Teaching Excellence award recipients bring personal touch to the classroom

Teaching Excellence award recipients Mario Aguilar and Dr. Robert Blodgett share a common conviction that all students can learn, no matter how complicated the subject.

In their combined seven decades in the classroom, Dr. Robert Blodgett, professor of geology, and Mario Aguilar, professor of paralegal, management, and real estate, have taught thousands of students. Still, developing a relationship with each one is paramount.

“It’s my job to develop relationships with each student in the classroom as best I can ─ to meet them where they are,” Blodgett says.

Aguilar agrees. “It’s all about the students,” he says. “Students come first.”

Interaction with their students is just one of the reasons Aguilar and Blodgett are receiving ACC’s 2017 Teaching Excellence award. The annual recognition is given to one full-time and one adjunct professor who are nominated by students, faculty, and staff and selected by a committee for their knowledge, creativity, and effectiveness in the classroom. Read more about this year’s honorees:

Mario Aguilar: Fostering mutual trust

Mario Aguilar

Mario Aguilar says he was “born to teach.”

At Area of Study Information Sessions for incoming business majors, Mario Aguilar likes to point out the acronym for ACC’s business pathway programs is MARIO (management/marketing, accounting, real estate, international business, office management). It’s indicative of the personal touch he brings to the classroom and his interactions with students.

“Students are just so happy that they have an instructor who cares for them. You have to show them through actions,” he says.

For him, that means fostering a mutual trust, remaining accessible – students can call his cellphone 24/7 – and reminding them that success is not about having a special intellect but about working hard.

He tells students his own success story of coming to Laredo from Mexico with limited English reading and writing skills, later earning a degree from Cornell University (one of two Ivy League schools to offer him a full scholarship), and returning to Texas to earn a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

“I tell them, ‘If I can do it, you can do it too.’“

Between 1999, when he started at ACC, and January this year, Aguilar was an adjunct faculty member while continuing to practice law. Now a full-time faculty member, he looks for simple, relatable ways to explain complex legal and business topics. Outside the classroom, he devotes his time to committees and causes that are meaningful to him, such as the Hispanic Student Association, the Adjunct Faculty Association, and the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education.

Aguilar understands that students in his classes aren’t just learning skills for a career, they’re gaining essential knowledge about buying a home or preparing a will. He is equally proud of those who apply what they’ve learned to start their own businesses, continue their education at a university, or simply buy a home.

“Students say, ‘You made it easy.’” “I say, ‘It’s an honor to be heard and have you listening to what I have to say.’”

Dr. Robert Blodgett: Working with students as a team

Robert Blodgett

Dr. Robert Blodgett says his interactions with students are as important as the content he is teaching.

Dr. Robert Blodgett knew from an early age he wanted to be a geologist. He also knew that he enjoyed sharing his love of science with others.

Over 40 years he has done both, accumulating a wealth of experience in education, private industry, and government that he shares with students considering different career paths. He has published dozens of books, papers, and abstracts on geoscience research and led workshops on neurodiversity and strategies for teaching students with learning disabilities and autism.

It’s his life experiences, however, that help Blodgett relate to students at ACC, particularly those who feel their own life experience differs from their peers.

“I can sort of walk in their shoes,” he says. In addition to being among the first in his family to attend college, he served in the military and understands how veterans feel returning to the classroom. Being an openly gay professional in a job field and era that once was less accepting helps him relate to LGBTQ students.

He tells students that their planned path likely will have twists, turns, and bumps along the way, that mistakes they make are reparable, and that it’s important that they don’t go it alone.

While Blodgett, who also is interim chair of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department, has taught at both private colleges and large universities, he says coming to teach at ACC in 1995 was “one of the best things that could have happened to me.” Being recognized for his teaching 22 years later is just as meaningful and reflects his belief that instructors often underestimate the impact they have on students.

“It won’t show on an evaluation. It won’t show in class.” For him it was demonstrated when a student of his at Rio Grande Campus enrolled in a second course he taught at Northridge Campus, even though it required an hourlong bus ride. When another student recalled Blodgett’s military service and wished him a happy Veteran’s Day, he knew it represented a connection.

“That means I’m where I should be.”

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