When this year’s E. J. Shaheen recipient took the stage – one thing is certain – she was no stranger to the podium. And she is no stranger to Glen Oaks.
Michelle McNamara, instructor of communications, was selected as the 2014-15 E. J. Shaheen Teaching Excellence Award recipient. The announcement of the 30th Shaheen Award was made by Dr. David Devier, GOCC president, during the 46th Glen Oaks graduation ceremony on May 2.
McNamara has a long association with Glen Oaks Community College. She started as a student after graduating from Centreville High school and was immediately hired as a work study student in the registration office. Her plans were to study education and become an elementary teacher.
After two years as a work study student, McNamara graduated from Glen Oaks with her Associate of Arts degree and continued to work at the college as the job fair coordinator and a part-time faculty member.
Upon completing her bachelor’s from Davenport University and her Master of Arts in Business from Spring Arbor University, McNamara was hired as an annual-contract faculty member where she worked for nearly a decade teaching speech and public speaking. However, she tended to gravitate toward teaching communications classes. Speech, public speaking and business communications were the courses that Glen Oaks always scheduled her for and the students anticipated McNamara teaching them every semester.
So, once again McNamara returned to the role of student and completed her Master of Arts in Communication from Spring Arbor. In the fall of 2012, she was hired as a full-time faculty member and could not be more thrilled at the path she has taken to get here.
“I am such a huge advocate for the community college setting,” said McNamara. “I received a quality education through Glen Oaks and I am committed to ensuring that my students receive the same high level of education from me.”
While McNamara has celebrated her 20 years of employment with Glen Oaks—she is a relatively young professor who will turn 40 later this fall.
“I’m happy to present this prestigious award to someone who has an exceptional ability to bring out the best in our students,” said David Devier, Glen Oaks president. “Michelle’s enthusiasm for her classes makes the students want to learn the content of the course. She brings out the very best of Glen Oaks and presents herself as an energetic, dynamic and engaging member of the faculty – she has a personality like no other.
“The E. J. Shaheen award is presented annually to a member of the faculty who is nominated for innovation and quality instruction by students, alumni, fellow faculty, staff and members of the community,” added Devier.
What’s next for this year’s winner? McNamara is not ruling out continuing her education, often taking course work during the summer that would lead into a PhD in education. However, she is in no hurry. “I love where I am at and what I am doing. I wake up every day and recognize how lucky I am to be at Glen Oaks and to be doing something I truly feel called to do.”
McNamara admits her teaching style is a bit unique. “Public Speaking is a tremendous fear for most students, so I work tirelessly to cultivate a positive and friendly classroom climate. It is not easy to have students face their biggest fear in front of you every semester, but I love the fact that by the end of the term they are able to step out of their comfort zone and truly master speaking in front of their classmates.”
McNamara’s students have much to say about her classroom environment as well. “I don’t think there was ever a dull day in her class,” said Christopher Chupp, student. “Mrs. McNamara is very good at changing things up in order to keep things interesting and to appeal to different learning styles. I learned more about myself as a speaker, and as a man in general, in that class, more than any other class.”
And the faculty echo the sentiments, “Michelle in constantly striving to push her students to the heights of their potential,” said Patricia Jesaitis, instructor of communications. “Her ability to engage a classroom of students while effectively educating them is a goal in which we all should aspire.
McNamara can’t say enough about her community college family at Glen Oaks. “I cannot begin to explain how lucky I am to have returned to my alma mater to be a faculty member. I live in this community, I pay taxes to Glen Oaks and I have a lot of pride in the work I do for the school and the people I work with everyday.”
Asked about the challenges of being a local professor, McNamara admits that there are some issues when you live and work in your hometown. “I will get stopped at Yoder’s by a parent who wants to know how his or her child is doing in class and they seem surprised when I can’t and won’t tell them,” McNamara said. “In just a few short years my own children will become Glen Oaks Vikings and I will get to teach them and their friends which will be both interesting and unique. I look forward them calling me Professor McNamara.” McNamara lives in Centreville with her husband of 18 years, Matt and their two children, Shawn (14) and Abby (11). Active in her community serving on many committees through the years, McNamara currently volunteers her time with Michigan State University Extension as a 4-H leader and parent volunteer. Her children are active in 4-H and sports and McNamara stays busy cheering them on at sporting events and at the fair each fall.
McNamara becomes the first Glen Oaks Alumni to ever win the E. J. Shaheen award and her portrait will join those who won before her in the E.J. Shaheen library.
McNamara’s ties to Glen Oaks don’t end with her, her husband Matt is a Glen Oaks alumni as is each of her siblings and her father who completed his machine tool journeyman program back in the 1970’s and came back to teach in that program some years later. “I don’t think enough people realize what a blessing it is to have this college in our community,” said McNamara. “Having this institution just down the road makes higher education possible for so many that otherwise might not have pursued their education.”
What are McNamara’s favorite things about teaching at Glen Oaks? “Obviously, it’s the students. They are my motivation every single day. They make me want to bring my best lectures, my best stories and even my best jokes into every class I teach. I love teaching a class with students from ages 18-72 and watching them interact and work together. It’s an inspiring feeling to know the obstacles some of my students have to overcome to even get to the college each day and I am so proud that they entrust me with even a small part of their education.”