Teacher Award
Professors Azenett Garza (left) and Becky Jo Gesteland (right) holding their John A. Lindquist Awards. (Lindsey Parkinson / The Signpost)

Ogden United Promise Neighborhood has been working for the past seven years to support disadvantaged children in inner Ogden from the cradle to college.

Psychology professor Azenett Garza has been instrumental in getting OUPN off the ground. Garza’s efforts to revitalize inner Ogden through her research and use of community engaged learning in her teaching have earned her a prestigious award.

The John A. Lindquist Award, which honors Weber professors for their innovative teaching and their active community involvement, has recognized Weber professors for their commitment in their classrooms and in the community.

English professor Becky Jo Gesteland also received the John A. Lindquist Award this year. Gesteland introduced community engaged learning into her courses six years ago, and it has completely transformed her teaching and her life.

Jenny Frame is the community partner coordinator in the Center for Engaged Learning. She said that both of these professors are very deserving of the John A. Lindquist Award.

“They both have this passion that is really catching,” Frame said.

Garza is currently helping United Way’s Ogden United Promise Neighborhood initiative by studying how nonprofit organizations and government entities help fill gaps in education and services to families in central Ogden.

This model has already been implemented in cities like Brooklyn, and research has shown that kids involved in the program often come back to their neighborhoods to serve because they feel connection to their neighborhoods — a sense of place.

Garza’s research serves to bring community partners together to determine what assets they can provide to inner Ogden.

In addition to teaching psychology and directing research at the OUPN, Garza is also the director of the university’s Community Research Extension. She has involved students in community engaged learning for the last decade.

“She is excellent in all the research that she does,” Frame said. Garza nurtures research projects that help community partners apply for grants and further their missions.

During her acceptance speech, Garza couldn’t hold back her tears. “I’m totally humbled by this great honor,” Garza said. “It is strange to receive an award for something that you’re passionate about.”

Garza also said that research is often overlooked as service work. “The thought of research can be scary and outright intimidating to many,” she said.

She added that even though research is challenging and sometimes data is imperfect, it’s still vital to our community partners.

Community service and research may seem like disparate activities, but perhaps even more curious is how English can also benefit the community.

Gesteland is an English professor who works in the Center for Engaged Learning. She is also the interim associate dean for the Telitha E. Lindquist College of Arts & Humanities.

Known for her diligent and thorough work, Gesteland has had a large impact on the students she mentors. Six years ago, she introduced community engaged learning into her classroom.

After getting tenure, Gesteland said that she wanted to plug students into their learning and into their community. “I realized I needed to reinvigorate my teaching,” she said.

Gesteland teaches technical writing, and all of her courses involve community engaged learning. She also started teaching a grant writing class that has been popular with students and community partners.

Students who take Gesteland’s grant writing class are able to apply their writing skills with real community partners and see their work pay off.

“It’s kind of contagious once you start doing community engaged learning,” Gesteland said.

Gesteland has worked with several community partners including but not limited to Head Start, North Ogden City, Habitat for Humanity, Union Station Foundation and American Red Cross.

Gesteland actually first met Frame during her partnership with the Ogden Nature Center. The two have had a close working relationship for the past three years, and Frame said Gestlenad’s work deserves
recognition.

“She’s very unassuming,” Frame said. “But the work that she does is so important.”

Implementing community engaged learning in her classroom has ultimately helped Gesteland to feel like what she does matters.

“It makes me feel like my job is important,” Gesteland said, “that what I do is important and valued.”

Both professors were given the John A. Lindquist Award on March 30 at a luncheon where staff, students and community partners celebrated the dedication to service and learning exemplified by each.

The John A. Lindquist Award was established by Catherine Lindquist, John’s daughter, to recognize teachers who mentor students in community engaged learning and who develop community partners to sustain the community.

An award like this shows the importance of community involvement, not just for economic growth but also for individual satisfaction. Gesteland said her work makes her feel this way: “When you feel connected to a community — connected to a place — you’re just happier.”

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