Kate Kramer said the best part of her job as a geology instructor at McHenry County College is her students, who she strives to inspire to “make a positive difference in the world.”
Kramer was named the college’s 2023 Faculty Member of the Year in March along with Jennifer Carver, who was named the 2023 Adjunct Faculty Member of the Year.
The award recipients, selected by peers, are chosen based on their commitment to teaching, contribution to the college community and professional development, the college said in a news release.
“Students are the best part of teaching because they bring a sense of joy, curiosity and inspiration to the classroom and provide teachers with opportunities to learn and grow,” said Kramer, 39, who lives in Huntley with her dog, Newton. “Most of my students have never taken a geology course or have had minimal exposure to it, and I love introducing them to the subject.”
Kate is a change agent who is committed to the success of her students and making the world a more sustainable place.”— O'Neil Wright, dean of mathematics and sciences at McHenry County College
Those students include Sadie Mayer, 19, of Harvard, who decided to pursue geology as a major after taking Kramer’s Introduction to Geology class during her first year at MCC.
“Kate cares deeply about her material and also teaching in a way that everyone understands,” Mayer said, adding that Kramer is always “welcoming” to her questions and helps her find more information.
She described Kramer’s Geology of the National Parks class, which Mayer took last fall, as “the most world-connecting class” she had ever taken.
“She presents the material in a manner that makes you want to visit that national park, even if we had never heard of it before,” she said. “She goes over the geology portion of it, but also activities and special tours [at] a particular park.”
Kramer’s commitment has not gone unnoticed by her colleagues.
“Kate is a change agent who is committed to the success of her students and making the world a more sustainable place,” said O’Neil Wright, dean of mathematics and sciences at McHenry County College. “She understands the importance of engagement and works tirelessly to inspire her students.”
Kramer was instrumental in the creation of a geoscene wall, a hands-on learning tool that features the shapes, colors and composition of various rocks found underground, according to the college. The wall, which measures 16 feet long and 5.5 feet tall, is not found on any other community college campus.
“I believe every student has the potential to succeed,” Kramer said. “My role is to facilitate this growth by creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment that fosters curiosity and encourages students to take risks and challenge themselves.”
Kramer, who grew up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where she also attended college, said she began teaching at MCC as a graduate student and “was hooked.” She began teaching full time at the college in 2009 and is now the chair of the Earth Science Department, a member of the Sustainability Committee and a mentor for the STEM Scholars program.
Her specialty is teaching geology and earth science, especially hydrogeology, glacial geology and geology of the national parks, she said.
Her teaching philosophy is to “stay curious.”
“Earth science is a field that is constantly evolving and changing as we learn more about our planet and the forces that shape it,” she said. “Staying curious and maintaining a sense of wonder can help students continue to push the boundaries of what we know and discover new insights about the earth.”
She hopes to continue inspiring and empowering her students to foster their intellectual curiosity, take risks and challenge themselves. She believes every student has the potential to succeed, as seen in some who have left MCC to go on and major in geology, as well as some who have completed master’s degrees and doctorates in the field, she said.
Kramer said she has created many hands-on laboratory activities but really enjoys teaching mineral and rock identification.
“I love hearing from students who have a specimen at home that they can now identify because of my class,” Kramer said. “I also enjoy taking my students on field trips to examine the glacial geologic features of McHenry County. There is so much great geology in their backyards. In geology, hands-on experiences are important to our understanding of the earth, and the more hands-on I can make my classroom, the better.”
Mayer said she “knows” Kramer cares about her job.
“Not only has she inspired us as a class but [also] as adults,” Mayer said.