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Montgomery College’s Dawn Avery Named Maryland Professor of the Year By Two National Organizations Music Professor Hits All the Right Notes with Her Students

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) have named Music Professor Dawn Avery at Montgomery College as the 2011 Maryland Professor of the Year.

An award-winning cellist, Avery joined the music faculty at Montgomery College in 2002, greatly expanding the department’s world music offerings. She frequently teaches in the Montgomery Scholars honors program and in the women’s studies program, where she shares her unique perspectives on Native American music and culture.

A Grammy-nominated world music artist, Avery releases CDs on a regular basis, and composes music for independent and mainstream films.

She produces the College’s World Arts Festival—now in its 10th year—a year-long celebration of music, dance, storytelling, film, and visual art featuring internationally recognized musicians, artists, dancers, scholars, and writers.

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.

“Changing lives is one of the primary maxims at Montgomery College, and I take it to heart and mind,” said Avery, a part-Mohawk Indian, who is also a music producer, musician, scholar, and ethnomusicologist. “As part of my cultural heritage, many of my elders and teachers have taught me that by having a ‘good mind,’ we may succeed, find contentment, and change lives.”

Avery says she is privileged to dedicate herself to the College’s diverse population and often seeks out students who need that extra assistance: “Most of our students face many challenges—soldiers returning from combat, students leaving family behind to find safety from war-ridden countries, first-generation college students, single parents who work two jobs… They are willing to work hard, learn as much as they can, and strive to succeed, especially when given the necessary educational tools and equally essential support.”

“The impact she makes on the lives our students is immeasurable,” says Dr. Deborah Preston, the College’s dean for the arts. “She is a classically-educated cellist who is equally comfortable performing on the Kennedy Center Stage or a Mohawk reservation. Through the College’s World Music Ensemble, she provides an international student population the opportunity not only to perform their native music on traditional instruments, but also to take pride in their cultural heritage. Music majors and nonmajors alike flock to her for lessons, advice, nurturing, and inspiration,” said Preston.

Claire Kalala is one such student. A former Montgomery Scholar, she now attends The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pa. “Professor Avery is one of the main reasons I found the confidence to apply to art school and pursue a career in the visual arts,” said Kalala. “Her passion and knowledge of people across the globe—their spirit, culture, and traditions—is inspiring and is likely part of the reason I have continued to bridge my own creations to explore the health and transformation of people and cultures facing oppression.”

Avery is pursuing a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at the University of Maryland, and often presents at scholarly conferences for world music, native classical music, and ethnomusicology. She is an ambassador for the U.N. Water Music for Life project, serves on the board of directors for the American Composers Forum, on the advisory board for the First Nation’s Composers Initiative, and is a regular collaborator with the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian.

Avery spent part of her 2010 sabbatical working with Aboriginal women in Canada who were recovering from their loss of culture due to residential and missionary school abuse. Stationed at the Six Nations Iroquois Reserve in Ontario, Avery worked with the elders to teach the women how to sing songs in Mohawk. As part of the initiative, Avery coauthored, with Mohawk elder Jan Kahehti:io Longboat, “Idawadadi, December 1999–March 2010: Coming Home” (Aboriginal Healing Foundation, Canada: 2010), which chronicles the experiences of the residential school survivors.

This is the fifth time in eight 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. And in 2010, Dr. Deborah Stearns, a psychology professor, won the award.

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