Tanya Smutka: LeadMN Instructor of the Year

Tanya Smutka
Tanya Smutka

Biology teacher recognized with prestigious statewide honor

Tanya Smutka, biology faculty at Inver Hills Community College, was chosen as the 2019 LeadMN Instructor of the Year. Tanya accepted the award at the LeadMN Spring General Assembly April 12–14, 2019, at Breezy Point Resort in Breezy Point, Minnesota.

“For a teacher to be recognized by students is honestly the most special of any award we can be given,” Tanya said.

LeadMN represents 180,000 two-year college students in Minnesota. LeadMN students develop leadership skills for a threefold purpose: realize their potential, see beyond what they thought was possible for personal success, and drive community-wide change.

Originally from Jamestown, North Dakota, Tanya graduated from Jamestown High School before going on to earn a B.S. in Biology and Chemistry from Valparaiso University in Indiana. She earned her M.S. in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior from the University of Minnesota.

Tanya has completed additional coursework at Kansas State University, University of Costa Rica, St Cloud State University, Bemidji State University, Minnesota State University, Mankato, and University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Three words that describe you as a college biology instructor:

Tanya’s teaching experience includes serving as a general biology teaching assistant and lecturer at the University of Minnesota, a high school biology and chemistry teacher at the International School of Minnesota, and an environmental science instructor at Le Cordon Bleu in Minnesota. She earned tenure as a biology and environmental science instructor at Inver Hills in 2014.

Tanya and Josie
I nominated Tanya because each time I have taken her class she always goes above and beyond for each student. One of the ways she accomplishes this is by finding the best way to help each student learn the material, whether that be using technology or a hands-on activity in the classroom.
Not only is Tanya a great teacher, but she is also a great leader in helping bridge a relationship between faculty and students so that everyone can have the best experience on campus. These are just a few reasons that Tanya deserved to win this award.
Josie Neveu, Student Senate President
Inver Hills Community College

More about Tanya…

Tanya was awarded the Minnesota Campus Compact 2014 Presidents’ Civic Engagement Steward Award for her work in designing opportunities for her students to engage in service-learning with environmental agencies and K–12 schools. The award also recognized her work hosting “Expanding Your Horizons,” a conference held on the Inver Hills campus to introduce middle-school girls to STEM careers.

Tanya and her husband, Chris, are making plans to adopt a cat or two in the near future. Tanya enjoys spending time with her extended family, including parents, siblings and nieces. Her hobbies are centered on reading, traveling, camping, crafting and watercolor painting. Tanya and Chris reside in Crystal, Minnesota.

What one word best describes your teaching experience at Inver Hills:
(Both by me, as I have privilege of helping students achieve their goals, and on me, as I also learn so much from my students.)

Tanya Smutka Q & A

Tanya Smutka
Tanya Smutka

Why did you choose biology as your career field?
I find life to be endlessly fascinating. Biology is the study of life. So I get to spend my days studying something that I know I’ll never get bored with.

What do you like best about teaching biology?
I get to share my love of the field with others.

What is the most challenging aspect of teaching biology?
I always find myself wishing I had more time in class…there’s so much cool stuff we could talk about!

Teaching philosophy

I believe that teaching is the opportunity to reach not only future biologists and medical professionals, but, more importantly, to also to provide a background in biology to future citizens, who will make many decisions with perhaps only one introductory biology course in their background.
All students who take biology should leave with a basic understanding of the following biological principles:  evolution, the ways in which organisms and the environment interact, the scientific method, and the importance of biological diversity. They should also understand how scientific decisions are made and have an awareness of and appreciation for the ways in which biology is interrelated with other disciplines and with everyday life.
Tanya Smutka, Biology Faculty
Inver Hills Community College

What is one thing every biology student should know?
As my first biology professor told me, “Practice makes better.” The more you put into your studying, the more you’ll get out of it.

What is your favorite branch of biology and why?
Evolution. It’s the core unifying theme in biology…understanding evolution helps us make sense of everything else in biology.

What type of biology projects do you find the most rewarding or amazing?
I love any sort of biology project that involves getting to spend time outdoors in nature.

If you could pick a dream biology project (unlimited budget), what would it be?
There are so many good projects that are out there! But I’d love to see the buckthorn and other invasive plants on campus be eradicated and replaced with native species.

More about the LeadMN Instructor of the Year Award…

An instructor deserving of this prestigious award is one that not only connects with their students to deliver the subject material, but does it in ways that allows students of all learning methods to succeed. Previous award recipients have used creativity through technology and teaching styles to show students new learning methods that have shown high success rates in their class. Furthermore, past award recipients have ensured students have the support they need both in class and outside of class to provide them the best opportunity to excel in their college careers. ¹

About the Biology Transfer Pathway A.S.

The Biology Transfer Pathway Associate of Science offers students a powerful option: the opportunity to complete an A.S. degree with course credits that directly transfer to designated Biology bachelor’s degree programs at Minnesota State universities. The curriculum has been specifically designed so that students completing this pathway degree and transferring to one of the seven Minnesota State universities enter the university with junior-year status. All courses in the Transfer Pathway associate degree will directly transfer and apply to the designated bachelor’s degree programs in a related field. Learn more…

Tanya Smutka 12 Answers

  1. Favorite sport or physical activity: Hiking
  2. Place you would most like to visit: Galapagos Islands
  3. The most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Spent a semester taking tropical biology courses in Costa Rica
  4. First thing you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: Pay off my mortgage and travel the world.  Then establish a ton of student scholarships and donate to environmental causes with the 99+% that is leftover.
  5. Favorite TV show you’re watching now: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
  6. Best movie you’ve seen lately: On the Waterfront (1954)
  7. One thing you most want to accomplish in life:  See as much of the world as possible
  8. Your national bird if you could have one:  The bald eagle is great…I love the symbolism of it having come back from the brink of extinction due to the collective efforts of people to stop using DDT and restore habitat.
  9. Dream occupation: This one. Or professional chocolate-taster.
  10. Person you would most like to meet: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  11. Skill you would most like to learn and master: Watercolor painting
  12. Most important issue or problem facing humankind: I think it is human nature to be rather short-sighted and narrow-minded. If we were all to start looking at the long-term (beyond our lifetimes) and at cultures other than our own, we could make great progress in terms of many issues, such as climate change, equitable and affordable education, and social justice.
Learn more about Biology at Inver Hills by contacting:

Kristin Digiulio
Biology Department Coordinator/Chair

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