Todd Pagano, an associate professor and director of the Laboratory Science Technology program at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, has been named “2012 U.S. Professor of the Year” by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Pagano was selected from more than 300 nominations.
Pagano is the first RIT faculty member to receive the prestigious award. NTID President Gerry Buckley, Senior Associate Provost Chris Licata and others from RIT, including his wife, Susan Smith Pagano, an assistant professor at RIT’s Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Science, attended the ceremony.
The U.S. Professors of the Year Awards Program, created in 1981, is the only national initiative specifically designed to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.
John Lippincott, president of CASE, commended this year’s award winners for their “intentional, innovative and inspirational” approach to the classroom experience.
“While our nation enjoys an extraordinary pool of talented professors, those we honor today are truly exceptional,” Lippincott said. “We applaud their belief in a learning process that involves mutual discovery and their dedication to the principle that knowledge liberates, empowers and humanizes us.”
Pagano, whose award was in the Master’s University and Colleges category, credits his success to blending two elements: his joy of teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and his passion for chemistry.
“It’s humbling,” Pagano says. “It’s wonderful that we can provide the technical knowledge that students need to use on their jobs. I’m fortunate to work at a truly unique place, where deaf and hard-of-hearing students are taught applied knowledge, the roots of their trade, self-advocacy and lifelong learning skills.”
Pagano may have been groomed for teaching by his parents. His mother taught math and his father was a teacher and school administrator.
At his mother’s retirement party, Pagano met his second-grade teacher. She asked if he remembered what he wanted to be when he was in her class. “I guessed a baseball player, but she said, ‘No, you wanted to be a scientist’ and she had a picture I drew with a guy with beakers and a lab coat.”
Pagano earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from The State University of New York College at Oswego and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Tufts University. He wanted to return to Rochester after his studies and saw he had the credentials for a job opening at NTID. But that job required him to learn sign language.
“As a teacher, you do everything in your power to convey concepts to help students understand,” he says. “I’m a visual learner. I appreciated any time a teacher would do a visual demonstration, so I try to have at least one visual example in every single class. I’ll mix chemicals together and they do something and it leaves the students guessing for a moment why this is happening. And hopefully at the end of the class, they understand why these chemicals reacted in the way they did. Seeing that look of understanding on their faces because of the way you were able to convey an idea brings a great feeling of satisfaction.”