By Rachel Rakoczy
For Mary Ellen Young, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor in the department of behavioral science and community health, it’s always been about more than teaching.
Back when she joined the Peace Corps and traveled to Thailand, she realized it would take more than spelling tests and homework to get through the language barrier to her students.
“I relied on my desire to get to know them as people, to make a difference in their lives, and to prepare them for their challenges ahead as teaching professionals,” she said.
This year, her student-centered approach to teaching was recognized when she was named the College of Public Health and Health Professions’ Teacher of the Year.
Amanda Glynn, a distance learning program coordinator within the department of behavioral science and community health, was not surprised by the selection.
“I feel a sense of pride knowing I work just down the hall from the most influential woman I have ever had the privilege to meet,” Glynn said.
Glynn was one of Young’s students. Encouraged by Young’s philosophy, Glynn talked to her teacher about her father’s struggle with cancer. In October 2007, Glynn’s father passed away. With Young’s guidance and support, Glynn decided to finish her undergraduate studies and continue on to graduate school, earning a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling.
“Dr. Young will not only continue to be a mentor in my eyes, but is undeniably a wonderful friend,” Glynn said.
She wrote a letter to the college nominating Young as Teacher of the Year, and she was not the only former student to do so. Excerpts of her letter were read in Dean Michael G. Perri’s speech introducing the winner at the college’s convocation ceremony in May.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” Young said. “She was in the audience and as Dean Perri was reading it, we made eye contact and just lost it.”
Motivating students to continue their education and contribute to society is a priority for Young. She has taught both large and small classes at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels, and says each has its own challenges.
Large undergraduate courses like “Survey of Disease and Disability” make it difficult to get to know the students well, which is essential to her philosophy of teaching. She tries to use different forums, such as Sakai and YouTube, to keep students engaged.
“I’m a counselor by training, so I want an environment where students feel comfortable talking to me about things that impact their learning and lives,” she said.
The most challenging part of the doctoral level courses is the dialogue with students analyzing research, like her current caregiving and stroke study, and discussing the interpretation of findings and implications for policy and practice. But it’s also the most rewarding.
Her current research in caregiving is especially relevant to her, as she has become the primary caregiver for her mother, who has multiple sclerosis.
Young has taught at UF since 1984.
“I found a really good home at UF that provides the opportunity for me to do two things I love to do — teach and research. I’d like to stay on this road,” she said. “And then someday end up at the beach.”