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English professor wins prestigious teaching award

Dean of the Faculty Debora Johnson-Ross, Mary Bendel-Sinso, President Roger Casey.
May 25, 2013

Professor of English Mary Bendel-Simso received the Ira G. Zepp Distinguished Teaching Award for inspired classroom work and dedication to students May 24 at McDaniel College’s Honors Convocation. The award provides a $5,000 honorarium for the faculty recipient and a matching fund for ongoing professional and scholarly development.

“I am overwhelmed and humbled,” said Bendel-Simso, who joined the College’s faculty in 1995.

“We have such an excellent faculty, and every year dozens of my colleagues merit the honor of the Distinguished Teaching Award. That I should be singled out is as delightful as it is surprising.”

Also presented at the Honors Convocation, the Ira. G. Zepp Teaching Enhancement Grant went to Dr. B.J. Gallagher, lecturer and an area coordinator in Curriculum and Instruction in Graduate and Professional Studies, who will oversee the development of “lessoncasts,” two- to three-minute explanations of a lesson idea, management strategy or teaching technique, as part of the program’s Universal Design for Learning-focused project. Students in the C&I program will develop a web-based repository of at least 150 lessoncasts supporting creative teaching innovations for use in the classroom and 150 practical applications for meeting the technology-based training needs of candidates.

Gallagher has more than 35 years of experience in the education field, working with large and small school systems as well as families and community groups in the private sector. She holds the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech Pathology and was granted the award for Continuing Education from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.  

Zepp Distinguished Teaching Award recipient, Bendel-Simso is a native of Minnesota and all of her degrees are in English: B.A. and Phi Beta Kappa in 1986 from The College of St. Catherine (St. Paul, Minn.); M.A. in 1988 from The State University of New York at Binghamton; and Ph.D from SUNY at Binghamton in 1993. Although she specializes in Colonial, 19th and 20th century American Literature and Southern Literature, Bendel-Simso tackles the challenge of new areas of study with passion. She has taught 25 different courses, including first-year composition to a course entitled “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from Science Fiction,” (a specially-designed course for sophomores), and upper-level courses on authors ranging from William Faulkner to Flannery O’Connor.

With Professor of English Emeritus Leroy Panek, she’s developed the Westminster Detective Library, an online catalog of American detective fiction published before famed author Conan Doyle (circa 1891), and she’s convinced her students to be scholarly sleuths and join her in the editing process.

Her awards and honors for academic achievement, including the Faculty Book Award and the Research and Creativity Grant, both received in 2008, and a Special Achievement Award in 2007 all share equal wall space with the winning award for the 2005 Midnight Milk and Cookies Contest and recognition as the honorary men’s basketball coach in 2004.

She opens her home that’s within walking distance of the campus to give students pizza breaks as needed and tells her students that – after her family – she loves them best. She recruits students to volunteer for Carroll County Literacy Council’s annual spelling bee or Westminster Rotary Club’s scrabble madness fundraiser. Plus, she counsels students to come out and learn from visiting lecturers and sweetens the deal with taking their attendance for extra credit. Her students will do anything for “Dr. Mary” including growing into compassionate thinkers.

And she gives selflessly to her faculty peers as well. She is a mentor to newcomers, organizer of retirement dinners and the annual Old Main Party, planner of all things Phi Beta Kappa (McDaniel is known for having one of the best organized chapters in the entire country!), and an energetic member of numerous faculty committees who thoroughly reads the minutes and resolves issues with clarity.

In the words of a satisfied student: “Having a professor who wants you to reach your utmost potential and who is willing to put her time and effort on the line to help you achieve growth and success has instilled (in me) an invaluable sense of pride, self-worth, and striving that has been life-changing (for me) and fellow students.”