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Last modified: Friday, February 25, 2005

Mary Benson McMullen

The President's Award for Teaching Excellence -- 2005

Associate Professor of Education
School of Education
Indiana University Bloomington
Appointed to IU faculty, 1994
B.S., Michigan State University, 1981
M.S., Florida State University, 1987; Ph.D., 1992

Mary Benson McMullen

Print-Quality Photo

For Mary McMullen, emulation is the highest form of flattery --and as a teacher of teachers, one of her pedagogical objectives. Her instruction in early childhood education, a blend of short lectures, discussion, group activities, and inquiry-based projects, puts learning in the hands of her students, reflecting her belief that "knowledge is largely constructed by learners, not delivered by instructors."

Her students appreciate the lesson within her lessons.

"Mary serves as a good model and mentor because of her own commitment to her students' learning, and because she practices what she preaches," says Judith Longfield, doctoral candidate and associate instructor in the School of Education at IU Bloomington. "Mary's talk is her walk."

But possibly even more important are the lessons that McMullen models outside the classroom. In their course evaluations, students repeatedly cite McMullen's accessibility, flexibility, and willingness to support them not just as learners, but as people. In fact, her compassion and ability to teach the whole student has garnered her a following among international graduate students.

One such student, Myoungwhon Jung, wrote in an e-mail to McMullen: "It was you who always supported me and helped me feel confident in becoming a professional. You are a perfect role model who I want to follow as a human being as well as a professional."

In addition to mentoring, she persuades students to present at national conferences; often invites them to participate in her research; and encourages them, in record numbers, to apply for the Cultural Immersion Program, which recruits students to teach abroad.

"I do not know of many other faculty," says Cary Buzzelli, chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, "who constantly seek out ways to expand their students' thinking and experiences about their future career, who see part of their job as helping students delve into their chosen profession in ways that they could not imagine when they started the program."

Her success with students has not gone unrecognized. Just a year after coming to IU, she received the Teaching Excellence Recognition Award from the School of Education, which she earned again in 1997 and 1998. Also in 1997, she was named the Hoosier Educator of the Year by the Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children, and in 2001, Practitioner of the Year by the South Central Association for the Education of Young Children. Three times, in 2000, 2001, and 2003, she earned the Indiana University Trustees Teaching Award, and in 2004 she was honored with the Graduate Women Educators Network Award for Excellence in Mentoring.

Behind her consistent record of quality teaching are McMullen's own scholarly inquiry and contributions to the study of early childhood education. For her, finding the best ways to reach students is not just classroom practice; it forms the core of her research. In 20 articles and more than 60 presentations, she has explored and compared international perspectives on best teaching practices and, here at home, investigated the factors -- education, social, economic, and cultural -- that influence pedagogical practice in early childhood education.

"Many of the current guiding principles used to prepare early childhood educators and to work with the families of young children have been based on Mary's current research work within Monroe County and the local community," says Jerome Harste, Martha Lea and Bill Armstrong Chair in Teacher Education. "Rather than working from abstract principles, Mary's work has been forged from day-to-day interactions with actual children and their families."

Specifically, she's taken her research to the community through eight funded grants. Most recently, she co-authored Monroe County Children Matter!, a $5 million grant funded by the Eli Lilly Foundation that created family resource centers, family literacy centers, and community grant programs to "ensure that all Monroe County children enter school ready to learn, stay in school, and graduate with the skills to assume a job or to pursue further education, and acquire the life skills and dispositions to be lifelong learners and good citizens."

Teacher, mentor, and scholar, McMullen has impressed her colleagues and her students. Becky Dixon, a former student and now a classroom teacher says, "She does much more than pass her knowledge and expertise on to others. She challenges others to think, question, and formulate their own ideas [as she honors their] individuality and diversity. Her passion for her field, her research, for her teaching is contagious"