Maoria Kirker Recognized with Teacher of Distinction Award

Maoria Kirker

On May 7th, Mason held its annual Celebration of Teaching Excellence Award Ceremony. At the event, Maoria Kirker, an Honors College instructor and the Lead of the Teaching and Team in University Libraries, was recognized for her dedication to Mason’s mission through the Adjunct Teacher of Distinction Award. 

The Adjunct Teacher of Distinction Award celebrates educators who show exceptional achievement in supporting student engagement, the impact of their teaching, and their own growth and development as an educator. By dedicating themselves to their students and the principles of effective teaching, award winners ensure that Mason is a place that fosters the academic prowess of life-long learners.  

Maoria Kirker is the Lead for the University Libraries’ Teaching and Learning Team and an adjunct faculty member in the Honors College. This semester, she is teaching HNRS 260: Society and Community Engagement, a multidisciplinary course where students pursue focused questions about a problem facing a community, society, or government and apply multiple perspectives to analyze pressing social issues.  

Aside from HNRS 260, Kirker also teaches students about the principles of research in her HNRS 110: Principles of Research and Inquiry course each fall. Sarah Swift and Madison Werkheiser, two former HNRS 110 students reflect on Kirker’s impact on their growth as researchers. “The main quality that I like about [Kirker] is how approachable and helpful she is; she was easy to talk to and ask for help throughout the project,” Swift says. “Plus, I appreciated the way she structured the class so that the project was not so overwhelming. She broke it up into smaller, manageable deadlines over the course of the semester.” 

This sentiment is echoed by Werkheiser, a 2021 Schwartzstein Prize Nominee, “Professor Kirker was extremely encouraging and had been providing constructive feedback for each iteration of my project.” With Kirker's support—a balance between thoughtful critique and celebration of her successes along the way—Werkheiser was able to successfully complete her research project. “I used the material that Professor Kirker provided to us to organize my work, and I was comfortable with my topic, research libraries, and resources by the end of the course.” 

Strong research and analysis are the foundation of Kirker’s methods. As an educator, Kirker makes her courses both accessible and engaging, rooted in her extensive understanding of equitable access to education. From written assignments, online posts, short videos, and in-class discussions, Kirker’s measurement of students’ progress varies in format and assessed skills, making her courses well-rounded and accessible for students with differing entry points to the subject matter. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kirker has been relentless in offering a great deal of flexibility to her students in difficult circumstances. Students in her courses speak readily to her encouraging, thoughtful, and helpful presence in the classroom.  

Medhini Sosale, a former HNRS 260 student, says, “She was always considerate of our needs as students and incredibly approachable both within and outside of lecture. She also very clearly cared about the content she was teaching, which helped me as a student engage with the material.” Sosale went on to describe the lifelong impact Kirker’s teaching style has had, “I truly enjoyed being her student and will continue to reflect on her class indefinitely.” 

Even outside of the classroom, Kirker is committed to the tenants of inclusive, multidisciplinary pedagogy, ensuring that each classroom on campus is a space in which students can succeed. Her colleague in the University Libraries, Ashley Blinstrub, the Student Success and Inclusion Librarian, says, “Maoria was also instrumental to me as a first-time HNRS 110 instructor in Fall 2020. Maoria met with a group of librarians each week that were teaching for the first time and offered advice and her prior lessons.” Blinstrub also spoke to Kirker’s leadership skills, which are on display with both her students and her colleagues, “she leads in a way that allows people to incorporate their own styles of teaching and personalities into their lessons.” 

In addition to her work with students, Kirker also continuously engages with her mission to excel as an active, inclusive member of her community. One of the keystones of Kirker’s practice in this discipline has been her role as a co-creator of the Conference on Academic Library Management (CALM). The conference, a clear example of Kirker’s dedication to the work she does to make Mason an equitable place, took place in mid-March and focused on person-centered management practices that aim to create more just and inclusive libraries.  

Through her commitment to her students, both in and out of the classroom, as well as her dedication to research, Kirker is an exemplary recipient of the Adjunct Teacher of Distinction Award. 

Maoria was always open to hearing everyone's thoughts, and it was easy for me to engage with the content because I always felt comfortable sharing my opinions. Maoria raised my expectations of what an excellent professor should be. She was always considerate of our needs as students and incredibly approachable both within and outside of lecture. She also very clearly cared about the content she was teaching, which helped me as a student engage with the material. I truly enjoyed being her student and will continue to reflect on her class indefinitely

Medhini Sosale, Honors College student

Professor Kirker was very personable and began class with a playlist of five or so songs, which really lightened the mood – especially on Zoom. I found her help and feedback to be extremely affirming and made me very comfortable in class and successful in my work.

Madison Werkheiser, Honors College student

I like how approachable and helpful Professor Kirker is. She doesn't have an overly strict or detached demeanor; she is easy to talk to and ask for help throughout the semester.

Sarah Swift, Honors College student

Maoria always made the class feel like a safe space, to the point where I was able to share personal stories that connected back to the content. For instance, I once asked her a personal question about my college status during our lecture, and she was able to not only help me realize that I was a first-generation student but also connect it back to our lesson and several of my classmates' experiences. The entire discussion was professional and productive to our lesson, but still meant a lot to me because I came out of it with some personally significant takeaways.

Anonymous Honors College student

Maoria is, of course, an accomplished instructor and librarian. But what sticks out to me most is her commitment to mentorship on our team. She encourages everyone on the Teaching and Learning Team to push themselves professionally, always being willing to offer advice but also letting people develop as their own style of instructor. For me personally, she has had a huge impact in terms of my teaching, especially in the Honors College as I embarked on teaching as a faculty member for the first time. Her support of that new venture for me is an illustration of what a wonderful leader, mentor, and colleague she is.

David Lemmons, Instruction Coordinator in University Libraries

Maoria has been the single most pivotal instructor in my college experience. Through Maoria’s HNRS 260: Society and Community Engagement class and under her mentorship, I was inspired to pursue a URSP project which aimed to create abolition-centered educational programs for incarcerated students. Maoria has been an exceptional educator and mentor to me during my time at Mason, and she has helped me tremendously in finding my footing as an aspiring researcher and educator. Her thoughtfulness, intellect, friendship, and mentorship in both my academic and professional life have been priceless. Indubitably, Mason benefits immensely from her presence.

Mariam Qureshi, Honors College Writing and Reporting Intern