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CIS instructor receives service-learning teaching award

Gretchen Thomas, an instructor in the Department of Career and Information Studies, has been selected to receive the 2016 Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award by the University of Georgia's Office of Service-Learning.

The award recognizes faculty members who have developed innovative academic service-learning courses that integrate relevant community service with academic coursework to enhance student learning, develop civic responsibility and address community needs. Thomas will receive a $2,500 faculty development grant to sustain and enhance her service-learning work.

"This award is very meaningful to me because it makes me feel a part of the amazing service learning work that has been happening on our campus for many years," said Thomas. "I'd like to think that my winning the award is a way to show OSL that all of the hard work they do supporting faculty does make a difference."

Thomas' goal is to ensure that every student in her class has an opportunity to engage in meaningful activities. Instead of replicating realistic projects, students can work directly with local schools, she said. They get immediate feedback for their work and can bring new ideas and questions back to the classroom.

"They have a reason to read the text, participate in class discussions and complete tasks," said Thomas. "They need that foundation to be successful in their work in schools."

Thomas is responsible for several service-learning projects in Georgia. She is currently leading a group of 28 students in Athens, Ga., who are designing STEAM projects in Barrow Elementary School's makerspace, an interactive library where students can create, invent and learn; a group of 18 students who are designing and printing assistive technology devices for special needs students in Gwinnett County; and a group of 20 students who are working with Hart County eighth graders to create videos about college preparation.

"Each of these service-learning projects is possible because there are K-12 teachers excited about engaging their own students in meaningful tasks," said Thomas.

Thomas has been recognized in the past for her contributions to service-learning. In 2005, she received the Excellence in Teaching Award from Kappa Delta Epsilon and was the recipient of the Donald O. Schneider Award for Mentoring from the College of Education. In 2013, she was selected as a Service-Learning Fellow by UGA's Office of Service-Learning.

Her areas of expertise include K-12 technology integration, higher education pedagogy and mobile learning. Thomas will be officially recognized at the 2016 Faculty Recognition Banquet on April 11.

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