Amy Zsohar Named Minnesota State Board of Trustees 2023 Educator of the Year

Communication instructor excels as force for advocacy and community activism on campus

Amy Zsohar, PhD, 47, communication studies faculty at Inver Hills Community College, has been recognized as a Minnesota State Board of Trustees 2023 Educator of the Year. Amy was nominated to represent Inver Hills as the college’s 2022–2023 Outstanding Educator. She is one of only three Minnesota State faculty systemwide honored as an Outstanding Educator.

The Board of Trustees Awards for Excellence acknowledge and provide recognition for consistently superior professional achievement of the Minnesota State college and university teaching and service faculty. Awardees will be formally honored at a luncheon on April 19, 2023.

“I am so deeply honored to be selected for this award,” Amy said. “I know I am surrounded by so many exceptional educators. To be nominated and selected for this is validating and inspiring. I’m not a traditional educator, and I know that my methods are often unusual. I love the classroom and am honored to see my work there and around the campus recognized by not just the Inver Hills community, but by the MinnState system as well. I know that my passion lives in bringing out the agency and advocacy in others. Being awarded for staying true to my own voice, agency, and advocacy is more than I ever thought would happen!”

Michael Berndt is president of Inver Hills and Dakota County Technical College. He congratulated Amy on her remarkable achievement. For perspective, Minnesota State is the the third largest higher education system in the U.S., serving more than 340,000 students annually via 30 separately accredited two-year colleges and seven four-year universities located on 54 campuses. Roughly, 40,000 degrees, diplomas, and certificates are awarded each year. The system is home to 15,300-plus dedicated faculty and staff.

“We know from students that our faculty do outstanding work in supporting them in their learning,” President Berndt said. “Recognitions like these for Dr. Zohar are wonderful because peers affirm what we know from students.”

Elaina Bleifield, PhD, is vice president of academic affairs at Inver Hills. Early in her career, she served as a member of the biology faculty at North Hennepin Community College.

“Inver Hills Community College is pleased to honor Dr. Amy Zsohar as one of Minnesota State’s 2023 Educators of the Year,” Vice President Bleifield said. “Dr. Zsohar works diligently on behalf of her students to help them learn how to become effective advocates for themselves and others. Her classroom activities are structured for students to be able to develop an action project and each semester is centered on a specific topic. Students have to research and develop their thinking to present their ideas effectively.”

Vice President Bleifield added, “Dr. Zsohar clearly believes in the power of education to change lives. She encourages her students—in all of the intersecting parts of their lives—to become advocates for their own learning. The opportunity to celebrate Dr. Zsohar showcases the excellence in education found at Inver Hills.”

Amy’s teaching career at a glance…

Amy Zsohar, PhD

Amy began teaching at Inver Hills in 2017. She earned tenure in December 2022. During her first year at the college, she also served as adjunct faculty at Hennepin Technical College, teaching courses in interpersonal communication. Before that, she was a visiting assistant professor teaching communication coursework at Gustavus Adolphus College.

She also taught and lectured for three years at Metropolitan State University of Denver, where she was recognized as the 2012–2013 First Year Success Instructor of the Year and the 2014 Lambda Pi Eta Instructor of the Year.

Amy holds a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Human Communication Studies from the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, a Master of Science (M.S.) in Communication Studies from the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, and a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Speech Communications, History, and Secondary Education from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Amy earned her Adult Mental Health First Aid certificate through the National Council for Mental Wellbeing (NCMW). She is a Relational and Sexual Health certified advocate at Inver Hills.

Amy Zsohar, PhD: Teaching philosophy

My teaching philosophy is about agency, advocacy, and community. I want every student to embrace their agency. Who they are and what they have to say matters and is necessary!

I want every student to know they are advocates and have the power to effect change. They can impact what tomorrow looks like if they use their agency to advocate.

Also, I want them to know they are a part of a larger community that they have power within. Building bridges and community are necessary parts of effective communication. Each of these have the potential to embolden a student to use their communication in ways that are effective and impactful.

Amy Zsohar, PhD
Minnesota State 2023 Educator of the Year
Communication Studies Faculty
Inver Hills Community College

More about Amy…

Amy Zsohar, PhD

Originally from Dallas, Texas, Amy graduated from Lake Highlands High School, Class of 1993. Amy was active in marching band, German club, and finding ways around the rules at Lake Highlands.

