in the Disciplines program at the College, she has led workshops and meetings to assist faculty with issues related to student writing.

In addition to her other activities, Dr. Stearns has helped raise thousands of dollars for student scholarships in the women’s studies program.

Stearns challenges her students’ assumptions and encourages them to be open to new ideas. In fact, her students report that they see themselves and the world through new eyes after being in her class.

Montgomery College student Luana Meireles DaSilva is one such example. “Dr. Stearns is among the top one percent of the most inspiring people I have met in my whole life,” said DaSilva. “Her passion for what she teaches makes me feel passionate about learning, and especially, about scientific research….Her classes have changed my life by teaching me valuable skills that I use every day…”

Stearns has also earned the considerable respect of her colleagues, especially Dr. Norman Schorr, chair of the Psychology Department at the College’s Rockville Campus: “Dr. Stearns is an outstanding professional in every aspect of her role as a faculty member. She possesses an extraordinary breadth and depth of knowledge…she is an academician of the highest caliber.

“Yet, what is most fascinating is that she is able to stimulate, motivate and intellectually challenge a wide variety of students at a community college. Though her students have varied backgrounds and often challenging academic profiles, Dr. Stearns is able to reach them. One has only to see her class in action to thoroughly appreciate her ability to capture her students’ interest, engage them in discussion and help them to develop their critical thinking skills.”

Dr. Donald Palmer, a professor of psychology, echoes Dr. Schorr’s assessment of their colleague: “As a teacher, a psychologist, a colleague, a mentor and a member of the College community, Dr. Stearns is unsurpassed,” said Dr. Palmer. “I cannot imagine a teacher more deserving of recognition for her efforts and accomplishments…for her overall ability to touch people, and, as we like to say here at Montgomery College, to change lives.”

Dr. Stearns graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology at the same institution, and received postdoctoral training in culture and human development from the University of Chicago and in health psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

She has taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College, Roosevelt University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Closer to home, she has held full-time visiting faculty positions, first at George Washington University, and then at Georgetown University. She has also taught at George Mason University and University of Maryland University College.

This is the fourth time in seven years that a Montgomery College professor has been named Maryland Professor of the Year. Dr. Mary Furgol, a history professor, received the honor in 2003. In 2006, Joanne Naake, an English professor, won the award. In 2009, the award went to Chemistry Professor Susan Bontems.

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