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School of Teacher Education Faculty Member Wins Sears Helgoth Distinguished Teaching Award

August 23, 2022

University of Northern Colorado School of Teacher Education Professor Suzette Youngs, Ph.D., has been selected as the recipient of the 2022 Sears Helgoth Distinguished Teaching Award.

This award is administered by UNC's College of Education and Behavioral Sciences and recognizes UNC's commitment to high-quality and innovative teaching along with the historical importance of the teaching mission at UNC by rewarding faculty members (tenured, tenure-track, contract renewable) who have made outstanding contributions to teaching and learning that result in the enhancement of the intellectual development and lives of students. 

Youngs has 30 years of teaching experience, 11 in the elementary classroom and 19 in higher education, 13 of which have been spent at UNC. Early in her teaching career, Youngs taught in a multi-age, fourth to sixth grade classroom in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. This alternative classroom focused on experiential learning and utilized a project-based curriculum that partnered with parents and guardians to bring their specific expertise into the classroom and assessment. This is where Youngs developed her relationship-based teaching philosophy, which she carried with her to UNC after receiving her doctorate in Literacy Education from the University of Nevada, Reno.

Here at UNC, Youngs has focused on undergraduate and graduate courses in elementary literacy education and diverse children's literature. She chose UNC because of its focus on and reputation for creating effective, engaging and inclusive teachers. Building communities of learners and teachers is at the heart of her work, and through this award she was able to highlight the various ways she has brought together diverse groups of learners and teachers to benefit UNC and other educational contexts.

“Every person who has crossed my professional path is a potential difference-maker and I want to be a part of that,” Youngs said. “My integrated approach to teaching, research and service involves an ongoing inquiry: ‘how will my work impact children and my students?’ Being an advocate for students, teachers and children is what I do at UNC.”

In that advocacy, Youngs and a UNC colleague collaboratively developed the UNC Future Teachers Network to connect and support aspiring teachers (high school students) and students educators (prospective teachers) with UNC alumni now teaching in classrooms across Colorado. The network is able to build bridges and bring all of the educators together through various grant initiatives and programs.

The network also supports UNC’s annual Future Teacher Conference, the only event of its kind in Colorado that welcomes 300-500 aspiring teachers from across the state to participate in multiple presentations and workshops for two days, including a special session for those wanting to teach in rural areas. Next year’s conference, which is slated for Feb. 3, will be the event’s eighth consecutive year.

“Relationship development is crucial and it’s the best tool we have for recruiting and keeping new educators,” Youngs said. "That’s what we are trying to do with the Future Teachers Network and the Future Teacher Conference.”

Youngs' research and curriculum development for teacher research, children’s literature and rural education have helped her understand the importance of community, diversity and cultural understandings that impact young learners’ identities. Her dream is to develop a Children’s Community Tutoring and Resource Center on UNC's campus to continue building a meaningful relationship between the UNC School of Teacher Education, the community, local students and aspiring educators.

Diversity, inclusion and advocacy are threaded through my teaching and research, and I strive for all children to see themselves in texts they read, materials their teachers use and pedagogy they experience," Youngs said. "A tutoring and resource center would be one way to bring groups together and support teachers as they strive to create inclusive learning environments.”

About UNC's Sears Helgoth Distinguished Teaching Award 

The award, supported by the generosity of Kathleen Sears and Jim Helgoth and administered by the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, is given annually to a faculty member who has demonstrated a record of excellence in instruction at UNC. Applications were reviewed and the awardee selected by a committee of assistant/associate deans, one from each academic college and previous award recipients. 

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