“This hasn’t changed!” Amy said. “I found my love for teaching watching the teachers in my family impact lives. I never loved the days my mom would sub in my classes, but did love getting to teach with her in my first teaching job.”

Amy and her spouse, Shawn, have been married eight years. Shawn works as the employee resource group manager on the Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity Team at Best Buy.

Amy and Shawn have two dogs, a 4-year-old Chow mix named Java and a 1-year-old pit hound mix named Nellie.

“She is A LOT!!!!” Amy reported. “Puppy energy is real!”

The family also has two cats, a 4-year-old domestic long hair named Nigel and a 4-year-old domestic medium hair named Nicki.

Amy doesn’t have a lot of free time, but she does have many interests and pursuits.

“I LOVE live theater, especially musicals,” she said. “I attend as many as I can and quote them often. I also have a deep love for bad reality dating shows, the more ridiculous the better. The Bachelor franchise is too classy for me.”

Amy added that she loves to read and learn. “I watch documentaries on Saturday mornings as part of my Get Smarter Saturdays (as I call them.),” she said. “Reading stories and perspectives I don’t know opens my mind and increases my empathy. I also enjoy cross-stitching (when my cats aren’t trying to catch the thread!)”

Amy, Shawn, Java, Nellie, Nigel, and Nicki reside in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Amy family and life gallery

Amy’s body of work at Inver Hills…

Amy teaches four Communication Studies courses at the college: Intercultural Communication, Interpersonal Communication, Small Group Communication, and Public Speaking. She also teaches College Success Strategies and OnCourse to students in First Year Communities (FYCs), formerly named Learning Communities (LCOMs), as well as accelerated communication courses via a collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

As the faculty advisor for the college’s LGBT+ Club, Amy has spearheaded campus-wide collaborations to drive and promote equity through the following initiatives:

  • Adding gender-neutral locker room
  • Adding three, new gender-neutral restrooms
  • Managing Safe Space training for staff and faculty
  • Creating the Prism Center of Gender and Sexualities

In 2020, Amy was honored with a Campus Compact Presidents’ Civic Engagement Leadership Award. Her ongoing service on a variety of Inver Hills committees is extensive:

  • Equity Council
  • Equity by Design
  • Student Resource and Resiliency
  • Academic Development
  • Co-Chair, Community-Based Learning Community of Practice
  • Civic Engagement
  • Search Advisory Committees (multiple)

Amy Zsohar Q & A

Amy Zsohar, PhD
What inspired you to focus your education and teaching career on communication studies?

When I was in undergrad, I was looking for a new major. I talked with one of my bosses, and she reminded me how much I enjoyed my summer school communication class and how much I enjoy talking. She thought I would enjoy it, and she was right! I fell in love with learning about relationships, people, cultures, and how they communicate.

What do you love most about the communication field?

How you can never fully predict how a communication moment will play out. It offers so many lenses to understand people around you and relationships.

What advice would you give students thinking about majoring in communication studies?

Do it! Communication is the number one ask on job calls. Having a degree in communication opens up many doors.

Three words that describe you as a communicator:

What motivates you to advocate for greater equity and inclusion for underrepresented communities?

I truly wish it was more noble than I want every student, every person to feel they matter, their voice matters, and their safety is imperative. I know I am a product of systems that are designed to privilege me and also know those systems need to be broken. I want to help break those systems.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your passion for activism and engagement?

Watching students find their voice. They see me speaking up and being my authentic self and realize they can do it too. They see that they don’t have to be more than who they are and to stay committed to effecting change. Seeing the changes that have been made at Inver that I helped make is inspiring and motivating. I want everyone to feel safe on campus.

What are the most challenging aspects?

The exhaustion and tokenization. I call myself  “the loudest queer on campus.” I call myself this because I will always fight for my population and populations who are forced to live in constant fear and rejection with all I have.

On many days, it caused serious exhaustion and mental health concerns. Having to constantly prove over and over again that what I am asking for is important and necessary is exhausting. I am grateful to my allies and advocates.

Three words that describe you as a college educator:

Where do you hope to find yourself in 20 years?

Retired. In a society where it is better and more loving than it is today. Surrounded by fur babies. Living either in the mountains or on a lake.

What person has influenced your life the most and why?

