Jerry Collins, a University of Maryland University College teacher for 14 years, is one of three recipients of the university's Presidental Award for 2004.

Jerry Collins, a University of Maryland University College teacher for 14 years, is one of three recipients of the university's Presidental Award for 2004. (David Allen / S&S)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A faculty member with the University of Maryland University College here is one of three people to receive the university’s Presidential Award for 2004.

Jerry Collins, 51, a University of Maryland teacher for 14 years, nine of them on Okinawa, will receive $5,000 along with the award, for his teaching and extracurricular activities, which include a public forum called “Maryland Presents,” in which staff, faculty, students and the general public meet together every month or so and share topics of general interest.

“Not only has he earned the reputation of being an extremely effective classroom teacher, he has also involved himself in a variety of activities that have greatly assisted the UMUC program in Asia and the Pacific,” stated a university press release.

The Maryland Presents lectures are held at the Kadena Officers Club and have covered a wide range of topics — from a slide show about the Trans-Siberian Railway to a traditional Okinawa music and dance demonstration — over the past three years.

Collins also has been cited for establishing an annual $500 grant to an Okinawa student studying in New York City, Collins’ home. The grant, given in the name of his sister, Mary Beth, who died in 2002, gives students a chance to enjoy the Big Apple. It can’t be used for rent, books or other expenses.

He was also instrumental in changing the way the prefectural government awards scholarships to Okinawa students studying in the United States. Collins convinced officials to change the award date for scholarships, giving the students more time to submit admission packages to the stateside schools.

Collins said teaching on Okinawa “is the best job in the world.”

“I enjoy teaching for the University of Maryland in Asia because I like what the program here provides — a unique educational experience for many people who may not ordinarily be able to afford a college education,” he said.

“I enjoy the fact that the students come mostly from working-class backgrounds, just as I do,” he said. “I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school and to attend college — and that experience obviously changed my life. I like being able to change their lives in a similar way. I like the fact that the students vary in age and experience and come from different parts of America and from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. All of these things help to keep the classroom environment lively.”

He said his attitude toward teaching is best summed up by one of his former professors.

“He said that teaching was ‘an honor and a kick,’” Collins said.

And teaching in Asia is an additional “kick” for Collins, who teaches Asian studies, American history and English.

“Teaching for the university provides me with free time, which I use to travel, mostly in Asia,” Collins said. “Since I teach Asian studies, this is a major asset and allows me to learn much more about Asia then I would if I were in the States. What I learn in my travels, of course, often finds its way into my lectures in class.”

Collins prefers teaching introductory courses. “I think that, no matter what discipline a person studies, it’s important to have a strong foundation in the discipline.

“That’s what I try to provide,” he said. “I surprise the students on the first night of class in my introductory courses in Asian studies when I tell them that my major goal in the course is to confuse them. What I mean by that is that I would like them to have more questions about Asia when the course is over than they do when it begins.

“I try to introduce them to things that I hope they will find interesting enough to learn more about in future classes or on their own. I try to show them that education — real education, not training — is about learning to ask good questions, and that the quality of questions they raise largely determines the usefulness of the information they gather.”

The other two winners of this year’s President’s Award were Kerry Pezzutti, at the school’s Maryland campus, and Elaine Stelter, assistant to the area director for Afghanistan/Uzbekistan, Balkans and Italy.

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