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Pepper, Purvis named Fuerstenberg Award winners at CVTC

EAU CLAIRE – Julie Pepper touched the life of a student who came to Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) through a job retraining program after a career crisis. That student nominated her for CVTC’s top award for teachers. Mary Purvis was nominated by an entire class of students who were impressed by her dedication and passion.

When the 2013-14 school term started at CVTC with instructor in-service sessions last week, Pepper and Purvis were named the winners of the 2013 Roy and Jan Fuerstenberg Teaching Excellence Awards.

The awards, given annually, recognize instructors for their professionalism, excellence in teaching and learning, and their positive student-teacher relationships. Faculty members are nominated for the prestigious award by their students, and those honored receive a cash honorarium of $1,500.

Pepper, a Medical Assistant program instructor, has been with CVTC since 2002, and was with Mayo Health Systems previously.

“Being treated with respect triggered a desire to not let my teacher down,” Maria Creer, who nominated Pepper, wrote. “Anyone can recite some material and test you on it. Only real teachers go out of their way to get back to you with a timely response, make themselves available to students at almost any time, answer your questions, and explain why you got things wrong.”

“It has always been my philosophy as a teacher to help students find within themselves the qualities needed to be successful on their chosen path. This encompasses personal growth as well as academic growth,” Pepper said. “We know that students come to our institution from all walks of life, and not every student comes with the confidence necessary to meet the rigors of all of our courses. By giving the students the tools necessary for solid problem-solving, they can achieve early success that will have an immediate effect on their confidence.”

In writing a letter of support for Pepper’s nomination, former student Julie Miller recalled how Pepper helped her through a difficult time when she had a major medical procedure on the first day of school.

“My classmates and I really felt like we had someone in our corner when it came to having Julie as an instructor. She made herself very approachable and accessible to all of us with office hours, as well as extra time from her own personal schedule,” Miller wrote.

“At some educational institutions, a student is just a number, but at CVTC you are treated as a real person, and in Julie’s classes, we become a family,” wrote Debra Bresser, a program student.

Physical and Life Science Instructor Mary Purvis has been with CVTC since 2004 and was honored in 2010 as the Wisconsin Association of Community and Technical Education Teacher of the Year. As a Menomonie High School teacher from 1983-94, she was named a 1990 state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching.

“Mary always has a positive attitude (along with her quirky energy) and makes each student feel welcomed and important. Her passion and excitement for her subject expertise, along with her slew of hands-on activities, helps make the material easier to grasp and solidifies the information. She also unfailingly relates the information to the real world,” a statement by students in her Physics 2 class reads.

“We human beings are naturally curious. As children we were always asking ‘why?’ We are filled with wonder about everything around us,” Purvis said. “My goal as a teacher is to open my students’ minds to again allow them to ask these questions, and to share the joy and wonder of the natural world in a fun and engaging way.”

“Mary is the science teacher I wish I had in high school and college,” said Cherrie Bergandi, dean of General Education and Business at CVTC. “Mary engages students in varied ways. She creates exciting and entertaining demonstrations of physics concepts. . . Mary Purvis teaches in a way that I would want all of my faculty to emulate.”

Bergandi noted how Purvis’ students tend to cluster around her desk before class begins, peppering her with questions and excited about the lesson.

“I strive to be warm and welcoming. I must treat them with respect always. I must respect their time and money. They have sacrificed a lot to be here. They deserve my best every day,” Purvis said.

Fuerstenberg Teaching Excellence Awards are made through CVTC Foundation, Inc., which enhances the mission and vision of CVTC by securing resources for student scholarships, staff initiatives, technology investments and other purposes. The award is named after Jan Fuerstenberg, a lifelong educator, and Roy Fuerstenberg, incoming president of CVTC Foundation Board of Directors. For more information about the Foundation, go to or e-mail