I think it is impossible to narrow it down to one person. My parents for loving me as I marched to the beat of my own drum, even when they didn’t get it. My high school junior year English teacher who showed my how to put the person before the student and who saw what all I could be. My spouse who constantly shows me all the ways I can be and do better; who allows me to be a full authentic self and loves all of what am I.

One word that best describes your experience as a communication studies instructor:


Amy Zsohar 12 Answers

  1. Favorite sport or physical activity: Lifting weights and walking the dogs
  2. Place you would most like to visit: Iceland, Puerto Rico, Fiji are my top three right now
  3. Most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Seeing Idina Menzel on Broadway in If/Then with Anthony Rapp, LeChanze, and Jenn Colella
  4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Pay off student loans 2) Buy a house in either the Rockies or on a Lake Superior (or maybe both!) 3) Give the rest to LGBTQ organizations. They need all the help they can get!
  5. Best book or movie you’ve read or seen lately: Book: The House on the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune—It is truly the best kind of hug as a book
  6. Time period you would explore if you could time travel: This question makes me want to lean into my joke of the Rubenesque era, when you were celebrated for being larger!
  7. One thing you most want to accomplish in life: Write a book
  8. Your national bird if you were your own country: Penguin
  9. Dream occupation: College Professor with an assistant to do all the grading and committee work!
  10. Person you would most like to meet: Eleanor Roosevelt
  11. Skill you would most like to learn and master: Knitting
  12. Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Fear of difference and fear of losing power that leads to hate and violence.

Learn more about Amy Zsohar, PhD, by reading the following stories on Inver Hills News:

Learn more about Communication Studies at Inver Hills by contacting:

Inver Hills Community College
Virtual Visit

Learn more about diversity, equity, and inclusion at Inver Hills by contacting:

Office of Equity and Inclusion
Inver Hills Community College
Hours: Monday – Friday • 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

More about Communication Studies

All human interaction is mediated through communication. The Communication Studies department at Inver Hills focuses on developing a stronger understanding of the nature of human interaction by exploring how messages are created, transmitted, and received through the use of verbal and nonverbal symbols.

Why Major in Communication Studies at Inver Hills?

Solidify your most important soft skill.
The know-how, insights, and competency you’ll acquire in our Transfer Pathway A.A. degree program will give you first-class advantages in any number of fields. You’ll graduate fully fitted to make an auspicious impression in public relations, politics, fundraising, event planning, journalism, marketing, social media management, human resources, and more.

Communication is the master key.
Successful interpersonal relationships depend on clear lines of communication. Learn how and when to listen while developing the skills to express yourself with precision, elegance, and simplicity. Studying communication will strengthen your connections with family members, intimate partners, coworkers, friends, acquaintances, and newly arrived guests in your life.

Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking.
Four out 10 Americans are petrified by the thought speaking in front of an audience. You can beat that fright or enhance your already substantial oral presentation skills by taking our Public Speaking course.

Turn culture clash into interactive harmony.
By exploring factors that influence communication between individuals of different cultures, you’ll start to understand the relationship between cultural orientation and communication behaviors. Identifying your own cultural biases and assumptions will help awaken your multicultural awareness while deepening your appreciation for the astonishing diversity of the human experience.

Break into groups.
Working in small groups is an essential activity in college classrooms, corporate offices, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. As a Communication Studies major, you will sharpen the leadership, conflict-management, presentation, problem-solving, and discussion skills you’ll need to make a splash in any group setting.

Blaze your trail to success.

Our Transfer Pathway A.A. gives you the credits you need to transfer with junior-year status to a communication studies baccalaureate program at six Minnesota State universities. Your education at Inver Hills will empower you to become the pioneer of your own future.Communication Studies Career Paths

Learn to communicate with dexterity and empathy.

As a Communication Studies major, you will be trained to engage, entertain, influence, inform, and champion the people in your life. You will be an advocate for the swift and accurate comprehension of information and ideas. Exactly what every workplace needs.

Career Opportunities

Effective communication seldom occurs naturally. Communication expertise is honed by applying your knowledge through practice and diverse experiences.

If you enjoy studying communication, but have another career path in mind, you will benefit greatly from taking several communication courses as electives. You will broaden your career prospects, increase your self-confidence, and become a more sophisticated communicator. Interpersonal and public-speaking skills are always in high demand in the workplace.


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