John Wadach Named 2014 Outstanding Community Colleges Professor

On November 20, 2014, SUNY Distinguished Professor at Monroe Community College John Wadach was named the 2014 Outstanding Community Colleges Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. He was selected out of nearly 400 distinguished educators from across the country. He adds this honor to his already impressive list of 6 previous awards that include the Association of Community College Trustees’ William H. Meardy Faculty Member Award and Association of Community College Trustees’ Northeast Regional Faculty Member Award in 2011.

Now a successful professor, Wadach is also a SUNY alum, graduating with a bachelors in physics from SUNY Geneseo in 1981. He went on to receive his master's degree in physics from the University of Maine–Orono in 1983, and began teaching engineering science at Monroe Community College in 1984. As Chair of the Engineering Science and Physics department at MCC, he teaches courses in engineering graphics and machining, engineering computing, digital electronics and microcontrollers, engineer applications in industry in addition to a variety of physics courses.

Wadach works to ensure MCC’s curriculum meets the needs of regional employers and the baccalaureate-level engineering programs to which MCC graduates often transfer. His students often compete and win in regional and national robotics competitions and his graduates routinely transfer to top engineering schools. Most importantly he is credited with increasing enrollment in the engineering sciences and physics courses, developing MCC’s prototyping lab to support student success and increasing awareness of STEM disciplines and careers among high school and college students through outreach and design build programs.

Congratulations on being named Outstanding Community Colleges Professor of the Year. Can you tell us a little about this award and how you won it?

"Thank you. It's an annual award that's sponsored jointly by the Carnegie Foundation and CASE, which is Counsel for the Advancement and Support of Education. It has four categories to it: community college, bachelor's, master's institutions and doctoral institutions. I believe its an open nomination from any accredited institution. They received a total of 400 nominations, of which they had 4 national winners and 31 state winners."

Are there perks that the award can help you as a teacher, or your department, or school achieve?

"At the community college level, any time we can be on the same platform to show our quality is helpful. I'm hoping it can be helpful in recruiting good students to see how we at community colleges have a lot of dedicated professors."

So you are also a SUNY Geneseo Alum. How was your experience?

"That was a fantastic school, fantastic experience. I found an old tuition bill that was $375 per semester... SUNY was the ticket. Without SUNY I don't know if I would even be here and have a degree. A lot of the attributes that are awarded to me now, I learned at Geneseo. It was just a terrific place. I can't think of anywhere else, no matter the cost, where I could have gotten a better education."

Did you always want to become a teacher?

"My plan was- they had a 3-2 engineering program at Geneseo. I was going to transfer out, but when the time came I wanted to stay at Geneseo. After that, I went to the University of Maine and did some teaching assisting. That's probably what I liked the most, so it planted a seed. When switching from an industry job to education, people think how easy it is-it's so much more work. Being in education gives you the opportunity to always be learning and be around ambitious young people... it keeps us thinking we are young.

How do you engage your students?

"I try to be there for them, for the student to feel a relationship or connection. We also have the Engineering Leadership Council (at MCC) and have speakers come in, internal and intercollegiate competitions."

Winning a national award is a big achievement. To get to that level, do you rate yourself or have standards you hope to achieve as a teacher?

"Main thing we're benchmarking toward is whats happening at the four-year engineering schools. If there are curricular changes or they are using different tools-when I hear that someone else is doing something novel it puts something in me. We can't be behind, I need to develop something to keep up or be a little bit ahead. I feel an enormous responsibility to make sure that we are at the standard that when students transfer they are going to be at the top of the class when they get there."

Do you maintain contact with alumni?

"Absolutely. There's probably thousands of students out there but you don't hear back from most of them-that's part of the profession. But when you do get feedback from the students, those are the nuggets of gold that you treasure. It's the most satisfying part of the profession. "

Any advice for future teachers?

"The one thing is passion. If you're passionate about trying to help people then you're probably going to be a good professor. Because you're going to do the things that need to be done to make students successful."