The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence has announced the winners of its Oklahoma Medal for Excellence awards honoring five outstanding educators in Oklahoma’s public schools, including Rogers State University English Professor Emily Dial-Driver in the regional university/community college teaching category.
The awards will be presented at the foundation’s 28th annual Academic Awards Banquet on May 17 at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center in Norman.
Each of the five winners will receive a $5,000 cash prize and a glass “Roots and Wings” sculpture, designed by the late Oklahoma artist Ron Roberts and produced by Jim Triffo of Oklahoma City. Medals are awarded annually to outstanding Oklahoma teachers, one each at the elementary, secondary, community college/regional university and research university levels. In addition, the foundation presents a Medal for Excellence to an exceptional administrator from the elementary or secondary level.
Other Medal for Excellence winners in teaching are: Cheryl Tate, Woodland Hills Elementary School, Lawton, elementary teaching; Donna Gradel, Broken Arrow Senior High School, secondary teaching; and Katheleen R. Guzman, professor of law, University of Oklahoma, research university teaching. The winner of the Medal for Excellence in elementary/secondary administration is J. Michael McClaren, superintendent of Claremore Public Schools.
“We know that education is the best investment Oklahoma can make in its future,” said David L. Boren, founder and chairman of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a non-profit organization that recognizes and encourages academic excellence in the state’s public schools. “By honoring these exceptional educators, we are sending a message that Oklahomans deeply value excellence in public schools and the professionals who have given so much of themselves to enrich the lives of our children.”
A 39-year teaching veteran, Dial-Driver has taught courses ranging from English composition and literary surveys to specialized courses on the popular television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and a creative writing course designed for video game developers. Dial-Driver also embraces technology, adapting and offering courses online and through compressed video and television.
Dean Frank Elwell of the School of Liberal Arts described her as an alchemist, because she combines her “education, military background (as a former Army captain), the can-do attitude of a rancher” to bring a rich array of experiences and insights to teaching.
Dial-Driver, who began her career as a nutritionist, decided to become an educator because she recognized that without education, people were unaware and therefore limited in the choices available to them. “I wanted to introduce people to the possibilities of life,” she said. Dial-Driver uses creative art projects, elements of pop culture and even children’s books as teaching tools in her courses.
Former student Amanda Garner said Dial-Driver’s creative projects require students to create visual elements to represent a theme, character or other literary element. “It was a great way to get students to look at the works we were reading with fresh eyes, and it was a lot of fun!”
The recipient of Rogers State’s Pixley Faculty Award for Excellence, Dial-Driver carries the distinction of being one of the most popular teachers on campus and one of the most demanding. One former student said she used to resent Dial-Driver for making her re-write papers until she got them right. “But now that I’m in grad school, my professors tell me I’m their best writer,” she said, thanking her teacher. Dial-Driver has written and contributed to many works, including “Voices from the Heartland,” a 2008 finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award for Non-Fiction.
In addition to presenting the Medal for Excellence awards, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence will honor 100 of Oklahoma’s top public high school seniors as Academic All-Staters at its May 17 banquet. The event will feature a keynote address by best-selling author and Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam. The Academic Awards Banquet is open to the public, with admission priced at $50. The awards ceremony will be televised statewide by OETA, the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, at 8 p.m. May 24. For more information, call the Foundation for Excellence office at (405) 236-0006 or visit its website at www.ofe.org.