March 2020: Matthew Komelski
Advanced instructor of Human Development and Family Science in Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
2020 Excellence in Teaching Award from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Virginia Tech
The award, presented by the center to approximately nine Virginia Tech faculty members each academic year, recognizes a faculty member's effective, engaged, and dynamic approaches and achievements as an educator.
“Awards are good times to look back and reflect on all the great teachers and influencers that passed the flames of curiosity and learning along to us,” Komelski said. “Some may still walk with us, others have passed on, but a little bit of all of them lives in the torches we carry and in the light we ignite in our students.”
Among the goals of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning are advancing experiential learning at Virginia Tech and improving student learning through research-based instructional practices and student-centered design. Komelski aspires to always be learner-centered in his planning, teaching, and assessment. “I am especially fond of strategies, such as ‘think-pair-share’ or small group activities, that give students the time they need to reflect, discuss, or model a complex problem or theoretical framework,” he said.
Katherine Allen, professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science, praised Komelski’s drive to promote student self-efficacy and value to society. “Dr. Matthew Komelski is a highly successful, innovative teacher whose transdisciplinary background allows him to relate to a great variety of students across the university,” Allen said. “His academic knowledge and expertise in HDFS and contemplative health practices offer students the perfect combination of transparency, vulnerability, and empowerment to promote student learning as engaged citizens and professionals.”
Komelski is dedicated to helping students find purpose and connection, both inside and outside of the classroom. To accomplish this goal, he has worked tirelessly to create experiential learning and service-learning opportunities for his students. In the local community, he has developed partnerships with schools and organizations for service-learning collaboration, and he has led study abroad excursions in Korea, Rwanda, and Ethiopia.
Victoria Lael, instructor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Human Development and Family Science, highlighted Komelski’s ability to nurture his students while also pushing them as developing citizens and professionals. “He excels at giving students individual attention and treating them with dignity and respect,” Lael said. “Dr. Komelski’s teaching style is effective at making academic knowledge both accessible to students and applicable to the professional contexts in which students are preparing to serve.”
Komelski spoke of his students’ success and personal growth as the most meaningful experience as an instructor. Hearing back from former students about how his classes have shaped their lives is what drives Komelski’s commitment to learner-centered design.
Komelski’s advice to new faculty reflects his mission of engagement and support. “Learn to be mindful of assumptions about your students, as our assumptions about students can often be wrong,” Komelski said. “Put your care and concern for students’ learning and wellbeing ahead of your fear of failure or being judged by them or others.”