by TAYIN RIVERA-DORAZIO
On Dec. 21, 2023, the State Council of Higher Education presented the 2024 Outstanding Faculty Award to 11 faculty members throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. One of them was Melissa Wells, an associate professor in the College of Education at Mary Washington.
According to the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia, the award seeks to recognize faculty members who “exemplify the highest standards of teaching, scholarship and service.” Wells received the award due to her engagement inside and outside the classroom.
Wells came to Mary Washington in 2017, and she now serves as an associate professor of education as well as the secretary of the College of Education. Additionally, she is part of the University Faculty Council, which decides faculty governance matters. Wells is also involved with the Student Virginia Education Association, an association for students who plan to work in the field of education.
Recently, Wells began working on the Noyce Discover Grant that the University was awarded this past year. The grant supports teachers in STEM, focusing on education in high-need schools. She also is one of the directors of the Search Advocates Program, which seeks to ensure that faculty searches are as inclusive and equitable as possible.
Students spoke about Wells’ commitment to diversity and how she aspires to implement these values in her classroom.
“With students, she never discriminated or made things exclusive,” said Emily Roets, a senior elementary education major. “[She] was always open to all ideas, and she really pushed us to be more open to including all sorts of things.”
Students also described how Wells has inspired them in their career goals.
“I really look up to her for her way of teaching, especially because she’s really good at it—being diverse in how she does it,” said Ashley Palin, a sophomore history major who is pursuing a teaching license.
Logan Kurtz, a senior history major in the secondary education program for social studies, spoke about Wells’ dedication to her field.
“She is so kind and is an inspiration for future educators,” said Kurtz, “She really understands the needs of her students and will always strive to improve. She never stops taking on projects or research in order to make herself an even better teacher. She is truly at the top of her field.”
Wells addressed how she felt about winning the award, as well as her reaction to the praise the award elicited from students, faculty and community members.
“It is quite an honor,” she said. “When you read some of the bios of some of these people online, you think, ‘Wow, they’re pretty amazing!’ So it was quite a surprise to receive it.”
College of Education Faculty Head Kyle Schultz spoke about his reaction to Wells receiving the award.
“I was surprised because it’s a big honor and it’s one that doesn’t come along very often, but I was also not surprised that someone like her were to receive it,” said Schultz. “It just seems like everything she does turns out well—no pun intended.”
This isn’t the first time Wells was recognized with an award while teaching at UMW. In 2020, seniors at Mary Washington voted to recognize Wells with the Mary W. Pinschmidt Award, an award that recognizes the awardee as “the person they will most likely remember as the one who had the greatest impact on their lives,” according to UMW’s Faculty Awards website.
Wells also works on the Institutional Review Board, which seeks to ensure ethical research practices, and she recently was awarded a Jepson Research Fellowship so she can pursue her research as well.
Outside of the classroom, Wells is involved in the National Council of Teachers of English, a professional organization that works as a collaborative venture among English language teachers across the United States. She helps the NCTE find candidates for their awards in children’s literature.
Additionally, in 2019 Wells received a grant from Virginia’s Academic Library Consortium to revise and develop “Foundations of Education: A Critical Lens.” The book was released in 2021 and is an Open Educational Resource for education students and teachers alike.
As she celebrates her recent accolades, Wells emphasizes the importance of kindness.
“We can really make someone’s day by showing gratitude for the people that make a difference in our lives, with or without winning an award,” she said.